MOUNT VERNON — The age of intensively organized modern politics has filtered down to the local level, or so one might conclude by discussions unfolding between a young Mount Vernon politician and the Knox County Board of Elections.
A recent letter from board of elections deputy director Belinda Lanning asked the Committee to Elect Tyler Fehrman for an explanation of an expenditure of $229.35 for airline travel.
“It’s not typical to see such expenses on smaller campaigns,” Fehrman acknowledged, but added that it is typical of the modern campaigns on which he has worked nationwide. He said the expense allowed him to bring Katie Grayton, a strategist and volunteer coordinator from Massachusetts, in to work on his campaign.
“She’s one of the best conservative organizers in the business,” Fehrman said, adding that she had become a friend of his family through previous campaigns they had worked on together. Fehrman also pointed out, for propriety’s sake, that he is happily engaged to another woman and that there is no relationship between himself and Grayton, other than a professional relationship and personal friendship. He said that he saw bringing in Grayton as a way to develop not only his short-term campaign but long-term base of local political volunteers and activists.
Fehrman said this and some of the other expenses seen in his campaign expense reports filed with the board of elections may have been rarely seen in local elections in the past, but are typical of the highly organized campaigns he has worked on.
“This was the 20th campaign that I have been involved in,” Fehrman said, noting that such expenses as taking campaign workers to dinner or to a movie were typical of the campaigns he has worked for. The idea is to develop social contacts among the campaign workers not merely for the few months of one campaign, but rather to keep them connected and networked for years to come.
Fehrman said he was working on drafting a detailed reply to the request from the board of elections and expects to file his response this week. He also said there were some small errors in the expenses, such as when he bought a fast-food meal one day and in the rush of the drive-through service, inadvertently used his campaign account debit card instead of his personal one. He said the two cards are issued by the same bank and look virtually identical. Fehrman said his campaign treasurer, Renee McDaniel, caught the mistakes and Fehrman has reimbursed his campaign account for those amounts.
According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s campaign finance expert, Kurt Mayhew, Fehrman’s expenses, although not typical, are becoming more commonly seen.
“It’s becoming increasingly more frequent that we see candidates travel,” Mayhew said, adding that expenses to boost campaign worker morale are becoming more common, too. He said the statute regarding campaign expenditures in the state of Ohio is fairly vague, allowing funds to be used to influence the outcome of the election, to make charitable contributions, or for anything relating to the cost of performing public duties. Although Fehrman wouldn’t be subject to the third rule as he was not an incumbent, the first rule allows considerable latitude.
“Campaigns can spend money to make service more attractive,” Mayhew said, adding that if the Secretary of State’s office was in fact auditing Fehrman’s campaign’s reports, it would ask for a more detailed explanation of some of the expenses, just as the Knox County Board of Elections has done.
Mayhew added that, statutorily, there is no limit on how long a campaign organization may be kept in existence raising and spending money. Fehrman, however, said he was not going to keep the campaign going indefinitely to use as a platform for future office runs. He said he plans to close the account soon, bringing closure to his campaign for city council.
Ultimately, Fehrman said, he was encouraged by how the campaign went, with great voter turnout and a strong showing that saw him lose by only a small margin. He said he felt he had great success in gathering a hard-working group of volunteers, many of whom he hopes will remain involved in local politics in the future.