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Elizabeth Nelson's City Council Blog

I write a City Council newsletter with my summary of agenda items coming before City Council. Sign up to receive it first via email, or read it here later on this blog.

Local Support & Local Representation

Many residents have noticed the size and scale of campaign spending in Ward 4 this season and they have reached out to me in alarm about it. Most people recognize: big money in elections does not make our democracy stronger. Yesterday (Friday) was the deadline for candidates to file campaign finance reports with the county. We now know where much of this Ward 4 campaign money came from and what it was spent on.


All campaign finance reports are loaded to the Washtenaw County website:

https://campaignfinance.us/washtenaw.mi


This is a direct link to my latest campaign finance report:

https://campaignfinance.us/docs.washtenaw.mi/29339.PDF


This is a direct link to Dharma Akmon's latest campaign finance report:

https://campaignfinance.us/docs.washtenaw.mi/28679.PDF


Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani has claimed a 'reporting waiver' for spending less than $1000, and did not need to file a report.


I am grateful to the many residents of Ward 4 who have supported my campaign — Ward 4 residents contributed a majority of my campaign funds (53%) and almost all of my funds were raised within the City of Ann Arbor. I raised nearly $22,000, most of which was spent on mailers and digital advertising written and designed by me, with help from my husband and son.


One of my opponents, Dharma Akmon, reports campaign donations of more than $42,000. A majority of that money (75%) came from outside of Ward 4. A remarkable 30% of her campaign donations (around $12,500) came from outside the City of Ann Arbor, from people ineligible to vote in our City elections. Payments come from cities across the state, across the country, or from "Ann Arbor" mailing addresses that are actually in Superior/Pittsfield/Scio townships. Her reported expenses include thousands paid to professional managers, consultants, and other marketing and design services.


LOCAL SUPPORT

Below is a pie chart illustrating campaign donations this election cycle in Ward 4. See where most of the money came from:


I am grateful for the support I have received from both Ward 4 and the City overall. Less than $1000 of my donations came from outside of the City and that came from neighboring communities: Ypsilanti and adjacent townships. My local campaign is funded locally.


INFLATING SUPPORT

Since 2020, local candidates have distorted campaign finance statistics by explicitly encouraging supporters to divide their donations into multiple payments. There is nothing wrong with monthly or repeated donations, but State mandated finance reports are designed to calculate these payments as a cumulative total assigned to a single donor. For Council campaigns, no single donor can contribute more than $1,050. A new online filing system automatically keeps a running total for these cumulative donations, and the cumulative totals are visible in the report. Candidates who claim a much larger number of “individual donations” are concealing a much smaller total number of donors. (Note: this strategy was used in 2020 to paint an inaccurate picture of average size of donation, as well.)


My opponent has claimed support “from 326 individual contributions.” That statement does not clarify that this number includes over 100 repeated payments. In addition to recurring monthly payments, there are also examples of multiple donations on the same day from the same donor. The “individual contributions” number is further inflated when individuals from the same household address give separately and multiple times. E.g. In my opponent's report, two members of one household made eighteen (18) separate payments of $10 each. Several other donors made 10 or more separate payments.


Sorting donations by household address paints a more accurate picture of local support. Below is an illustration of campaign finance support, as measured by the number of donating households.


This election season, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support I have received from so many local residents in Ward 4 and throughout the City who appreciate the work that I do on City Council. I cannot overstate how much it means to me!


LOCAL REPRESENTATION

I had hoped that the 2020 elections might be an anomaly, but we seem to have officially entered a new era in our local politics: any potential candidate for these local offices must now compete against expensive professionally managed campaigns which are funded by big dollar donors from outside of the Ward and outside the City. Any candidate running a truly "grassroots" campaign - with local neighborhood support and local funding - is at a significant disadvantage.


Campaign finance reports are now available for all contested City elections. A slate of candidates across the City - Christopher Taylor (Mayor), Cynthia Harrison (Ward 1), Dharma Akmon (Ward 4), Jenn Cornell (Ward 5) - have reported raising over $200,000. Those four campaigns have reported expenses of $130,000, including over $25,000 on a shared campaign consulting firm (Blue Path Solutions LLC). To read more about that shared campaign consulting firm, see this recent article from the Ann Arbor Observer:

https://annarborobserver.com/election-2022


I do not believe that expensive, coordinated marketing campaigns are the best way to elect neighborhood representatives to our local offices. However, it’s not up to me: voters will ultimately decide if this is how we choose our elected leaders.