Social media’s free tools make campaign finance reports less telling

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Social media’s free tools make campaign finance reports less telling

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Michael D. Pitman
Voting runs from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

It used to be that campaign finance reports gave a glimpse into how a local election would likely pan out — who was supporting a candidate and where that candidate committee was spending donated money.

While these financial reports do provide insight, social media platforms have become more valuable in local level races, said Miami University Regionals political science professor John Forren.

Self-funded candidates at the state and national levels are typically unsuccessful in a campaign because they “tend to be outsiders and don’t have the political connections to build that base,” he said.

But it doesn’t take much money to invest in winning a local campaign when a website and traditional campaigning — such as door-to-door canvassing and dotting yard signs in the neighborhood landscape — are coupled with the free, popular abilities of Facebook and Twitter campaigning, he said.

In Fairfield Twp., two political newcomers — Pete Bohrofen and Ben Bultman — are challenging the incumbent trustees — Shannon Hartkemeyer and Susan Berding.

Bohrofen has completely self-funded his campaign ($4,486), though he did receive and has not spent the $750 from his three donors, according to the pre-general election campaign finance reports from the Butler County Board of Elections.

Bultman has raised nearly $5,400 but $2,100 came from his own pocket and $2,000 came from his campaign treasurer and former Fairfield Twp. trustee Tara Downie. The remaining $1,300 came from eight donors.

Hartkemeyer, who’s seeking re-election, donated $1,035, and Berding, who’s seeking election, loaned $1,600 to their campaigns. But their donors lists includes a who’s who in Butler County politics, from neighboring township and city officials and countywide officeholders. Hartkemeyer has raised more than $7,000 outside of her own contributions and Berding has raised $4,575.

In the race for Fairfield City Council, candidates receiving donations from a who’s who of Butler County politicians are in the challengers’ campaign financing reports, although they are experienced politicians and former Fairfield council members. Ron D’Epifanio and Terry Senger, who are campaigning together, have raised $10,525 and $3,460, with a long list of campaign contributions.

Councilman Bill Woeste only has one donation and has relied solely on the $1,500 he had from his last campaign four years ago while Councilman Chad Oberson is completely self-funding his campaign ($2,643). Councilman Mike Snyder has not filed a pre-election campaign report.

The cost to run a campaign, Forren said, has reduced the need to raise tens of thousands of dollars to run a campaign. Though that hasn’t stopped some local candidates from raising substantial amounts of money, such as the case with Liberty Twp. Trustee Steve Schramm, whose campaign raised more than $73,000 in 2015 including a near $30,000 loan he made to himself.

Schramm said he sees donation dollars shift because there are numerous people in the less than two dozen competitive races.

There are more candidates in this local-year election than the last one in 2015, which is highlighted in city council and township trustee races. There are 27 candidates in contested city council and mayoral races this year, compared to 16 in 2015. There are 40 candidates in contested township trustee races compared to 22 candidates in both township trustee and fiscal officer races.

The increase is also a sign of a change in affluence,” Schramm said, and “more people feel like they’re the right person for the job.”

That in turn makes it difficult to compete for dollars, he said, as “there are just so many bodies out there.”

But successful candidates will leverage “old-school” and “new-school” campaigning strategies, Schramm said.

“Face-to-face selling to me always trump written exchanges (on social media),” Schramm said.

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