Ohio campaign finance and the A.D.A.

On Thursday, Oct 20, 2016 I made the journey to Columbus to throw myself at the mercy of the Ohio Elections Commission. The local Montgomery County Board of (S)Elections had turned me in for failure to file my 2014 annual campaign finance report. Only thing is, I didn’t run in 2014- or 2015, or collect more than $1000 either year.

But, that’s really just a moot point, since the whole system is really just a kangaroo court of fake transparency. Starting with this:

The Elections Commission holds regular meetings. The schedule of the Commission’s regularly scheduled meeting for 2016 is listed below. All meetings are held in the Riffe Center located at 77 South High Street, Columbus, OH 43215. Please contact the Commission staff for suite numbers for all meetings of the Elections Commission. As a scheduled agenda for a meeting is made available, Commission staff will do its best to post it below.

Source: Ohio Elections Commission

There isn’t a single agenda posted.

But, they were going to fine me $25 a day for every day I hadn’t filed- for both years, or some such. But, let’s talk about those filings, because I did. I recorded it for this blog- and to make a case for a lawsuit against Secretary of State Jon Husted for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the filing and recording of campaign finance reports across the state of Ohio.

Now, why is the ADA so important? And why is this is a farce?

Because if public documents aren’t ADA compliant- ie- machine readable- they are also not google friendly. This means, PDF documents, filled out on a computer are the minimal standard. But, wait, said one of the commission members- what if you don’t have a computer? Seriously? In 2016- if you don’t have a computer, you shouldn’t be:

a) running for office
b) asking for campaign contributions

Secondly, it seemed that I wasn’t the only scofflaw that was naughty. On the agenda, that wasn’t posted, there were 38 others from Montgomery County- out of 67 statewide.

That should tell you something. And, many of them- are sitting in office right now.

Our local board of (s)election would rather play “Gotcha” than help people run for office. They’d also prefer it if, frankly, you didn’t run- because we can pick everyone ourselves between the party chiefs without voters to make it difficult- but, uh- that’s another matter.

I found it odd that while they had no problem filing against me for my 2014 annual- the organization shilling issue 9 didn’t file at all this year- “Neighborhoods for Dayton’s Future” weren’t in trouble- or being chastised. Why is that?

In reality, even if everyone files, all the stinking pre-election, post-election, bi-annual, annual, etc- with the board of (s)elections, there is still no easy way to quickly find or analyze any of it. You have to know what you are looking for because they are posted as scans of printed documents (sometimes handwritten) to the site  http://www.mcohio.org/government/county_agencies/board_of_elections/candidate_tools_election_issues/CF_Reports/

Where you have to know what year, what report, and then you can look down the list and download the non-ADA compliant report.

So when we hear that the Redflex traffic cam president is being hauled off to jail, for donating money to politicians to install her cameras with a nice split of ticket revenue, you’d have to go in and pull each and every politicians report, one-by-one, for days and weeks in order to find her name, or her  lobbyist ,John Raphael, donating to anyone.

Contrast that with the still pathetic, but workable Federal Elections Commission database (they have a new beta site that looks better) where you can search by donor, by candidate, by PAC and get reasonable data of all donors meeting the $250 threshold. Or, you can go over to use the more useful Open Secrets site that reformats and pivots the data so that it’s really useful.

To recap: The Ohio Secretary of State has crafted a whole bunch of reporting forms that make the IRS look like user experience design gods- with a slew of different, nonsensically named and numbered forms, that aren’t computer ready or database connected.

And, yes, I know there is a column called “Fillable PDF” but it really isn’t.

A true document designer would have a single PDF that walks you through questions, and lets the committee fill out each area that is needed, and the form does all the calculation and error checking. You’d fill out the candidates name once, his committee name once, his treasurer name once, and you would enter data in (or import it from a CSV file) for donors, or expenses, that would automatically fill in the fields, and step and repeat as needed until the document was complete- at which point you would click file- and it would electronically send the file to the BOE- and enter all the data into a searchable database. If this sounds like a website- it’s because, that’s really how it should be done- but, PDF’s were invented before the Internet as we now know it- and can do all of these functions also.

There is no need for 35 forms. Only insurance companies and Jon Husted could come up with something that insane for a basic accounting report.

Another problem is the idea of closing campaign committees to stop from having to file these stupid annual filings via document hell. Since the new post 9/11 banking rules took effect, the opening of campaign bank accounts, linking pay pal accounts and all the miscellaneous stuff behind a campaign is incredible difficult and a barrier to running. There should be a simple check box at the top of the site- “I didn’t run for office this year or receive more than $1000 in donations. I understand that if I receive more than $1000 or choose to run again, I will have to file a report of transactions for the years I didn’t run.” Simple. No one should care about these small money accounts being held open to pay for things like keeping a URL and website up.

