Friday, November 13, 2009

Follow the Money, Part One

Now it can be told. For months, we have been quietly gathering tens of thousands of records of political contributions to county and state candidates in Montgomery County. After countless hours of scrutiny, analysis and data-crunching, we are finally ready to unveil the results of our most comprehensive survey of campaign funding yet. We have followed the money, dear readers, and now we are showing you where the footprints lead.

The Democratic primary is less than a year away. In almost every part of the county, that primary determines who will hold office for the next four years. Many candidates have not announced. Very few have laid out their positions for next year. No endorsements have been made. But one item relevant to the incumbents’ record – and also some of the possible challengers – is the sources of their campaign money. Let the investigation begin!

We obtained the contribution and loan records of every incumbent holding a County Executive, County Council or state legislative office. In addition, we included these candidates who were past incumbents or challengers.

County Executive/County Council: Steve Silverman, Robin Ficker
County Council: Cary Lamari, Hans Riemer, Howard Denis, Sharon Dooley
School Board/County Council: Steve Abrams
County Council/Delegate: Guled Kassim
Senate: Ida Ruben
Delegate: Craig Zucker, Jean Cryor, Reggie Oldak, Ryan Spiegel, Dana Beyer, Paul Griffin, Tom DeGonia, Alec Stone
Delegate/Senate: Cheryl Kagan
Delegate/School Board: Laura Berthiaume

Note that former County Executive Doug Duncan, one of the most prodigious fundraisers in the county’s history, is not in our dataset. Much of his campaign contributions were collected for a Governor’s race and we do not expect him to run for a county or state legislative office in the future.

These former and potential candidates, along with the incumbents, had a combined 61,483 contribution and loan records on file since 1999. That’s two-and-a-half cycles of data. We went through every single record and divided them into the following categories:

Individual Contributions
These are checks written by individuals, who are limited to $4,000 in total contributions to one entity and $10,000 in total contributions to all entities in one four-year election cycle. We isolated certain categories of individuals as described below.

Business Contributions
This category includes business entities, which are permitted to donate directly to state campaigns, and business PACs. We do not include business owners who contribute as individuals in this category, a MAJOR caveat in our analysis. Our case studies of racetrack owner William Rickman and corrupt developer Ronald Lipscomb illustrate how business owners sometimes contribute through their spouses, children and employees, all individual donations serving a corporate design. Linking business owners to family members and corporate entities would be a worthy and illuminating exercise, but it is beyond our time constraints to do it for every candidate in the county. That said, any measure of business influence in our analysis must be regarded as a significant understatement.

Labor Contributions
This includes labor union PACs and political clubs. We did not include individuals who are union members in this category. Indeed, that information is not public record.

Political Fund Contributions
These are PAC and political clubs that usually have an overt partisan affiliation. Examples include the Maryland Democratic Party, the Hispanic Democratic Club of Montgomery County and the Potomac Women’s Republican Club.

Candidate Fund Contributions
These are funds controlled directly by candidates, who sometimes give money to allies.

Self Contributions
This category includes loans, the device of choice for self-funding candidates. Candidates and their spouses are permitted to contribute or loan unlimited amounts to their campaign funds.

Family Contributions
We attempted to determine family membership by including contributions from people with the same surname as the candidate, living at the same home address or sharing surnames with co-habitants. This is an imperfect measure when applied to candidates with common surnames, so this measure can only be regarded as an approximation in some cases.

Lump Sum Contributions
The State Board of Elections permits candidates to report contributions under $51 from multiple individuals as aggregate “lump sums” for purposes of convenience. Campaign treasurers can save lots of time with lump sums, but the practice does conceal the identities of small contributors. Few candidates use lump sums, but we will report on the ones who do.

Other Contributions
A small number of contributors did not fit any of the above categories.

Next week, we will begin our analysis of contributions. Politicians beware, because we will begin naming names!