Cash-strapped Utah Democratic Party elects to stop paying its top leader

(Tribune file photo) Daisy Thomas, chairwoman of the Utah Democratic Party.

The Utah Democratic Party is so strapped for cash that its executive committee decided Tuesday to stop paying Chairwoman Daisy Thomas for the rest of her term.

The vote came after the committee received a financial update from its new treasurer and learned that Executive Director Alex Cragun, one of three people on the party’s payroll, had not received a portion of a recent paycheck.

“Changes just have to be made to make sure the organization remains viable,” Sheila Srivastava, the party’s treasurer, told The Salt Lake Tribune — and the party doesn’t have the money to pay both Cragun and Thomas.

Before Srivastava came into the party in February, she said the organization didn’t have solid procedures in place for accounting records and that she has been working to “clean up” its financial reporting system and create standard operating procedures to ensure the party’s viability. She said the party has a plan in place to pay off its debts with fundraising and “other coordinated efforts.”

Documents from the executive committee meeting provided to The Salt Lake Tribune show the party has $43,312 in assets but a total $106,873 in current and long-term liabilities — a deficit of $63,561. Additionally, a profit and loss sheet from Jan. 1 to April 9 of this year shows the party generated $212,960 in income during the period but spent $229,188.58.

Personnel costs, including wages and health insurance, cost $73,588.

Eric Biggart, chair of caucuses, said Thursday that the decision to stop paying Thomas was not connected to Cragun’s missed wages but stemmed from conversations that had been ongoing since February. Before the executive committee meeting began on Tuesday, he said members knew the party hadn’t met its February and March fundraising goals and would likely to have to cut Thomas’ pay.

“[We knew] the numbers are such that if this doesn’t pick up in March, then we’re going to have to not pay the chair because the chair’s only job is set vision and raise money," he said. "There’s not much else that is needed right there.”

There appeared to be confusion Wednesday afternoon among executive committee members over why Cragun wasn’t being paid, who had made that decision and how much money he was owed. Cragun did not respond to a request for comment.

But Thomas said in a written statement that Cragun had “unilaterally” reduced his most recent paycheck against her orders “in response to a temporary budget shortfall, without considering the negative labor implications in doing so. We have plans to reimburse him completely for any shortfall. The Utah Democratic Party is a worker's party and we believe all our full-time employees are entitled to a living wage.”

Several people said Thomas, who declined to offer comment on suspension of her wages, was not present for the financial discussion at Tuesday evening’s meeting

Michael Bryant, the party’s secretary and a member of the executive committee, said the committee was surprised to find out that Cragun had missed wages.

“We weren’t aware he wasn’t being paid and we don’t know why he wasn’t being paid, and there was unanimous consent to make him whole immediately,” he said.

Shortly after the meeting, Elizabeth Converse, a former Democrat who left the party over its response to allegations of sexual harassment against a former candidate for chairman, created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Cragun’s missed wages.

“Alex has been a community organizer for as long as I’ve known him,” she said in her post. “He genuinely cares about people — now to the point of not even getting paid for the work he has done. This is a problem. Without a healthy Alex, there is no healthy infrastructure for the community we all want to build. Invest in Alex, so he can invest in himself. If his job can’t pay, we can keep him afloat until he can find one that can.”

The campaign had earned more than $1,600 as of Wednesday afternoon from more than 20 people — one of whom said he’d “suddenly stopped” his donations to the Utah Democratic Party because of the situation.

The party has been embroiled in controversy for the past two years over its response to sexual harassment allegations from seven women against party chair candidate Rob Miller, the party’s former vice chairman and treasurer. That issue came up again at its meeting Tuesday after Miller tried to run in the upcoming race for chair. The party stated it had not received his campaign paperwork prior to the filing deadline.

The state Republican Party has also faced financial challenges due to outstanding legal debts stemming from several legal challenges — most of which were unsuccessful — against the state. Those lawsuits sought to overturn SB45, a 2014 law allowing partisan candidates to qualify for a primary election either by obtaining signatures or by winning the support of party delegates at convention.

Entrata CEO Dave Bateman acquired that debt and recently excused it after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Republican Party’s appeal against the state.

— Editor’s note: Elizabeth Converse is married to a reporter at The Salt Lake Tribune.