And, if this is all built properly, the system would automatically send out emails letting you know that a filing deadline is coming up and that you should go see if you need to file. This isn’t rocket science. The fact that 38 people from Montgomery County missed their deadlines says something isn’t working.

Lastly, there are fines levied on people who don’t file. What difference does that make to someone who has raised tens of thousands or even millions? Not much. To the small campaigns- a lot. Is this really democratic? Or is it punitive? And, what about the sneaky PAC running issue 9? What do they care if they get fined- since they’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pass their tax increase so public tax dollars can be doled out to private enterprises who are probably backing it?

How about this, if you don’t file, and you win, you lose and are banned from running for a year, or putting a similar issue back on the ballot instead of fines? If campaign finance is really about transparency and integrity, this makes more sense than the hand-slap, after the effort fine.

Of course, the OEC isn’t just taking care of finance reports, they are also the ones who go after people for having signs without the small disclaimer print, the mailings that go out at the last minute that slander people and throw elections etc.  All of which are window dressing on the system that is rigged for the 2 major parties to continue to have it their way or their way.

And while I don’t believe for one minute that our voting system is rigged the way the Donald claims it is, I do know the rules governing small campaigns are rigged to put as many obstacles in place as possible for free-thinkers to run.

If you’d like to hear my monologue to the OEC- here it is:

 

 

 

 

Campaign contribution tracking, bribery and you

Traffic camCitizens United threw the door open to unlimited money in politics. The Federal Elections Commission “tracking” of donations is such a joke that another site, www.opensecrets.org is the only place you can go to get actual, usable data- like, who gave to whom, from what industry, to what cause etc. However, it’s still built on top of the FEC Data which is bad data to begin with. Need proof? Look at this old post where billionaire Wall Street wizard Steven, or is it Stephen? Is listed with two different names.

When it comes to local and state campaigns, the record keeping is even worse. Handwritten reports are routinely turned in, scanned- and posted on badly built websites to make the records “public.” No database of local election donors exists, making it very hard and time consuming to trace the donors and tie cases like this Redflex bribery scandal together:

A former chief executive officer for red light ticket camera company RedFlex Traffic Systems, the vendor for red light cameras in the Dayton area, pleaded guilty to participating in an eight-year bribery and fraud scheme, the FBI said Friday.

There was no mention of any links to the Dayton area, but officials in Columbus and Cincinnati were said to be involved in the scheme.

According to the plea agreement obtained by the Dayton Daily News, various unnamed elected officials in both cities received disbursements through the Democratic Party from a consultant hired by the company totaling $30,000. The payments were in the form of campaign contributions. The Columbus Dispatch was reporting Friday that one of the officials was Columbus City Council President Andrew Ginther.

The announcement came from Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Carter M. Stewart of the Southern District of Ohio and Special Agent in Charge Angela L. Byers of the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office.

The executive, Karen L. Finley, 55, of Cave Creek, Arizona, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Terence P. Kemp of the Southern District of Ohio to a one-count information charging her with conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery and honest services wire and mail fraud.

Finley’s sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date, the FBI said.

According to the announcement, from December 2005 to February 2013, Finley, who served as CEO of the red light camera enforcement company, admitted that between 2005 and 2013 she participated in a scheme in which the company made campaign contributions to elected public officials in Columbus and Cincinnati through a consultant retained by the company.

While the consultant is unnamed in court documents, a Dayton Daily News review of campaign contributions found that John P. Raphael made a $20,000 contribution to the Ohio Democratic Party on Oct. 21, 2011 – the amount and date referenced in the Finley plea agreement. His address is listed at 261 E. North Broadway St., Columbus.

Raphael’s clients include contractors who, according to the city auditor’s office, hold more than $61.7 million in contracts with Columbus City Hall. Raphael didn’t immediately return a request for comment left on a voice mail message system.

Among them are construction companies and Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., the company that supplies and operates the city’s red-light cameras.

“According to admissions made in connection with her plea, Finley and others, including another executive of the company, agreed to provide the conduit campaign contributions with the understanding that the elected public officials would assist the company in obtaining or retaining municipal contracts, including a photo red light enforcement contract with the city of Columbus. Finley also admitted she and her co-conspirators concealed the true nature and source of the payments by the consultant’s submission and the company’s payment of false invoices for “consulting services,” which funds the consultant then provided to the campaigns of the elected public officials,” the release said.

Source: Camera vendor admits bribery

Considering that Dayton is still using the Redflex cameras, and our over $650,000 was spent in our last mayoral election- it’s hard to believe that some Redflex money didn’t make it into someone’s campaign coffers.

