Candidates seeking an at-large seat on the Portland City Council have raised more than $50,000 since July and have roughly $27,000 to spend in the final week of the election.

Challenger Bree LaCasse holds a significant fundraising and spending advantage over her two opponents, 16-year council incumbent Jill Duson and Joey Brunelle.

Both Duson and LaCasse have raised more than $20,000 since July 1, while Brunelle has raised less than $10,000.

The fundraising numbers reflect a bitterly contested council race – and one of the most expensive in recent memory – in which two community activists are looking to unseat Duson, whose fiscal caution has drawn the ire of parents looking to renovate four elementary schools and whose policy caution has drawn heat from renters.

All three candidates are Democrats and the race has led to infighting among those in the party, as evidenced by a recent petition to remove the city’s party committee chairwoman.

Brunelle has said he is not accepting money from political action committees or real estate developers, and criticized his opponents for the fundraising.

“It’s unprecedented how much money my opponents are raising for an at-large city council race,” Brunelle said. “With tens of thousands being donated by wealthy donors and shadowy fundraisers, we have to worry about how this is corrupting our political process.”

LaCasse and Duson said the donations simply reflect strong grassroots support.

In her 11-day pre-election finance report, LaCasse reported raising $23,750. She raised about $5,560 from 31 out-of-state donors. She also pulled in $9,600 in contributions of $50 or less. Those donations do not need to be itemized, so it’s unclear how many of those came from Portland residents.

LaCasse is spending the most on paid staff. She has paid Jon Eder, a school board member, $8,000 to be her campaign consultant, plus another $1,500 in “field support.” She has also spent about $10,000 on direct mailers.

LaCasse, a development officer at Community Housing of Maine who raised nearly $20,000 before July 1, has $13,000 to spend heading into the last week before election day.

When asked about her out-of-state support and large amount of non-itemized contributions, La-Casse said in a short email that she was “really grateful for all of the grassroots support.”

After raising $3,400 before July 1, Duson received $21,800 in contributions and has about $9,700 left to spend. She has paid $1,250 to Laura Cyr, of Latitude Management & Consulting, to be a campaign consultant, and $8,000 on mailers.

Duson, a retiree who has chaired the council’s Housing Committee for the last two years and opposes a rent control measure on the city ballot, is getting support from landlords such as Port Property Management and Crandall Toothaker, who contributed $800 and $750, respectively. Former Gov. John Baldacci also gave $100 to Duson, who also raised about $1,500 in contributions of $50 or less and received $900 in out-of-state contributions.

Duson said her “strong fundraising period” showed support for her long record of service in Portland and her “grassroots campaign.”

“We have a broad base of support from local business owners, activists and concerned citizens – with the vast majority of my contributions coming from residents who reside in Greater Portland,” Duson said.

Brunelle also raised a significant amount for a council race, even though he has refused to take money from PACs and developers.

After raising $5,800 before July 1, Brunelle brought in an additional $7,700 and has about $4,600 remaining. Brunelle, who owns his own digital communications business, disclosed most of his donors giving $50 or less and received one out-of-state donation for $20.

Brunelle, who has spent $2,400 on mailers, noted that he has made a local clean elections program a “central plank” in his campaign.

“The point of an election isn’t to raise money,” he said, “it’s to talk to people, share ideas, and build a movement around the issues voters care about.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.