In a city where development has long dominated the debate at city hall, it’s no surprise that developers and real estate agents have given big to four of six at-large council candidates who want to be Lexington’s next vice mayor.
Developer, real estate and construction business employees have donated $63,695 to the four candidates in the primary and general elections, according to a Herald-Leader analysis of campaign finance reports filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. That sector gave twice as much as any other special interest donor category.
In total, the candidates have raised $379,378. Retirees gave $30,727. Attorneys donated more than $20,235. And employees of general businesses donated $22,082 (that category includes bankers, small business owners and restauranteurs).
Only four of the six at-large candidates for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council have raised money in the race — Vice Mayor Steve Kay, Councilman Richard Moloney, former Councilman Chuck Ellinger, and Adrian Wallace, the former president of the Lexington NAACP and a first-time candidate.
Lillie Miller Johnson and Connie Kell, perennial candidates, have not filed campaign finance reports with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
The newspaper’s analysis includes reports filed through Oct. 7, the last campaign finance reports available for all four candidates.
Moloney, the former director of the state Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction, received the most from developers and real estate agents, totaling $23,000 in the primary and general election. Ellinger received the second most, at $14,600. Kay collected $12,250, of which about $10,770 was donated during the primary. Wallace received $10,485 during the primary and general election.
In addition to those individual donations, the Kentucky Realtors Political Action Committee gave $1,000 each to Wallace, Moloney, and Ellinger, campaign records show.
Earlier this year, campaign donations from a developer loomed over the debate about whether Lexington should enter into negotiations with developer CRM Companies for a new city government center. CRM had proposed to renovate and expand the current Lexington Herald-Leader building on Midland Avenue and lease it to the city for 35 years for $5.1 million a year. The plan was ultimately killed by the Lexington Fayette-Urban County Council in an 8-7 vote in September.
Moloney had questioned during a July council meeting whether Kay and other council members who received campaign donations from CRM Companies should vote on the proposal. According to campaign finance records, CRM employees donated $9,000 to Kay during the primary.
Kay has said a group of city employees scored and selected the CRM proposal from among four proposals and dismissed Moloney’s assertion that campaign donations had anything to do with their selection.
Records show Moloney has received $2,000 in donations from the McBrayer law firm, which represented one of the losing bidders, during the May primary. He collected an additional $3,200 from McBrayer lawyers in the general election.
Overall, Moloney has raised far more money than the other at-large candidate in the general election, collecting $90,857 since the May primary. Ellinger, a lawyer, has collected $37,707. Wallace, who runs a nonprofit, has raised $30,565. Kay, a consultant, has raised $28,421.
In the primary election, Kay finished first, followed by Ellinger and Moloney in a field of 10 candidates.
The top vote getter on Nov. 6 will become vice mayor. The second and third place finishers will become at-large members and will serve four-year terms.
Here’s a closer look at who is backing each candidate.
Some notable donors to Moloney include members of the Ball family, which owns Ball Homes; Dennis Anderson of Anderson Communities; and Phillip Greer of the Greer Companies.
Moloney chalked up his support from the industry to his long-time work in the building industry, including his work advocating for affordable housing. “My experience in these issues, especially with infill development, are why many people from all kinds of industries want to support my campaign,” Moloney said.
Moloney said he supports the city’s Urban Service Boundary, which limits where developments in allowed in Fayette County. During debate on the boundary in November 2017, Moloney voted for an amendment that would have allowed development outside the boundary in very limited circumstances. That amendment was ultimately defeated.
He also has received $10,750 from lawyers and $9,300 from the business community.
The bulk of Kay’s money comes from donors who listed their occupation as retired. They donated $20,889 to Kay. Those tied to farming or thoroughbred racing donated a total of $15,300 to him, which is far more than the other candidates collected from the agriculture industry. Kay also received the most from professors and teachers, with more than $1,400 from that sector.
Kay said the lack of donations from developers shows “that some in the development community disagree with my view that we need to hold the line on expansion at this time to ensure the long-term economic viability and quality of life of our community.”
During the council’s debate on the growth boundary last year, Kay voted against the amendment that would have allowed for limited development outside the boundary prior to the next expansion.
Ellinger’s biggest donor was himself. He has loaned his campaign $32,000 — $5,000 in the general election and $27,000 in the primary. In addition to the $14,600 he received from developers, Ellinger collected $5,950 from lawyers.
Ellinger said he supports keeping the current growth boundary and said infill and redevelopment is a priority.
“I am very fortunate that I have received contributions from a wide variety of people with diverse interests, from preservationists to the real estate community,” Ellinger said. “Since we are considered, “The Horse Capital of the World,” we must protect what makes us unique. The urban services boundary is the preservation of this uniqueness and protects the character and agri-business of Fayette County. “
Wallace has collected $4,438 from retirees, $3,535 from lawyers and $2,775 from the business community.
He also has the unique distinction of getting the most money from clergy, who gave him $425. He received $100 from Bishop John Stowe of the Catholic Dioceses of Lexington and $100 from Rev. C.B. Akins of Bracktown Baptist Church. According to campaign finance records, Wallace is the only state or local candidate Stowe has ever given money.
Wallace did not immediately respond to a request for comment.