Thursday, August 20, 2009

You, Too, Can Analyze Campaign Finance Reports

A commenter on a previous post suggested that "some ambitious blogger with an economics degree" take the time to review the campaign finance reports recently submitted by the mayoral candidates*.

(*This is not an exact quote...I didn't bother to look it up. Because I don't have to. Because this is a blog. Not NBC.)

I am happy to inform you that almost anyone, regardless of the level of economics accomplishment you've achieved, can successfully analyze a campaign finance report--and I'm here to tell you how.

You don't really need intelligence--what you really need is time. and a cynical attitude. Every person who donates to a campaign has a motive. The most romantic of the motives is altruism--some people donate to campaigns because they truly believe that candidate will be the best for the city. Some donate because they think they will indirectly benefit from the candidate, such as a builder donating to a pro-development candidate. And some people plan to benefit directly, in the form of a job with the incoming administration or some type of business steered their way. Sometimes it's hard to tell one type of donor from another, but here's what you can look for:

-amount of donation. the maximum donation to a mayoral candidate is $2500, and this is typically done by businesses hoping to recoup this cost and then some. If you've got a donor for more than $2500, you've got a violation. If you've got an odd business, you might have a candidate with interests different than those of the citizens of Annapolis.

-type of donors. Individual donors typically represent a grassroots campaign, and business donors typically represent a stakeholder campaign. This is highly generalized but can be a useful tool.

-location of donors. One can assume that the amount of donors from the city proper can be used as proxy for votes, whereas the amount of donors outside of the city proxies either the level of business ties or the amount of friends of that candidate.

-amount of money raised. People like to support a winner, and it can be argued that the amount of money raised by each candidate sets rough odds as to who is the favorite. The caveat is that the people who don't donate money may not vote for candidates proportionate to the amount of donations those candidates receive.

-ending cash on hand. Pretty logical: the more money a candidate has in the bank, the more propaganda they can promulgate between now and the election.

That's about it I think. I'm confident that anyone reading this could look at the campaign reports and come to the same conclusions I would. Hopefully you have more time to do it than me!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

In the last Campaign Finance Report, Cohen raised $51,243.

Of that total, $42,321 or 83% came from businesses, or contributors who don't live in Annapolis.

I read somewhere that he made a point of how the majority of his donations are small amounts from Annapolitans.

That simply isn't true. His contributor profile is just like Moyer's. Businesses looking for a return on their investment.

Bob McWilliams

Anonymous said...

Thanks for checking, Bob. Is anyone surprised? Sounds like Cohen got most of his war chest from special interests and out of town business/developers, then put out a statement claiming something else entirely. Who does that sound like? Why can't the Capital do the math? Is he their "chosen one" too?

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Anonymous said...

Whoa.

Get serious. Yes, most money is from businesses, many from out of town. But is Cohen the only one? No No No! There seems to be a desire to fudge the issues.

The "how to evaluate" is reasonable. But, you must evaluate each candidate in a similar fair [or unfair] way.

Paul Richards

Anonymous said...

that is corruption

Nisha Thompson said...

I wanted to send you an email to let you know that I highlighted your blog post in my Local Sunlight feature: http://blog.sunlightfoundation.com/2009/09/17/local-sunlight-20/.

This post was really well done good work.

Thanks,

Nisha Thompson

Organizer and Outreach Coordinator
Sunlight Foundation
1818 N Street NW
Washington DC 20036
www.sunlightfoundation.com
202-742-1520 x 223
nthompson(at)sunlightfoundation.com
twitter.com/sunlightnetwork
Facebook.com/SunlightFoundation

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Thanks very much. We’re using the FEC’s electronic campaign filings and have found that our figures track the FEC’s official numbers pretty closely. We’re not doing any standardization work like CRP does, just the aggregate figures for state and zip code. So a donor search using the API would yield information about contributors just as they were filed by the campaigns. You can also find information about accountants leeds.