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Wichita mayoral candidate Lily Wu far outraises opponents, including incumbent mayor

Hugo Phan

The reports were due to the election office leading into the last week of the primary election, which is Tuesday.

Lily Wu raised more money than all the mayoral candidates combined this cycle, setting a fundraising record for the mayor’s race, according to campaign finance reports.

The former television reporter has raised $207,202 since the beginning of the year, mainly from large contributions from prominent Wichita business leaders and through bundling, where a single donor gives the maximum contribution through several different business entities.

Maximum contributions for city offices during a primary and general election are capped at $500.

Current council member Bryan Frye raised less than half of what Wu did – $92,721 – and incumbent Mayor Brandon Whipple raised $34,711. Like Wu, Frye also has backing from prominent members of the Wichita business community.

Another candidate, Celeste Racette, the founder of Save Century II,raised more than the current mayor at $38,845.

“The fundraising numbers show increased interest,” Wichita State University Political Scientist Neal Allen said.

“They show that Mayor Whipple has a long way to go to close the deal, particularly with elites in Wichita, and we can see really any of the four major candidates make the runoff and be elected mayor.”

While Whipple didn’t raise as much as his opponents, it’s still more money than he collected during his previous primary election in 2019, where he finished second. He went on to win the general election.

Former Mayor Jeff Longwell set the previous record for fundraising during the 2019 election with about half of what Wu has raised. He eventually lost to Whipple.

Other candidates in the race have either yet to file their finance reports or have been self-funding their campaigns.

The reports were due to the election office leading into the last week of the primary election, which is Tuesday.

PAC money in the mayor’s race

Wu has received backing from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political action group that receives funding from the Koch family. But outside spending in the mayor’s race isn’t reported in filings required by the state.

“Wu's fundraising doesn't mean she's going to win,” Allen said, “but it certainly means that she's a viable and impressive candidate.”

Americans for Prosperity has previously not participated in the Wichita mayor’s election. It’s also not subject to the same disclosures and requirements for financial reporting but can still help Wu in the long run.

“For a group like Americans for Prosperity, they have a list of voters that if they can get those people to come out to vote, that helps Lily Wu a lot,” Allen said.

While Wu has received some outside backing, Whipple also has his own political action committee called Wichita’s Future. The committee is run by his wife, Chelsea Whipple, and didn’t report any new contributions during the same fundraising period.

However, the group still has $26,900 cash on hand. Its only expenditures include email and domain services – and a more than $3,000 payment to the Ad Astra Agency, a local election strategy firm.

Spending, cash on hand

Candidates who have raised the most money have also spent the most, including Wu. She reports spending $119,126 – leaving her with $88,075 on hand leading into the primary.

Whipple has $27,794 leading into the primary while Frye has $25,938 and Racette has $4,357.

Wu, Whipple, Frye and Racette have spent most of their funds on mailers, marketing materials and campaign events.

“The candidates are clearly going to be spending the money to get people out to vote,” Allen said. “Even if we see increased turnout over four years ago, it'll still be a small fraction on a minority of the total of the potential electorate.”

The primary election is Tuesday. Early voting is ongoing at the Sedgwick County Courthouse and more advanced polling locations open Thursday.

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.
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