Friday, November 20, 2009

Follow the Money, Part Six (Updated)

So you think that Maryland political candidates have to disclose all their donors? Well, they don’t. They can legally conceal their identities by reporting “lump sums.”

The State Board of Elections’ (SBE) Summary Guide lays out the circumstances under which lump sums can be used:

Certain contributions, including ticket sales, may be reported on Schedule 1 of the Campaign Finance Report as a lump sum, pursuant to the following guidelines:

Contributions under $51 from different contributors may be aggregated and characterized on the Campaign Finance Report as “lump sum contributions.”

Ticket purchases under $251 from different contributors (provided the purchase price of each individual ticket is $50.99 or less) may be aggregated and characterized on the report as “lump sum ticket purchases.”

Once a contributor exceeds $51 or $251 through a series of contributions or ticket purchases for that election cycle, the contributor must thereafter be reported by name and address.

If you choose the lump sum option, even though you may lump receipts as described above on the Campaign Finance Reports, the books and records required to be kept by the treasurer must identify all contributors, including ticket purchasers, by name, address, date of contribution, and amount, regardless of the amount.
SBE discourages the practice:

It is recommended that you not lump sum report contributions. First, it is difficult to keep track of the aggregate for each contributor. Second, if you are using ELECTrack, you will not be able to take advantage of the automatic aggregate feature. Finally, if you are using ELECTrack or any other software, you will not have the benefit of having that contributor's information as part of your database.
Seven of our sixty-one tracked candidates have reported lump sum contributions.

Total Receipts from Lump Sum Contributions

1. Jennie Forehand, Senator (D-17): $36,251
2. Kathleen Dumais, Delegate (D-15): $8,747
3. Henry Heller, Delegate (D-19): $8,340
4. Jamie Raskin, Senator (D-20): $1,310
5. Jean Cryor, Delegate (D-15): $930
6. Craig Rice, Delegate (D-15): $51
7. Nancy Navarro, School Board/County Council: $1

Jennie Forehand is on a different level than anyone else, with 21.4% of her total receipts since 1999 reported as lump sums. That exceeds Hank Heller (15.1%) and Kathleen Dumais (6.7%) and blows away everyone else in Montgomery County.

Lump sums are most commonly used by PACs, which often rely on countless small donations from members of organizations. When candidates report lump sums, they are often in small amounts – hundreds of dollars or less. Candidate-reported lump sums of $1,000 or more are uncommon.

Forehand has reported five of them:

$14,085 on 8/1/02, labeled “contribution by checks under $51”
$7,825 on 1/12/04, labeled “total of checks of $10 to $50 from individuals”
$5,621 on 1/10/06, no label
$4,925 on 11/25/00, labeled “contributions of $50 and under – from 11/25/00 to 11/1/01”
$1,305 on 11/20/00, no label

If each of Forehand’s lump sum contributions was comprised of $50.99 checks – the maximum allowed by law – that would equal 711 contributors, each of whom would have to be identified if they contributed any more money. Our database contains just 247 identified individual contributions to Forehand over the last ten years.

Forehand’s 8/1/02 lump sum of $14,085 is remarkable. Only seven lump sums reported by candidates have exceeded it over the last ten years. And to our knowledge, only two other candidates have raised more money through lump sums than Forehand: former Charles County Sheriff Fred Davis ($117,204) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway ($83,377.60).

The use of lump sums might make sense in instances of large numbers of tiny contributions, as is the case with many PACs. But when a candidate employs them to shield one-tenth, one-fifth or more of his or her donor base from identification, that creates the possibility of abuse. And worst of all, nothing short of a forensic audit by SBE can detect whether a lump sum is legitimately used or not. It’s impossible for any member of the public to tell what is really going on. We will be looking for this practice in the future. Politicians, you have been warned.

Next year, elections for state and county offices will be held. We will repeat our analysis of campaign funding after the next batch of reports arrives in January and issue profiles for each reporting candidate in the county.

Update: One of our sources had this to say about one of Forehand’s lump sums:

How do you do a lump sum PROSPECTIVELY???

$4,925 on 11/25/00, labeled “contributions of $50 and under – from 11/25/00 to 11/1/01”

She deposited it on 11/25/00 and includes folks who gave like 10 months later…?
Perhaps the Senator will consider answering that question.