$5 friends

You might measure your Facebook friends by the dozens and Twitter followers in the hundreds. But you won’t know who really has your back until you have to find 83 people registered to vote in Chapel Hill willing to pay you between $5 and $20 to see you qualify for free money from the Voter Owned Election program.

Jason Baker sent out a tweet recently pleading for money. His 35-day report, filed on time, shows only seven Chapel Hill residents so far – and that includes Penny Rich and her husband – contributing a combined total of $100. Baker contributed $658.32 in in-kind donations to his own campaign, including $200 in toner.

Donna Bell similarly is struggling to come up with her VOE numbers. She filed her 35-day financial report before the deadline, but she was able to round up only 25 Chapel Hill residents to ante up to support her. Penny Rich, Rich’s husband and Rich’s mother made up three of the 25. Bell has quite a bit more money than Baker, in part because, though Bell has been talking about her plans to fund her campaign through VOE money since she filed to run, she did not officially declare her intention to accept VOE funding until Aug. 22. Therefore, more of her initial donations – almost all from out of town or out of state – could be categorized as seed money. Five donors on Bell’s list – four from out of town or out of state – donated more than the $20 maximum. The VOE ordinance required her to either return the overage to her donors or donate the excess to the VOE coffers. She chose the latter.

And this from the raised eyebrow department: At a candidates forum Tuesday night, an audience member asked three candidates whether they had accepted money from developers. But the questioner did not ask Donna Bell, who has accepted money from developer Roger Perry for her campaign. Who would have guessed that Donna Bell would be the candidate in developers’ pockets?
– Nancy Oates

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  1. John Kramer

     /  October 13, 2011

    So much for VOE keeping people unbiased. What a joke.

  2. Hi Nancy,

    You’re correct, I have not been focusing on fundraising until very recently. I am hoping to send out our next campaign finance filing report (October 21) to the media and post it to our website to share the information as quickly as possible. If you’d like I’d be happy to include you on the list of media recipients. Cheers,


  3. George C

     /  October 13, 2011

    OMG! Now we know the secret of Roger Perry’s success. He figured out that for $5-$20 you could get in the pockets of a Council Member. Ingenuity is alive and well in Chapel Hill.

  4. Jenny

     /  October 13, 2011

    Just to unhype the hysteria a bit — I am one of the donors who gave Donna more than $20 in seed money. I gave her $40– 20 from me, 20 from my husband. To make things easier, it was on one check. I live in Carrboro, yes, “out of town” but given the impact that decisions in Chapel Hill have on residents of neighboring towns, I don’t think it’s quite as nefarious as you are making it sound. Also, I don’t think Donna has ever said she is not taking money from developers, just that developers do not have any more influence over her ($20) than anyone else.

  5. Nancy Oates

     /  October 13, 2011

    My point was aimed at the questioner in Tuesday night’s forum who implied that accepting campaign contributions from developers was wrong. If the questioner believed that contributions from a developer tainted a candidate, then pose the question to everyone rather than single out three candidates. As one candidate responded (I’m paraphrasing here), “Developers live here, too.” I’d add that we can’t keep Chapel Hill the diverse community it is without new development. By asking residential property owners to foot the bill for all town services and by tamping down commercial investment, we’re heading toward turning Chapel Hill into a larger version of Governors Club. That’s not a slam against Governors Club, only recognition that there is very little socioeconomic diversity there.

  6. Nancy Oates

     /  October 13, 2011

    Jenny, Bell did not have to return part of your donation. Evidently it was clear that the $40 covered you and your husband. The overages came from individuals who gave $50, a couple who gave $100 and a business that gave $20.

  7. John Kramer

     /  October 13, 2011

    OMG! She took money from businesses?

