Tennessees Tomorrow SGA campaign party was disqualified from last weeks election Friday for exceeding the campaign spending limit, causing its 16 senators-elect to be banned from taking office.
The party with which presidential candidate Jeremy Durham and vice presidential candidate Cassie Levy ran for office spent $10,051.83. The spending total exceeds the $8,500 campaign spending limit.
In response to Tennessees Tomorrows disqualification, OneTenn presidential candidate Ross Smith and vice-presidential candidate Rachel Frey petitioned the SGA Election Commission for a revote. Smith and Frey said the election was not conducted on fair grounds.
Its disappointing to see that one party can tarnish everyones and SGAs reputation, but a fair election will help across the board, said Smith, who trailed president-elect Curtis Sanderfer by 602 votes.
Frey said she wanted to make sure that every vote counted.
I just want it to be the most fair election for everyone involved, said Frey, who trailed vice president-elect Megan Welch by 882 votes.
The SGA Ethics Committee decided Sunday to allow a student tribunal to discuss the elections validity and possibility for a revote. The tribunal will meet Wednesday in the Office of Judicial Affairs and will consist of students who were not involved in the elections in any sort of way, Rachel Parsons, Ethics Committee chair, said.
Sanderfer said the dismissal of Tennessees Tomorrow should not invalidate the entire election.
A revote would hurt the election process more than help it, because the students are already apathetic toward SGA, he said.
Welch said it is impossible to guarantee the results would be different in a revote, and it would not work out for the student body.
No idea whatsoever
Levy resigned from Tennessees Tomorrows campaign Friday after receiving news of the partys disqualification. Levy said both she and the partys executive committee had no idea whatsoever that the party had overspent.
SGA has been a big part of my life, and I was shocked that I was associated with a party that had done anything against SGA policy, Levy said. I was probably kept in the dark as much as everybody. I told everyone I was dead-set about ... following the rules.
Levy called the partys campaign a one-man campaign and said that she couldnt trust him (Durham) and I took my name away from Tennessees Tomorrow.
If Levy and the executive party members did not know of the partys overspending, then the senate candidates would not have known, either, Levy said. Several Tennessees Tomorrow senators said they were completely unaware of their partys overspending.
I had no contact with finances at all, Mallory Irwin, senator-elect from the College of Education and party executive member, said. Hopefully the student board will know that we had nothing to do with the illegal spending.
Fort Sanders senator-elect Michael Floersh said the news was a total shock.
Levy had petitioned the Ethics Committee on behalf of the senators-elect, and the student tribunal will consider her petition Wednesday.
I separated my name from Tennessees Tomorrow so Im not Tennessees Tomorrow speaking on behalf of the senators, but Cassie Levy speaking on behalf of the senators, she said.
An order of campaign T-shirts was one of the main issues of contention about the spending total. The campaign value report received by the election commission Friday listed two orders of 500 campaign T-shirts at $1,750 a piece, according to the official complaint filed to the Ethics Committee by assistant election commissioner Patrick Hunter.
Hunters investigation of the second T-shirt order confirmed that Label Industries had received two Tennessees Tomorrow T-shirt orders: one from Team Red and Blue, a name that Tennessees Tomorrow used in financial transactions, and one from Pi Kappa Phi, Durhams fraternity.
Tennessees Tomorrow did order 1,000 shirts total, Kathryn Elam, campaign manager for the party, said. However, she said Durham split the T-shirt orders so that 500 shirts would not be considered part of the campaign expenses.
Basically, the way he (Durham) explained it, Pi Kappa Phi was like a campaign support group, Elam said. The fraternity would order the shirts, but only Pong members would wear them.
Hunter said he understands the concept of campaign support groups in political elections, but the 2005 SGA Election Packet explicitly defines campaign material as any material used for a campaigns cause.
The election packet on Page 4 defines campaign material as any paraphernalia bearing the name of a candidate or party.
It doesnt matter who bought them ... these were definitely used for the campaign, Hunter said. Bottom line: it had Tennessees Tomorrows name on them.
The election commission had no way of knowing about Tennessees Tomorrows spending excess until Friday at noon when the final CVRs were due from all parties, Hunter said.
Bad financial judgment
Durham said an accounting error caused the reported excess. He said Pi Kappa Phi had donated $3,500 to pay for all 1,000 campaign shirts, and the transaction should have been recorded as a donation in-kind worth $3,500.
Donations in-kind, which are material donations used specifically for the camapign, are recorded on the CVR at half of the value, according to the election packet. Recording the $3,500 T-shirt fund as an in-kind donation would have resulted in one listing of $1,750 for the T-shirts and would have placed Tennessees Tomorrow campaign spending total at $8,301.83, under the $8,500 limit.
It was bad financial judgment on our part, Durham said.
Durham also blamed a faulty statement of the campaign bus expense for the reported spending excess. Premier Transportation, the Nashville-based company from which Tennessee Tomorrow had rented the bus, had charged Durham $805 for two days use of the bus.
However, election commissioner Troy Weston and another commision member called Premier Transportation wth requests for bus rentals Friday. The scenarios used by the two commission members varied from each other.
Essentially we told them where we needed it, at what times we needed it each day, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., that we needed to transport around 50 students a day, and that it was at a university, Weston said. Nothing horribly different than what he (Durham) used it for.
Both Weston and the other commission member received prices of $2,800 for a two-day rental. Discounts of more than 50 percent must be recorded at half the fair market value, the value that anyone could get on it without negotiations or discounts, Weston said. The cost of the bus had to be recorded at $1,400.
The election commissions standard procedure is to check each campaign partys CVR for the three most costly expenses, Weston said. The commission calls the vendors of the items to verify their fair market value.
Were leveling the playing field, Weston said.
Durham said the $805 the party paid for the bus was not a discount because bus rentals were in far less demand at the time of the SGA elections than during the U.S. presidential campaigns. Because of the lack of demand for the bus, Premier Transportation had agreed to rent the bus to the party at cost, Durham said.
Are we really supposed to ask, What would you charge us for something under other circumstances? Durham said. Because we had an attractive-looking bus, they (the election commision) singled us out.
Tennessees Tomorrow had received a prior warning on March 29 because of a failure to turn in a completed first CVR, according to the minutes from the Friday ethics commission meeting.
Editors note: Follow-up articles concerning the disqualification of Tennessees Tomorrow will appear in Tuesdays issue of The Daily Beacon.