County GOP, Democrats start out presidential election year with healthy balances

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Alan Trisler and Columbus City Clerk Candidate Luann Welmer look over election results during the Bartholomew County Republican Party elections results watch party at The Forge on 4th in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023.

Both major political parties in Columbus were able to begin this presidential election year on solid financial footing.

The Bartholomew County Democratic Party received $30,961 in contributions and receipts in 2023, according to campaign finance reports submitted this month. That’s more than the $26,974 contributed to the Bartholomew County Republican Central Committee.

However, the GOP already had a significant amount in their campaign war chest when last year’s campaign began. It gave the GOP a small $770 advantage in total funds for the year.

The Republicans spent $40,850 on last year’s municipal election, compared to $32,267 by the Democrats. At the beginning of this year, the Republicans had $5,221 cash on hand while the Democrats reported $13,034.

Bartholomew County GOP chairwoman Luann Welmer expressed confidence donations will be larger than normal during this presidential election year. The Republicans will organize an annual mailing where, according to Welmer, Republicans have always demonstrated their generousity.

“We typically don’t do a fundraiser outside of that,” the GOP chairwoman said. “We will have our Lincoln Day Dinner in April, but that’s not a fundraiser.”

There is also an annual auction sponsored by the Bartholomew County Republican’s Ladies League, Welmer said. But she explained proceeds from that event are used for student scholarships, rather than political purposes.

One reason why the Democrats are financially competitive is that they set up a system that provides recurring, year-long donations, Bartholomew County Democratic chairman Ross Thomas said. A spring event is expected to soon be announced that allows the party to reach out to supporters for their support.

According to Thomas, his party’s 2023 annual report illustrates the local Democratic Party is stronger than many realize.

“When you look at those financials, what it shows is that the Democratic Party in Columbus, Indiana is viable,” Thomas said. “We’re not fringe and we’re not going through the motions. We are organized, funded and here to compete.”

Republicans have dominated in almost every local election since 2008. Last year, the Republicans gained back a 5-4 majority control of the Columbus City Council. For every Democrat who cast a straight party ticket in 2023, there were four Republicans doing the same. And all county elected officials and state lawmakers representing Bartholomew County at this time are Republican.

Welmer believes most people understand why the local GOP has dominated at the polls.

”I believe our community is a very conservative group,” Welmer said. “They like to keep their taxes low. The local GOP is all about being conservative, as well as supporting our candidates who have the same values as we do.”

But Thomas believes it’s more complicated than that. He said Republicans tend to be extremely tribal regarding their party allegiance, allowing it to become a part of their identity.

“We’ve got to reach out to people and let them know we’re not Communists, anarchists, or trying to destroy the country.” Thomas said. “Let them know voting for a Democrat doesn’t suddenly make you combust. We must speak to them one-on-one and talk about issues that matter to all of us like taxes and public schools. We may not agree on everything, but I bet we agree on much more than you think.”