  8. Nancy, I appreciate your concerns about my struggles with my campaign, but your worries are misplaced. My campaign has almost completed our qualifying donation campaign and will have our report in on time to the SBOE. It is true that I took money from people other than Chapel Hill residents during my seed money campaign, which is allowed by state rules. But what you did not mention is that even though I chould have accepted up to $280 from each of those donors up to $838, I only allowed folks outside of Chapel Hill to give me as much as people in Chapel Hill could give me. So I only asked for $5 -$20 dollar donations from friends, families and colleagues who support my campaign for Chapel Hill Town Council. Some of these folks were very excited about my campaign and gave me more than I asked for. I appreciate their support but decided to support the VOE fund with their generosity.

    Citizens at the forum were raising legitimate questions about who and how local elections are funded. It is a conversation that is getting more and more attention on the state level also. The fact that Jason Baker, Carl Schuler, and I took the harder road of collecting many small donations to help keep our campaigns inclusionary and protect local clean elections is a decision that I am proud of. This is a quality you do not need or respect in a candidate. That is fine. We will just choose to disagree. I feel I have plenty of support elsewhere.

  9. Jenny

     /  October 13, 2011

    Nancy — no, it was not clear. Donna’s treasurer diligently contacted me to get my husband’s name, title and employer to make clear to the BOE that it was two separate donations for $20. Donna takes the cap on amounts very seriously even though she doesn’t need to by law.

    It’s interesting that you seem to have a habit of injecting a bit of fiction in this blog about Donna (ie, “Donna had the worst attendance record of any council member”) I appreciate your apologies when you realize that you are wrong, but a bit of fact checking beforehand might help you out even more.

  10. Anyone who knowingly accepts even ONE cent from a developer will never get my vote. The trick is knowing exactly when that occurs.

  11. John Kramer

     /  October 13, 2011

    Amen, Tom Field.

  12. Nancy, Not sure why you’re picking on Donna and Jason here. I agree that VOE is a program that hasn’t proven its worth and wasn’t really clear on the problem it was solving from the start, but Donna and Jason are following the rules as they exist and don’t deserve to be bashed for that.
    There is another running locally who isn’t following the rules. I’m sure they are “innocent mistakes”, but that’d be some worthy journalism to report on.

  13. runner

     /  October 13, 2011

    There is a 100% chance that the VOE pilot will end with this election cycle. It was a silly distraction with some unitended consequences. Be gone with it.

  14. Terri Buckner

     /  October 13, 2011

    I’m not sure why some folks are reading this post with such a thin skin. The legislators have already signaled that this is the last year of the VOE experiment, but more importantly, per Nancy’s post, the voters have. I am sorry to see the experiment fail, but as I looked at the panel members Tuesday night, what I saw was middle to upper middle class male candidates, one woman, and one person of color. The goal of the experiment was to entice a more diverse range of candidates. If two very solid candidates like Jason and Donna were unable to meet their financials goals, it’s questionable as to the likelihood that less well-educated, more culturally diverse candidates could.

  15. runner

     /  October 13, 2011

    The VOE is not the right way to get socio-economic or racial diversity on the CHTC. The way to do that is to create district elections within Chapel Hill. The CHTC should consist of something like 5 district seats and 3 at-large seats plus the Mayor.

    Just my opinion.

  16. John Kramer

     /  October 13, 2011

    Agreed, runner. Good luck convincing the incumbents of that.

  17. Kramer my man! Not ALL incumbents! I’ve been taking grief over my opposition to taxpayer subsidized campaigns for four years now. Remember the Chapel Hill News headline “Strom skewers Czajkowski”? Probably not — but I do — and I’ve got the clipping to prove it.

  18. John Kramer

     /  October 14, 2011

    I stand corrected, Matt C! In my opinion you are very different (in a good way) than the rest of the town council. At least someone sees VOE for what it really is.

  19. Ph. Johnson-Sledge

     /  October 14, 2011

    Don’t know why Donna is being so defensive. If she comes up even just a little bit short, she
    can always “hold a bake sale”…the very same advice she gave a beloved non-profit that was
    looking to the town council for help.