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Campaign contributions add up before student elections

Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 01:02


Across campus, chalk drawings advertising the candidates for this year’s student body president can be seen. 

However, the candidates are using more than just chalk for their campaigns.

While campaigning continues until the end of voting next Thursday, candidates are using a number of ways to brand themselves — some more expensive than others.

Jean Cocco, the chair of the Student Government (SG) University, Community and Government Affairs committee and a senior majoring in political science and international studies, tops the list of candidates in expenditures so far, having spent thousands of dollars on his campaign and collecting contributions from numerous donors and sponsors including local business and state politicians.

According to the documents on SG’s website, last updated on Friday, more than $3,660 has been contributed to Cocco’s campaign, including $1,281.78 of his own personal funds.  

Of the amount raised, $3,540 has already been spent on materials for the election such as food, 1,200 custom wristbands, banners, decorations and 700 custom T-shirts from Bulls Outfitter.

Significant contributions to Cocco’s campaign include $750 from Tampa businessman Richard Gonzmart, $250 from former Tampa mayor Dick Greco and $100 from Carole Crist, wife of former Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist.

Cocco said he met with Gonzmart to discuss ideas about USF when he first decided he wanted to run for student body president, and Gonzmart donated on the stipulation that Bulls Country needs to be improved.

Greco and Crist donated to Cocco’s campaign after Cocco discussed his campaign with them, Cocco having worked on both their political campaigns previously.

“These people donated because they believe what we’re trying to do,” Cocco said. “… They’ve seen my hard work.”

Cocco’s running mate for vice president, Rhondel Whyte, contributed $244.16. to the campaign.

“I saved up,” Cocco said. “I realized a year ago I wanted to run and I knew I had to have a plan of action.”

Cocco’s official campaign site lists sponsors such as Tampa’s Columbia restaurant, owned by the Gonzmart family, and the La Gaceta newspaper, which Cocco said he made connections with while working for Greco’s campaign in 2011. 

Other sponsors listed on the site include Bulls Outfitter, Cigar Castle and the USF chapters of the Sigma Lambda Beta Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternities.

Gary Manka, director for SG Advising, Training and Operations, said there are currently no limits on how much candidates can collect or can spend during campaigns, something he said was allowed after the SG Senate voted to make revisions to SG statutes in the spring of 2011. 

Previously, a $5,000 limit on expenditures in the 2009-10 year and a $6,000 limit existed the year before, Manka said.

Though the SG website does not show any documents for Hasan as of Wednesday evening, Danish Hasan, a staff writer for The Oracle and a freshman majoring in biomedical science, said he and his running mate Harsh Patil each contributed roughly $1,500 for their campaign for student body president.

“Almost 99 percent of the expense has come from Harsh and I,” Hasan said.

Hasan said he said he purchased 475 custom T-shirts for $1,200 this week and plans on possibly buying more.

“That’s all we’re relying on: fliers and T-shirts,” he said.

Brandi Arnold, executive director of the Campus Traditions Board for the Center for Student Involvement and a junior majoring in business management and communications, said collecting large contributions and spending money is all part of campaigning.

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