If it's true that money rules in politics, then call Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram the king.
As of Friday, Ingram had raised more than $75,000 for this year's political campaign, according to the latest campaign finance reports, about $20,000 more than the next highest fundraiser, Brunswick County District Attorney Rex Gore.
Their opponents in Tuesday's primary race are no fundraising slouches, either. Columbus County attorney Harold Pope, who is challenging Gore in Tuesday's Democratic primary, has raised about $50,000, and State Highway Patrol Trooper Timothy Daniels has brought in more than $27,000 for his Republican primary race against Ingram.
Frank Iler, incumbent N.C. House representative for Brunswick County, has taken in nearly $30,000; the only other candidate to report more than $15,000 in donations so far. His Republican primary opponent, Shallotte attorney Mac Tyson, has raised and spent less than $10,000.
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Ingram, Daniels, Gore, Pope and Iler each have taken in nearly twice as much as the sixth-highest fundraiser, Republican clerk of court candidate Pauline Hankins. But the $15,924 she's reported raising so far included $12,309 of her own money. Her opponent, Jim MacCallum, has raised $9,652, according to his campaign finance report.
Candidates say voters can't draw inferences about candidates from the amount of money they've raised. They say it's just what it takes to mount a campaign.
"They can draw the conclusion that running for public office is an expensive process," said Gore, campaigning Friday afternoon outside the National Guard Armory in Shallotte.
Gore said he spent about $13,000 when he was first elected district attorney in 1990. At the time, he thought that was a lot of money. But, he added, his primary opponent that year spent more than $50,000.
In his 2008 campaign, when he had primary and general elections races, Gore said he spent a total of about $150,000.
The money is spent primarily on signs, brochures and other things to get a candidate's name and message before the public.
Ingram, for instance, has spent $9,263 with The Sign Shoppe in Shallotte, where Daniels has dropped nearly $5,500. Daniels' report also lists $1,289 spent at Coastal Printing for brochures and bumper stickers.
Ingram has spent $59,241 of the money he's raised so far, while Daniels has spent $25,754 in his latest report. With more money, Ingram has cast a wider net.
He's spent $4,000 on a political consultant from Raleigh and paid $3,124 to River's Edge Golf Club in Shallotte for food, greens fees and golf carts for the 112 people who participated in a fundraiser there. He's also staged a barbecue and two fish fries to raise funds, and in the process he's amassed nearly 100 pages of individual contributions to his campaign.
Ingram has also bought advertising at Dixie Youth baseball games and at a Brunswick County NAACP event. He also donated $900 for a Brunswick Community College scholarship fundraiser and $150 for a membership at the North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce.
Donations of $50 or less don't have to be reported by name. For contributions above $50, Ingram's campaign has gotten the most cash from Charlie Miller, his chief deputy, who has given more than $3,000. Daniels' largest contribution is $2,500 from Joe Hanes, who was listed on the form as Brunswick County sheriff patrolman. But he doesn't work for the Sheriff's Office, said Ingram's assistant, Beth Boling. Nor is he a North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper, according to the Patrol's Shallotte office.
Daniels and Ingram said they don't focus on how much they are raising or spending. Rather, their attention is on doing what is necessary to get votes.
It's a lot of money, but not too much, "If you're fighting for something that's worth fighting for," Daniels said.
And Ingram said that the fact he's spending more than twice what Daniels is doesn't give him any comfort.
"You have to be aggressive throughout the campaign," he said.