Amundson-Farias campaign dispute alleged misreporting of financial documents

Collegian Staff

Associated Students of Colorado State University presidential candidate Ben Amundson and vice presidential candidate Alexandra Farias’ campaign finance documents have come into question after a member of the organization filed a report alleging that the campaign had misreported their finances and donations.

In an interview with The Collegian and in a campaign video posted to their Facebook page, Amundson said he and Farias donated most of their campaign money to the Food Bank of Larimer County, due to their platform on food insecurity. Because of this donation, Amundson said the campaign could not afford to print colored flyers.

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But, that claim was questioned when ASCSU Controller Nick Bohn filed a report against the Amundson-Farias campaign, alleging that the candidates misreported their campaign finances and are in violation of the ASCSU Elections Code.

After the report was filed and delivered to the Rocky Mountain Student Media newsroom Monday afternoon, The Collegian launched an investigation into the claim and found that transparency around the amount of the donation was lacking.

Additionally, in his report against the campaign, Bohn noted discrepancies between the cost of items included on Amundson-Farias’ campaign finance report.

Bohn additionally wrote in a witness statement that he noticed some campaign expenses were not disclosed in their financial report, including candy that was handed out while they campaigned.

According to the donations and expenditures (D&E) report received by The Collegian, currently, the Amundson-Farias campaign has donated a total of $100 to the Larimer County Food Bank.

The Collegian was not able to confirm with the Food Bank how much Amundson’s campaign donated, nor were they able to confirm that he made a donation. A representative from the Food Bank stated Tuesday that the donations were anonymous, and the donation amount could not be disclosed.  

According to the Elections Code, all updates to campaign finance reports are due Monday and Friday at 3 p.m. to the elections manager. The Elections Committee sent the financial reports for all of ASCSU’s current campaigns to The Collegian after the Monday deadline. The code specifies the D&E report should include copies of all receipts and invoices, as well as the sources of all donated funds to the campaign.

In his statement against the Amundson-Farias campaign, Bohn wrote that the candidates violated ASCSU’s Code of Ethics by misreporting information on their campaign finance documents.

Under ASCSU’s current Elections Code, presidential and vice presidential candidates have a budget of $1,250, which they are prohibited from exceeding.

In response to Bohn’s allegations, Amundson said he had not yet heard about Bohn’s report, but he hoped to resolve the issues with Bohn in person.  

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“I haven’t heard a word about it, so I hope they do give me a word as soon as possible,” Amundson said. “Honestly, I was just disappointed they didn’t want to talk about it in person. So, I tried to talk to a couple of the team members in person, and they said they didn’t want to talk.”

Amundson clarified that his campaign has not claimed to donate all campaign funds, but rather a considerable amount of personal money. However, he specified that the campaign has donated more than what is reported on the D&E.

He also added that the campaign specifically made sure not to claim the money donated to the food bank came from campaign funds, as that could eliminate them from the running, according to Adriana Graybeal, ASCSU elections manager.

“We didn’t actually give away necessarily that fund, but what we are saying is our money — our personal money — not a single penny has been spent on anything except a campaign donation and black and white printing,” Amundson said.

In response to claims that Amundson-Farias would need to report these donations as campaign funds due to their use as a campaigning tool, Amundson said the donations are meant to send a message.

“We are not saying it explicitly to win votes, we are actually saying it to send a bigger message — that you don’t need to have the most expensive campaign (or) people handing out free stuff today; you don’t have to spend all your money,” Amundson said. “There’s even question of, ‘Should ASCSU give us some money to spend on our campaign?’ We are saying absolutely not. We are sending a bigger, broader political message that we don’t need all of this. I wouldn’t say it is expressly a campaign tool.”

On the issue of transparency, Amundson said it would be inaccurate to say that the campaign lied about their donations.

“We are willing to show you receipts,” Amundson said. “We are willing to go the distance to show you that this is all real, and we haven’t spent a single penny on anything except our donation and black and white print.”

Graybeal said Amundson would need to disclose donations if he made the donation with campaign funds or in connection with his campaign. If he made donations with his personal money, he would not need to disclose that information, Graybeal said.

“If he is using it as a campaign strategy, it is no longer personal finance, meaning that he would have to record it on the D&E,” Graybeal said. “When it comes to his own personal life outside of his campaign, he can donate as much money to the Food Bank as he wants to. But, if he is using it as a campaign strategy and is donating campaign finances, that means it has to be recorded and will eliminate him from the race if it is over the amount he is allowed to spend on his race.”

Graybeal said she would argue Amundson’s donation is a campaign strategy.

When explaining why he had not disclosed the total donation amount, Amundson said he was still following the precedent set during his campaign for Speaker of the Senate by the 2017-18 Elections Committee, when Amundson reported that he donated $100 of his campaign funds to the Food Bank. If he were to report the full donation in the D&E, his campaign could risk being disqualified from the election, Amundson said.

“They could completely eliminate me, so I say no because of precedent,” Amundson said. “Last year, the Elections Committee looked at it — so not just the elections manager, the whole committee looked at it. And they said, ‘You can’t disclose that number or you are eliminated.’”

In regards to possible allegations of Elections Code violations, Amundson said Graybeal’s decision does not reflect the precedent set by last year’s committee.

“This isn’t one person’s say. Last year, it was eight people’s say, and those eight people voted and said that I would be eliminated if I disclosed it,” Amundson said. “I understand she is supposed to advise the candidates, and if I was ever called into a hearing with the Elections Committee, I would say this is the exact precedent you set. That is the judicial precedent.”

In an email to The Collegian, current student body President Tristan Syron wrote that the 2017-18 Elections Committee decided that candidates did not need to include donations they made on their D&E reports.

“Last year, the issue arose of whether or not charity needed to be put on the D&E. The answer came back as no, because it isn’t a ‘campaign expense,’” Syron wrote.

Graybeal said all donations, as valid campaign finances for campaigns that emphasize charitable giving, are public information. As such, the Elections Committee did not tell Amundson not to disclose the actual amount his campaign donated.

“We did not tell him to not disclose anything, we just told him he had to fill out the D&E properly,” Graybeal said.

Graybeal said that regardless of precedent, she has specified to the 2019-20 candidates that donations used for campaign purposes must be reported in the finance reports.

“If he has submitted more than that ($100), then it has not been recorded on his D&E, which is not alright, ‘cause he is supposed to be recording all of those,” Graybeal said. “I have had a conversation with him about that, due to the fact that if he goes over budget and has any violations against him, it would disqualify him from the race.”

Graybeal said all campaign finance reports are available to the public, and people can contact the Elections Committee if they are interested in viewing a campaign’s financial reports.

“If students are concerned about campaign finances, they can come talk to the committee. We’re more than willing to discuss campaign finances. With it being that public access piece, we’re not hiding anything from them,” Graybeal said. “The committee’s here to make sure that they have that ability to reach out and ask those questions, because we can talk to the campaigns directly and get those questions answered for them.”

Collegian staff can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.