Several political postcards from the Wichita 2023 mayoral primary.
A sampling of political postcards hitting Wichita voters’ mailboxes during the primary. Nine candidates are on the Aug. 1 ballot. The top two vote-getters will proceed to the Nov. 7 general election. (Polly Basore Wenzl/The Beacon)

In the Wichita mayor’s race, there is one major takeaway from the filings submitted this week to the Sedgwick County Election Commission Office: Lily Wu, a first-time political candidate who calls herself “the outsider” in the race, is anything but.

Wu is just one of eight candidates challenging incumbent Mayor Brandon Whipple in the Aug. 1 primary, but her campaign has drawn more financial support than all other candidates combined. She has raised $207,200 since Jan. 1. Bryan Frye received $92,700 in contributions; Celeste Racette $38,800; and Whipple $34,700. The other five candidates received little to no money.

Wu’s financial support comes from some of Wichita’s wealthiest, most powerful backers: an assortment of local developers, bankers and CEOs — including billionaire Phil Ruffin, Spirit Aerosystems CEO Tom Gentile, Stephen Clark, Steve Barrett, Johnny Stevens, Jon Rolph, Wink Hartman and Colby Sandlian. Wu also has the support of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a political action group started by Charles Koch. AFP has paid for at least six mailings for Wu during the primary. Her campaign paid for at least an additional two. 

In her answers to The Beacon’s questions to mayoral candidates, Wu acknowledged her close ties to developers — including her boyfriend, Stephen Clark II, the first person to donate to her campaign. “Real estate development is necessary for growth,” Wu told The Beacon. “It brings affordable housing, retail, restaurants, hotels and other amenities that help increase our quality of life.”

Information on campaign cash raised so far is found in the disclosure reports candidates were required to submit July 24. The reports are financial records that show what each candidate raised and what they spent, from whom and how, in the pursuit of public office. 

Wu’s and other candidates’ reports list donations received between Jan. 1 and July 20, 2023. Each donor may give a maximum of $500 during the primary cycle. Wu received 329 maximum contributions of $500 each — more than twice as many as Frye, who received 142 maximum contributions. Racette received 31 and Whipple 24.

The complete reports filed by the four candidates raising money may be viewed here:

Wu’s overwhelming lead in fundraising has allowed her to vastly outspend the other candidates in campaigning. She spent $119,000 during the reporting period, with nearly $80,000 going to  one vendor, Hexcode Designs LLC, a Wichita marketing company. That money went to web and logo design, print collateral, direct mailings to voters and prospective donors and digital marketing, according to the reports.  An additional $9,000 went to an Arlington, Virginia, company for cable television advertising. 

In comparison, Frye spent $67,000, Racette spent $35,000 and Whipple $27,000. Frye wrote his biggest check to Singularis Group, a marketing company based in Olathe, Kansas — $33,700 for “postage,” presumably direct mail. He paid the company another $3,500 for signs.

Racette’s biggest outlay went to Advantage Marketing, a Wichita company. She paid $15,000 to run ads on local TV stations, radio stations and digital billboards. Whipple’s largest expense was $11,600 to Valley Offset Printing in Valley Center for direct mail. Another $6,000 went to Ad Astra Agency in Wichita for web design, digital ads and yard signs.

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Polly Basore Wenzl is the editor of The Wichita Beacon. A graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, she worked as a reporter in Washington, D.C., before coming to Wichita in 1998. She is the author...