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Election advertisements are popping up along highways and roadsides in Chapel Hill.

Those hallmarks of election season are the product of fundraising — which most of those running engage in. But candidates debate how donations should be raised and how important they are to local elections.

The 35-day finance reports submitted last week to the Orange County Board of Elections show that individual contributions compose the majority of campaign donations, a trend many candidates say they support.

Local donations

Jason Baker, a candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council, said he relies on the local community to support his campaign.

“The best thing you can do is reach out to people in your life and people you have worked with in the community for help,” he said.
Candidate Jon DeHart said raising large amounts of money doesn’t win an election.

“You don’t need a ton of money to run in Chapel Hill, you just need to go out and make it happen yourself,” he said.

DeHart, who has received donations from individuals and the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange and Chatham Counties’ political action committee, said donations should come from supporters within the town, not from other parts of the state.

“If the money is coming from out of town I think it is a bad idea,” DeHart said.

But town council candidate Lee Storrow said the diversity of sourcing for his campaign reflects his ability to reach out to many people.

Storrow, who has raised more than any other candidate, has received contributions from donors throughout the state.

“A lot of colleagues and friends are energetic and excited about a 23-year-old young, progressive, gay man running for office,” Storrow said.

He said because of his involvement in public health and tobacco policy, he has donors from nearby areas like Raleigh.

Beverly Biggs, a Durham resident who donated $50 to Storrow’s campaign, said she decided to contribute after working with Storrow at N.C. Prevention Partners in 2009.

“He is strongly invested in the areas where he has been active,” she said.

Although Storrow has emphasized that many of his campaign donations come from the local community, he also received a donation from a political group located in Davidson.

Grassroots Farm Team, a democratic political action committee, donated $50 to Storrow’s campaign in July.

Voter-owned program

Chapel Hill’s publicly-funded election program has also sparked controversy among candidates.

The program limits how much candidates can receive from individual donors. It also allows candidates to receive campaign dollars from a publicly financed fund in an effort to limit the influence of large donors and level the playing field between candidates.

Baker, who is using the program, said the high costs of running for office can keep potential candidates from entering.

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“When the price of participation becomes astronomically high, it becomes hard for a whole slew of candidates to run,” Baker said.

Augustus Cho, a candidate for town council, said he doesn’t think individual contributions largely impact local elections.

He also said he doesn’t think the voter-owned program is an appropriate use of tax dollars.

“It’s a privilege to run for public office,” Cho said. “Financing should come from the candidate and not from public tax dollars.”

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