URBANA — As a former state representative and a 1998 congressional candidate, Mayor Laurel Prussing is no stranger to raising big money in state and national races.
And yet she prefers running in local elections, where campaign money tends to trickle rather than gush and where spending is in the thousands rather than the millions.
"That's why they can't get anything done ... because they have to spend all their time raising money," the two-term Urbana Democrat said. "For the state, it's the leadership raising money."
And then there's a candidate like Republican Rex Bradfield, who spends no time raising money. He pumped more than $41,000 into his campaign for mayor in 2009, but all of it came from either his business or his own pocket.
Les Stratton, who is challenging Prussing in a Feb. 26 primary election, said he is leaning heavily on small donations from the community. He has contributed $500 to his campaign fund and given himself a $1,000 loan, but he says it will take much more than that to defeat the incumbent.
"I don't have that type of money to put into a campaign," Stratton said.
"I am depending almost exclusively on the donations from the good people of Urbana who think it's time for a change."
Whatever the strategy, the checks are smaller in local races and the candidates say they do not feel indebted to their supporters.
Prussing said she has laid down rules for her own fundraising: "My principles are I don't ask employees for contributions, I don't ask people who are doing business with the city for contributions, and I don't ask people who are regulated by the city for contributions."
Except for a $5,000 loan from herself, a $5,000 contribution from her husband and two $250 individual contributions, Prussing did not itemize her campaign donations in the 2009 election. She collected $3,956 in non-itemized individual contributions.
Candidates will not have to file campaign finance reports this year until after the election in April, so final numbers on whom their money from is coming will not be available to the public until after the polls close.
Stratton thinks a good voter turnout for the Feb. 26 primary will translate into a victory for him, and he's hoping a win would fuel more donations leading up to the April 9 election.
Until then, he said, he will be largely dependent on the local news media to get the word out, but he thinks money is only a minor factor in the local primary election.
"Only to the effect that Laurel Prussing, being the incumbent, is relying upon on what she thinks is the party machine to back her," Stratton said.
Stratton says his donors are eager for a new mayor.
"They have come to believe that, in order to get change, they have to go outside the party machine," Stratton said.
Stratton was able to raise $3,063 between October and December 2012, according to a report he filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections. His only itemized donation other than those from himself was a $500 contribution from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 601.
Stratton is the first Democratic opponent Prussing has faced since she first won election in 2005 when she unseated Democratic Mayor Tod Satterthwaite.
While Satterthwaite says he has no official position with the Stratton campaign, he has been present at all of Stratton's press events.
Prussing said that aside from the money she and her husband are pumping into her campaign, she's relying mostly on small donations — no more than $250.
If it comes down to her and Bradfield and Bradfield spends as he did in 2009, Prussing said, she does not feel like money will be the difference.
"I guess I'm not at a disadvantage because I won," she said.