The Daily Iowan

UISG Student Judicial Court finds SURGE responsible for not reporting the fair market value of photographs

UISG+President+Hira+Mustafa%2C+speaks+in+an+interview+with+The+Daily+Iowan+in+Adler+Journalism+Building+on+Wednesday%2C+March+21%2C+2018.++%28Lily+Smith%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
UISG President Hira Mustafa, speaks in an interview with The Daily Iowan in Adler Journalism Building on Wednesday, March 21, 2018.  (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

UISG President Hira Mustafa, speaks in an interview with The Daily Iowan in Adler Journalism Building on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

UISG President Hira Mustafa, speaks in an interview with The Daily Iowan in Adler Journalism Building on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Kayli Reese and Brooklyn Draisey, [email protected]

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The University of Iowa Student Government Judicial Court has found the SURGE Party responsible for one of two election-code violations filed against the party hours before it won the top seats in the UISG election.

The court found SURGE responsible for falsifying its campaign budget after finding the party did not report the fair market value of its photographer, Mary Mathis, per the Election Code.

Student Judicial Court Chief Justice Adelaide Zwick said UISG campaign party Empower Iowa filed the complaint against SURGE after an allegation that SURGE falsified its campaign spending records.

SURGE paid Mathis $200 for 32 headshots of members on the ticket, according to the judicial verdict document given to The Daily Iowan. This would equate to $6.25 per headshot.

In the document, the court uses Cornell Law to define fair market value as “the value of property determined by the marketplace (or objective purchasers) rather than as determined by a subjective individual.”

Heath Schintler, the UISG vice president-elect on the SURGE ticket, said the party finds the title of “falsifying the campaign budget” to be misleading.

“Adelaide, the chief justice, during our hearing stated very openly to us that she didn’t believe that we had in any way tried to falsify any of our documentation; instead, its decision rested on its definition of fair market value for Ms. Mathis’ services in regard to photography,” Schintler said.

RELATED: Payne: Justice not served by failing to disclose potential UISG election code violation

The definition, Schintler said, of fair market value is not specified in the Student Election Code. He also notes the code uses Cornell’s definition, while Black’s law dictionary legal definition of fair market value means a price the buyer and seller can agree upon.

Mathis went to the hearing to speak for herself and her work. When it comes to fine art and photography, she said, the discussion can grow technical quickly, causing the public to find difficulty in understanding freelance photography.

At the hearing, Mathis said she felt the court was trying to find SURGE responsible for something in some way.

“I feel like although they weren’t trying to question my character, they were actually trying to pin something on SURGE,” she said. “I feel that it was me who was really under question.”

To see if this was a fair price for the headshots, the court contacted Cedar Rapids photographer Carl Bromberg from Visions Photography to see the price for the number of headshots SURGE used for its party, according to a document from the court.

Because Bromberg has no connections to UISG and has more than 20 years of experience as a photographer, the judicial court found him to be a good comparison for a fair market price for head shots.

On March 27, the court reported Bromberg gave his price for 32 headshots as $750 plus sales tax, resulting in a total of $820.50.

The price difference between Bromberg’s quote and Mathis’s charge to SURGE was $602.50. The court also found this to be a difference of $110 Mathis charged for 15 head shots for the First Generation Summit.

RELATED: UI Surge party wins UISG election

The document said Mathis gave SURGE a discount because she “believed in its vision.” Normally, Mathis reported to the court, she charges $250 per person per hour for a headshot.

Mathis said she and Bromberg were not going to have the same market value of their work, because they work for different demographics and Bromberg has his own business.

When asking other Iowa City freelance photographers what they would have done in Mathis’ situation with SURGE, she said they told her they would have negotiated for a lower price as Mathis did, because UISG campaigns won’t have a lot of money to spend in one area.

Mathis said she typically charges students less because she knows they don’t have as much money to spend.

Zwick said the court does not disagree with Mathis’ argument of artistic freedom in pricing for photos, and no blame is on her for charging SURGE $200 for its headshots. The court, she said, has an issue with SURGE knowing the Election Code and failing to comply to it.

“Mathis can charge whatever she wants when she’s freelancing, it’s still SURGE Party’s responsibility to adhere to the Election Code and make sure that what it’s reporting is actually a fair market value,” she said.

In the first hearing, Mathis said, SURGE was not found responsible, though she said the court had facts wrong during that hearing.

For the First Generation Summit, she said, the court assumed she would have charged the same amount as she did with SURGE if she was working at fair market value. However, she said, she used two different camera types for the two shoots. For the Summit, she said, she used a traditional film, she had to pay for everything herself, and the photos took her months to work on. For SURGE, she used a digital camera, and the whole process took one day.

“I just have a lot of anger towards this. For four years I’ve been told ‘invest in your community, be one with the school, offer what you can’… and you don’t see a lot of art students working with UISG, and I think the reason is pretty clear after this. It’s really frustrating for me,” she said.

UISG President-elect Hira Mustafa told the court she told Mathis SURGE could not accept discounts not given to the public. The court said in the document this did not matter, as SURGE did not report the head-shot spending as fair market value as it should have, according to the UISG Election Code.

RELATED: Verdict reached but not disclosed on potential UISG election code violation

Mathis said she did not negotiate with Mustafa but instead quoted her a price Mustafa agreed with. Mathis felt the price was right for a nonprofit campus campaign. Mathis also noted she does a lot of free work on campus as well.

“There was no discount given, it was $200 for the work I did,” Mathis said.

The court found SURGE’s use of a professional photographer put the party at an advantage over the other UISG campaigning parties.

Zwick said a $3,000 limit on campaigns was placed so parties with more financial resources couldn’t run a more expensive campaign. SURGE, she said, was able to received high-quality photos from an excellent photographer, giving them an aesthetically pleasing advantage to its campaign.

Schintler said he does not know at this time what sanctions will be taken against the party.

While SURGE feels the court may have overvalued Mathis’s work, Schintler said, he and Mustafa want to put the matter behind them as a whole.

“[We want to] focus on the bigger picture, which is getting to work as soon as possible on behalf of the student body and making real change on campus,” he said.

In the court’s investigation of SURGE harassing or intimidating other ticket candidates, the verdict document said, the party was found not responsible by the court.

Lucee Laursen, the vice presidential candidate for Envision Iowa, said she found the process in deciding the verdicts of the complaints to be confusing and shady, and she was confused about the appeals process and the announcement of the verdict after the polls closed. [Laursen is a DI columnist.]

She said she found the process to be too slow for such a short campaign.

The whole process with the court was difficult to operate and understand, Laursen said.

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