Family, coworkers fund ASUU campaigns

By By Michael McFall

By Michael McFall

When Student Body President Spencer Pearson decided to run for office, he called up his family for some spending money.

His parents donated $400. An uncle donated $200, and a brother pitched in $200. He was able to raise $1,300 total from relatives.

Pearson’s fundraising strategy is not uncommon for candidates running in student government elections.

On average, 71 percent of all campaign contributions given to parties that ran in the last two Associated Students of the University of Utah elections came from either the candidates themselves or their relatives. Specifically, contributions from relatives made up an average of 40 percent of each party’s budget.

Depending on the party, between 23 and 44 percent of their campaign funding came from the candidates’ own pockets, and between 18 and 54 percent came from their relatives.

The Bloc Party, which won the election two years ago, received the most monetary mileage from its candidates. Their donations made up 44 percent of the party’s campaign contributions. Asking candidates to contribute to the party’s funds gives them a bigger stake in the election, said Suneeti Agrawal, who was the campaign accountant for the Activate Party last year.

However, the importance of inside contributions gives an advantage to the parties with candidates who come from larger, wealthier families that can afford to donate $200 (the maximum contribution per person) each, said Cameron Beech, who ran for president with the Activate Party in 2007.

Beech’s party, along with the More 4 U Party, did not survive beyond the primary elections last year. Fuse and Forward, the two parties that moved on to the final election, raised far more money than Activate or More 4 U. Fuse raised $4,301 more than Activate. Election rules prohibit parties from spending more than $10,300.

“If we had a lot more money, we could have been more creative…it would have been a different election,” Beech said.

The party could have increased the size and duration of the campaign by cooking more food, handing out more fliers, giving away more promotional gifts and putting themselves and their platform out to the student body longer and more prominently, he said.

Campaign finance rules need to be rethought to create a better balance for every party, whether or not all of the candidates come from wealthy families, Beech said.

At a Diversity Board meeting Tuesday night, John Bowers, who is running for vice president with the Spork Party, said he thinks the amount of money that goes into a campaign is ridiculous and needs to be lowered.

Dave Martini, the ASUU elections registrar, said he doesn’t think the amount of money any one party has makes a significant difference. If one party has fewer contributions than their opponents, it gives them an opportunity to think outside the box and use what money they have in the most effective way, he said.

Pearson said he does not expect the campaign funding trends to change anytime soon.

The money brought in from candidates and their relatives easily covers the costs of a basic campaign, said Brian Orr, who worked as the More 4 U party’s campaign accountant. The size of the inside contributions takes a lot of pressure off candidates to ask people outside the party for money, Orr said.

“Even though student elections are a great process, it’s uncomfortable to ask businesses or strangers (to donate),” Pearson said.

In most cases, 2 or 3 percent of the parties’ contributions come from local businesses. The businesses that donate are usually ones where candidates were employed, said Basim Motiwala, ASUU’s current vice president who ran with the Fuse Party.

The More 4 U party is the only exception. More than a third of its total contributions of $2,700 came from employees of the Larry H. Miller car dealership.

“We had a good friend who was a good friend of basically Larry H. Miller’s right hand man,” Orr said. Employees from the top down were encouraged to donate, if they could, to the campaign. The dealership’s name might have appeared on the party’s posters and other forms of promotion as a thank you, he said.

Collecting contributions from outside the party is a challenge for candidates who aren’t from Utah, said Clayton McDonald, who ran as the Forward Party’s vice president last year. Out-of-state students would have a harder time reaching out to local businesses they haven’t lived around before or knowing someone who works there, he said. Those candidates might also have a harder time reaching their relatives to ask for money, he said.

However, not all parties’ contribution records were detailed enough to tell who made every donation, particularly the Forward Party’s records.

Forward listed the campaign contributions its presidential candidates collected, but those its Senate and General Assembly candidates collected were not broken down or detailed by contributor.

Martini said lack of consistent detail or clarity in campaign records is part of why he established a new election rule this year that requires every candidate to submit an individual expense and contribution form.

Requiring detailed, uniform campaign finance records might make life harder for the candidates during the election, but in the long run, it makes candidates more accountable, he said.

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