Follow the money

In the months leading up to the May 8 primary, how did the Buncombe County commissioner candidates raise and spend money? Their initial campaign-finance reports provide a snapshot of how much was donated, who the contributors were, how much the candidates spent and what they spent it on. The next round of reports is due July 11.

Except as noted, we’ve focused on the primary winners in the three new commissioner districts, with a nod to the races for board chair and a few tidbits from some unsuccessful candidates. Twenty-one people were fighting for 12 spots on the November ballot, when the top two vote-getters in each district will be determined.

The lack of standardized reporting for expenses makes comparing the various campaigns’ reports difficult. Different campaigns categorized their expenses differently; the level of detail varies; several candidates pledged to raise less than $1,000 so were not required to file reports; and some candidates have amended their reports since the first-quarter, April 30 deadline.

Despite those caveats, however, we hope the following information sheds some light on these local races. (To view the candidates’ reports, go to the Buncombe County Board of Elections website at

Who came out on top in the races for board chair (the only countywide commissioner race)?
1. David Gantt (Dem.): 27, 224 votes
2. JB Howard (Rep.): 10,165

Of all primary candidates, which three raised the most money?
Terry Van Duyn: $32,765.07
Linda Southard: $27,546.79
Brownie Newman: $16,301.57

Which district candidates will advance to November, and how many votes did they get?
1. Holly Jones (Dem., District 1): 11,665 votes
2. Brownie Newman (Dem., Dist. 1): 8,898
3. Carol Peterson (Dem., Dist. 2): 6,531
4. Ellen Frost (Dem., Dist. 2): 6,021
5. Michelle Pace Wood (Dem., Dist. 3): 4,545
6. Joe Belcher (Republican, Dist. 3): 4,342
7. Terry Van Duyn (Dem., Dist. 3): 4,269
8. Mike Fryar (Rep., Dist. 2): 4,099
9. Christina Kelley G. Merrill (Rep., Dist. 2): 3,925
10. David King (Rep., Dist. 3): 2,679
11. Don Guge (Rep., Dist. 1): n/a (Guge wasn’t on the ballot, since he’s the only Republican running in Dist. 1)

Of these winners, who raised the least amount of money in the first quarter?
Michelle Pace Wood: $700

Which candidate loaned or donated the most to their campaign?
Terry Van Duyn: $21,141.09

Which winner spent the least?
Michelle Pace Wood: $0

What do the Buncombe County commissioners get paid?
$26,019: board chair
$21,762: vice chair
$17,505: other commissioners

In addition, each commissioner receives an $8,450 travel stipend and a $650 technology allowance.

Which candidate got the most $1,000 donations from individuals other than themself (not counting in-kind contributions or loans)?
Terry Van Duyn: two

Who had the most small donations ($50 or less)?
Brownie Newman: 81 donations totaling $2,442.56
Holly Jones: 61 donations totaling $2,238

What was the biggest single campaign expense reported by any primary winner?
$4,563.56 (Terry Van Duyn, “food for kickoff event”)

Which candidate spent the most money all told?
Terry Van Duyn ($25,858.78)

Which campaign manager/consultant was paid the most?
Michael Muller, who worked with Mike Fryar, David King and Glenda Weinert

The second-most?
Beth Trigg, who worked with Terry Van Duyn

What was the biggest single expense for the top vote-getter in each district and for the overall top-drawing Republican?
Peterson: $4,500 for “bundled communications”
Belcher: $3,641.10 for “signs”
Jones: $1,139.35 for “website costs”

How much did those four candidates spend per vote (total reported expenses divided by number of votes received)
Belcher: $3.50
Peterson: $1.13
Jones: 67 cents
Wood: $0

— Margaret Williams can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 152, or at

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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