On the flood of outside contributions
By Roger McCredie- The Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara is a graduate of Brown University, Harvard Divinity School and the Warren Wilson College writing program. She is an ordained minister, a published fiction writer and a nationally prominent Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender rights advocate.
And she aspires to be a Buncombe County Commissioner, having filed as a candidate for Commission’s District One (metropolitan Asheville) seat, running against political newcomer Isaac Coleman and powerful City Councilman Gordon Smith in the March 15 primary elections.
To date she has raised in excess of $25,000 in campaign contributions – a healthy amount for a local election – and according to public records, approximately seven of every ten campaign dollars she has received have come from out of town.
Beach-Ferrara’s 2015 year-end contributions report, the most recent record available through the Buncombe County Board of Elections, runs to 33 pages and lists total receipts of $25,346. Of that amount, nearly 40 per cent was donated by two individuals.
Beach-Ferrara received $5,000 from Jeff Cooper of Edwardsville, Illinois. Cooper is shown as President of Eudora Global LLC, a business management and venture capital firm.
She also received a total of $5,100 from Judith Meelia of Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Meelia is listed on the report as retired. Records indicate she is married to Richard Meelia, Trustee of the Meelia Family Foundation, a charitable trust headquartered in Boston.
In all, the Jasmine for Buncombe report shows contributors from thirteen states outside of North Carolina – Missouri, California, Ohio, Louisiana, New York, Washington, Texas, Maryland, Kentucky, Illinois, Mississippi, Virginia and New Mexico – and the District of Columbia.
Closer to home, ,the campaign received $1,000 from Meg Coward, President and General Counsel of the Laughing Gull Foundation of Durham, an LGBT rights advocacy group, and $500 from State Sen. Terry Van Duyn.
Beach-Ferrara’s fundraising dwarfed that of rival District One candidate Isaac Coleman, whose year-end report shows $4,885 in contributions, all of them local. Coleman also received a $500 donation from Van Duyn.
Smith’s end-of-year report has apparently not yet been filed, BOE officials say.
Some local political observers attribute Beach-Ferrara’s ability to raise so much money from so far afield to her national reputation as an LGBT advocate. She is the founder and executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, an organization described as “a group working for full LGBT equality and inclusion in the South.” Hormer city council candidate Lindsay Simerly is a CRE employee.
The progressive think tank Center for American Progress says of Beach-Ferrara:
“.[Her] efforts have had a major impact: Under her leadership, the campaign helped overturn a same-sex marriage ban in North Carolina last year. Operating out of First Congregational UCC in Asheville, the group’s WE DO campaign shed light on the suffering and discrimination that LGBT couples seeking marriage licenses face and catalyzed a surge of faith-based, pro-LGBT activism that can serve as a model for how people of faith can be effective allies in the fight for LGBT equality.”
Last November Beach-Ferrara’s Campaign for Southern Equality also won a federal court case that effectively struck down a ban on same-sex marriage in Mississippi.
Her prominence in LGBT matters notwithstanding, some local political observers have called Beach-Ferrara a “one note” commission candidate, lacking in experience and familiarity with local issues, who would likely bring only her own agenda to the table as a county commissioner. And the scope and nature of her fundraising has drawn fire from some locals who see it as unfair and invasive.
“She’s conducting a national campaign for a local election,” said one prominent county Republican who requested anonymity. “It’s a shame there’s no law on the books to curtail taking out of town money on that kind of scale, but there isn’t.”
“As a Republican, when I ran for elective office I was falsely accused of being beholden to outside interests with big money, and I saw other Republicans having the same vitriol directed at them,” said former council candidate Mark Cates. “The fact Asheville progressives are putting forward somebody who is so obviously backed by outside interests highlights the depth of hypocrisy within the Asheville City limits.”
The criticism reached across party lines. “I am a lifelong democrat and retired Asheville City employee who filed to run for city council in 2013,” said former police officer Michael Lanning in an e-mail. “I have seen first hand that our local progressive democrats truly are not for and do not represent the best interest of the working class or workers’ rights as they like to portray themselves as doing. I am so disgusted that I just left the Buncombe County Board of Elections and I have reregistered as unaffiliated !”
Another former city employee, retired police Captain Tom Aardema, joined in the anti-outside money chorus. “Control by outside interests explains why the local people have no chance in this area,” Aardemas said. “All of the upper level government jobs go to outsiders, all the political positions are now being financed by outside interests.
“This is beginning to resemble when organized crime took over Las Vegas,” Aardema said.
BeachFerrara is the author of “Damn Love,” a collection of short stories that won her a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship as well as an honorable mention PEN/Hemingway award. The book was also nominated for a Lambda Foundation “Lammy” Award for best gay fiction. She, her wife Meghann and their son live in central Asheville.