Meet the Candidates: Focus on Campaign Finance and Ethics

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Meet the Candidates: Focus on Campaign Finance and Ethics

Campaign finance and ethics is an area many voters do not consider. Most people assume election boards take care of making sure all is done appropriately. In reality, most state and local campaign boards look only to see that a filing is made and respond to complaints when filed by watchdogs or competing candidates. But the content of campaign filings provide tremendous insight into who financially supports a candidate, how well they manage their money, and whether they follow campaign law. With this in mind, an overview of the campaign filings of each candidate for Mayor of Ferguson is important for all voters to consider. (Note: Reports can be looked up at: https://mec.mo.gov/MEC/Campaign_Finance/CFSearch.aspx)

Three candidates are on the ballot for April 4th. These are Ella M. Jones, Nicholas “Nick” Kasoff, and Joanne “Toni” Toniette Burrow.

J. Toni Burrow

J. “Toni” Burrow has not run a campaign. She was recalled in the special election held on February 7th from her positions as Council Member representing the Second Ward. She remains on the ballot as a candidate, but should Burrow be elected the City Charter in Section 8.8.3 states that she is ineligible to serve in any city office during the remainder of the term for which she was originally elected but recalled from office. Just prior to the special election, Burrow filed an amendment to her Statement of Committee Organization for Citizens for J. Toni Burrow which changed the treasurer for her campaign from Rob Chabot to herself. A January 2023 Quarterly report was filed and shows a little over $1000 of cash on hand. However, she has not filed any reports since this, and has now missed both the required 40 Day Before Election and 8 Day Before Election reports required by candidates listed on the ballot.

Ella M. Jones

Ella M. Jones first filed her statement of committee organization on 11/5/2014, before her first campaign for Ward 1 council. She filed as a Democrat and has continued to file as a Democrat despite running exclusively for positions on the non-partisan Ferguson City Council. Jones has maintained her committee, Friends of Ella M. Jones, since her first campaign.

Under Missouri state law, Jones’ election cycle began at midnight on the day she was elected. Therefore, all activity reported on and after June 3, 2020, is part of the current election cycle. Not only is this a substantial period of time, but a substantial number of errors in reporting make summarizing campaign finance activity for Jones more challenging. In more recent filings, there are clearly problems with the aggregate totals given for donors making more than one donation during this period. At least a dozen donations appear to have an error with the aggregate total. One donor is noted as giving “$0” while also given an aggregate total. The 8 Day Before Election report gives a total monetary contributions that does not match those listed. Additionally, there are misspellings and incorrect addresses throughout the reports. These range from misspelling the name of Jones’ daughter, Marletha Jones, to giving an street address in Bridgeton (3455 DePaul Lane) as being in “Ferguson, MO, 63135.” What follows is a good faith effort to analyze the reports as they are, with some obvious corrections.

Jones started with approximately $2000 money on hand left from the previous election cycle. Since Jones’ election as mayor she has raised $21,178 in cash donations and $200 in-kind donations. These donations came from 106 different persons, twelve committees, and two businesses. Of the 106 individual persons donating, 32 live in Ferguson, 66 live outside Ferguson, but in the metropolitan area, and 8 people live out of state. Most of the Committees donating to Jones’ are Unions, but the largest of all of her donors, giving $3,800, is Civil PAC. The next largest donors each gave $1000 each: the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, Missouri Kansas Area PAC; Anthony Thompson of St. Louis, MO, and Nanette Gaines of Florissant.

On May 5, 2021, Jones made a $1600 loan to her campaign at 0% interest, to be paid back within one year. Prior to the loan, she had $1460.47 of money on hand. Immediately after the loan, $1515.65 was spent on printing and graphic design expenses. This correlates to the release of her newsletter seen here in her Facebook page post on May 13, 2021. On August 9, 2022, a payment of $500 was made on the loan, leaving $1100 of debt. Under the terms stated, that one payment was late and Jones’ campaign has essentially defaulted on the balance owed to herself as a private individual.

During this election cycle, Jones has spent $21,363.14. This includes $2026 for billboards, $2900 for graphic design services, and $11168.16 on printing, mailers, and postage. She has spent $1546.84 on yard signs. She also spent $500 to Robert Nelson on database management. Nelson later donated $125 back to her. In another circular exchange of donations to Jones’ campaign and expenditures from it, Jones received two donations from Tommie Pierson ($50 on 12/28/22 and $100 on 2/22/22) and reported the address of his church as 9950 Glen Owen in her reports. But on January 28, 2023, Jones’ campaign donated $100 to Greater St. Mark’s Church.

As of the 8 Day Report to the Missouri Ethics Commission, it appears that Jones has overspent what she has taken in during the current election cycle by at least $1000, and owes the $1100 balance of the loan to her campaign as well. She reports having $5.655.26 money on hand. Again, errors in multiple reports are noted, and this summary is an good faith effort to assess the reports as they stand.

Nick Kasoff

Nick Kasoff filed his Statement of Committee Organization on September 6, 2022 as a non-partisan candidate for the Mayor. He has raised a total of $17,045 in cash donations from thirty different people. Two additional persons donated goods, supplies, or services in-kind at a value of $345. Of these 32 donors, 19 live within Ferguson, 7 live in the metro area (one owns a Ferguson business), and 7 are out of state. The top two donors each gave $5,000 to the campaign. These donors are also both CEO’s of corporations owning apartments in Ferguson: Joseph Novoseller, CEO of New Jersey based Aria Legacy Group, and Jeffrey Juster, CEO of Newport Capital Advisors, whose company is affiliated with Aria. Both of these men have an investment in the ownership of Pleasant View Gardens, formerly known as Canfield Green apartments.

Kasoff explained that the donation came about when the two had an issue in dealing with the city of Ferguson. They had turned to a former member of the city council to essentially lobby for them, but it didn’t work out. “Their lawyer called me and asked if I’d talk to them. I told them I’d help them, but I won’t lobby for them or represent them, and I won’t take money as payment.” Kasoff acted as a liaison, first asking the city what was happening, then telling the apartment owners what needed to be fixed. “They had a car crash into a stairwell, and it had been months and it still was not fixed,” he recounted. “I told them to fix the stairwell, and they did. Then I decided to run, I told them they should support me. I was expecting $500, so that was a nice surprise.”

The other top donors to Kasoff include his father, Florida retiree Mark Kasoff, who gave $2500, a friend, Michael Lewis of Brentwood ($1000) and local business owner Dan Wentz ($1000).

As of the 8 Day Before Election report, Kasoff has spent $4107.55. Of this amount $2341.64 went to signs, with an additional $235.78 going to sign materials and supplies. Advertising, postage, flyers, voting history, and PayPal fees round out the other expenses. $13,232.45 remains as money on hand in the last week of the campaign.

What’s Next?

The campaign continues until the election on April 4th. Money can still be donated and spent. Amendments to reports can be filed electronically. As of today, March 29, 2023, no complaints against candidates are accepted by the Ethics Commission until Election Day. Candidates are required to file a 40 Day After Election report.