When Darlene Dunn lost her race to replace Barbara Sears as the state representative for western Lucas County in 2008, she ended up 9,305 votes short but with $19,270 sitting in her campaign account.
Four years later, with no plans to run for office and after moving to California with her husband, Dr. Cary Dunne, Ms. Dunn turned over much of the remaining money — $10,000 — to the campaign account of Joe McNamara, a young, up-and-coming Toledo politician, for mayor.
And that’s annoying to some who back Anita Lopez, the woman who could end up being Mr. McNamara’s main rival for Democratic votes in the city’s mayoral primary.
Construction unions backing Ms. Lopez also were major contributors to Ms. Dunn’s campaign, creating a situation in which they are spending money to counter their own 2008 contributions.
One such union, Local 8 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, in December gave Ms. Lopez $5,000 for her campaign committee. Four years ago, they gave $3,000 to Ms. Dunn’s campaign.
“We really can’t control what a candidate does with their money after an election period,” said Joe Cousino, IBEW business manager and president of the Northwest Ohio Construction and Building Trades Council, an umbrella organization.
Still, Mr. Cousino said, “I find it a little bit disturbing.”
Campaign finance committees are allowed to donate money from their committees to any other political candidate or any charity without seeking the permission of the people who contributed to them.
Mr. McNamara is contemplating a run for mayor and spent a good part of December holding meetings to gauge interest in a potential candidacy.
Thanks to that listening tour — and the $10,000 from the Dunn committee — Mr. McNamara headed into 2013 with a fund-raising leg up on his two most likely opponents.
In what amounts to the first campaign report of the campaign, Mr. McNamara reported contributions for the last half of 2012 of $57,258, compared with contributions to Ms. Lopez of $27,745, and contributions of $11,340 to the campaign committee of Mayor Mike Bell.
So far, only Mr. Bell is a declared candidate.
Mr. McNamara and Ms. Lopez are the two most prominent Democrats expected to take on political independent Mayor Bell.
And because Mr. Bell is viewed as likely to at least survive the Sept. 10 primary election, political observers see that election mainly as a contest between Ms. Lopez or Mr. McNamara for the second spot in the primary.
Under the Toledo City Charter, the two top finishers in the primary face off during the nonpartisan general election in November.
In all, construction-related committees that are now supporting Ms. Lopez donated $10,700 to Ms. Dunn.
Even Ms. Lopez, the current Lucas County auditor, contributed $50 to Ms. Dunn in 2008. And Lindsay Webb, a Lopez supporter on Toledo City Council, donated $100 to Ms. Dunn’s campaign from her own campaign committee. In December, Ms. Webb donated $80 to Ms. Lopez.
Ms. Lopez did not return calls seeking comment.
Mr. McNamara said Ms. Dunn could have done a lot of things with her money, but he said she is to be commended for putting it back into the “Democratic local progressive community” by contributing to his account.
“At least she is giving it to a progressive Democrat who is running against someone who does not share those values,” said Mr. McNamara, referring to Mayor Bell.
Ms. Dunn was aiming to replace Ms. Sears, who had been appointed in January, 2008, to the vacant seat in the GOP-leaning House district that included western Lucas County.
The campaign was marked by heavy spending on both sides, but Ms. Dunn ended up losing by 57-43 percent.
Ms. Dunn was outspent by Ms. Sears in that election $135,209 to $51,420, in their own accounts.
In addition, the Ohio Republican House Caucus spent more than $350,000 on behalf of Ms. Sears while the House Democratic Caucus spent more than $135,000 on behalf of Ms. Dunn.
Ms. Dunn and her husband moved to Huntingon Beach, Calif., from Ottawa Hills in July, 2011, mostly to be closer to their two sons.
Ms. Dunn told The Blade that she didn’t use all of her money because it wasn’t enough to do the one thing that she believes might have made a difference in that election — buying enough television advertising time to air a commercial that U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) had taped for her.
“We didn’t have the resources to counter the attacks on television. Marcy Kaptur had done a beautiful commercial for me. We didn’t have enough to put it on. I wanted to make sure everything was paid,” Ms. Dunn said.
She said it was well-known to other potential candidates in California that she had a sizeable unspent balance because the reports can be found online through the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
“I had a quandary what to do with that campaign money. There were lots of people here in California who wanted it,” she said.
Ms. Dunn said she’s backing Mr. McNamara because he’s smart and dedicated and because she feels he’s a young person who has other options.
In addition to Mr. McNamara, she donated her remaining campaign money to a variety of other causes.
State law requires candidates to file regular reports, at least twice a year, on how much money they have raised and spent, and how much money they owe for loans.
In addition to contributing money to charities or other candidates, they can refund money or use it to repay their own loans to their committees. They can’t take the money for personal use.
It’s unusual to have unused funding the size of Ms. Dunn's.
Ms. Sears’ 2010 opponent, Democrat Harry Barlos of Maumee, still had $5,814 in his account two years later. And Democrat Jeff Bunck of Monclova Township, who ran against Ms. Sears last year, reported still having $5,105 on hand on Dec. 31.
Ironically, Ms. Sears’ own recent report shows the smallest balance of all her opponents, at $3,979.
Also caught in the cross-currents of campaign financing is Mark Luetke, a professional marketing consultant who is active in the Democratic Party and an elected member of Sylvania City Council.
Mr. Luetke is Mr. Bell’s campaign marketing consultant.
But Mr. Luetke donated $50 to Ms. Dunn in 2008, and he donated money to Democratic Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, whose committee then made a $300 contribution to Mr. McNamara.
“I think most donors give money with the idea that it will be used in that particular campaign, but a sophisticated donor knows the candidates have the ability to make choices past an election,” Mr. Luetke said.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6058.