But, how are you going to tell? There is no database to look up all donors and all donations and all recipients. It’s download each one of the campaign finance reports- as many as 6 a year in an election cycle – per candidate- and then go through them manually- trying to put things together. Trust me, someone tipped the FBI off on this, because there is no way they started this by connecting the dots online.

Considering that our voting records are on line- and available in a searchable format, including our address, party affiliation, age, and voting history, don’t you think we should be able to look up who bought our politicians.

The right way to do this is pretty simple. All candidates register as a candidate and are issued a debit card for purchases, and if need be, an online check-writing account. All donors must register with a REAL Federal Elections Commission, which would require their Social Security number, employer, industry, address, age and yes- their voting record (actual times and places they vote- not how they voted) and through that portal- they can donate as much as they want to any political organization- with a direct bank-to-bank transfer. You know, if they can catch old Denny Hastert for not reporting hush money transfers, we ought to be able to catch the money transfers that turn our political hacks into paid shills.

The system would include a smart phone app for collecting donations at fundraising events, and all cash collected would have to be immediately deposited.

Vendors would also have to register, so they could be paid, making it possible to quickly see which vendors are used by which candidates. Lobbyists would also have to be paid through the system, and have their accounts made public.

The system would bring total transparency to all political campaign money, and also make researching cases like this Redflex scandal an easy one to track.

This is probably why Columbus has been coming down so hard on the traffic cams, not because they work, but because of resentment that some of the money didn’t come their way. Redflex gets a percentage of every ticket that is issued into perpetuity from their cameras- providing a non-stop source of revenue to continue the payoffs.

If the system was a simple purchase and you own it, the money flow would be 100% back to the community that bought and installed them. If there was one part of this deal that always stunk it was the payoff to Redflex. However this isn’t any different than the deal the casinos made to be handed a monopoly on gambling in Ohio.

Our campaign finance reporting system is a joke. Creating a single portal for all donations would put an end to a lot of the games that are being played in order to buy your way into office.

Will this system be implemented? Not until we get rid of the best politicians money can buy- they like it just the way it is.

UPDATE

27 June 2015 If you want to see the way a real newspaper reports about a news story- you should wander over to the Chicago Tribune:
This is the link to a short article: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-01-23/news/ct-redflex-red-light-bribery-20140123_1_redflex-holdings-ltd-company-policy-camera-company

but the link at the end (it’s 2 pages) has a link to a summary of all the articles about the red light scams in Chicago- including short yellows, the firing of Redflex etc-
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/redlight/

Political campaign hot cards and websites for less

Shameless plug, or doing my part to change the way politics work?

One of the biggest problems facing America is the high cost of running for office. I know full well how much it costs, having run more times than most (and lost).

To help cut the expense of running for office- my firm, The Next Wave, does campaign pieces- websites- printing- for a lot less than what most “political consultants” charge- and it looks better.

We just did a logo, hotcards, letterhead, envelopes, car magnet and a website for local judicial candidate Mia Wortham Spells.

Mia Spells Hot card Mia Spells Hot card back

The website is basic, but functional and responsive. Done in WordPress, with a PayPal donation engine. You can learn how to manage a WordPress website yourself by coming to one of our Websitetology Seminars, the next one is Tuesday June 23.

Our printing prices are some of the best in town- 1000 4/c, 2/s 4×6 hotcards on 16 pt stock are only $44.55 You can find more prices at www.thenextwaveprinting.com

We’re also doing design work, hotcards, banners and yard signs for Dayton City Commission Scott Sliver and signs and some other printing for Dayton School Board candidate John McManus.

We’ve done door hangers for Beavercreek Township Trustee Tom Kretz, notecards for State Rep. Jim Butler,  Butler Twp. Trustee Joe Flanagan, Liberty Twp. Trustee candidate Rhonda Freeze and of course former Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell and city commission candidate David Greer (one of my favorite portrait shoots). This is mostly in the name of full disclosure- and just because we do design and print for these people, doesn’t mean it’s an endorsement.

What’s funny is that the local Democratic party does a lot of its printing out of Columbus instead of supporting a local Service Disabled Veteran (me) and probably pays more for everything.

Don’t overpay for crappy printing for campaign literature that no one will read anyway – buy it from The Next Wave.
:-)

It’s time you elected politicians as tight with their own money as they’ll be with your money.

 

When buying political office in Dayton, don’t buy local: Whaley spends out of town

The post election campaign finance reports were due Friday.

The Dayton Daily weighed in claiming this the most expensive race ever, if you add in the in-kind donations the Whaley campaign took in:

Whaley raised $364,969 and spent $411,656, according to reports filed beginning in January 2013. She spent more than she took in because of carry-over amounts from 2012

A.J. Wagner raised $122,190 and spent $140,888 during the same period. His report includes $10,000 loans from Zafar Rizvi of Butler Twp. and Michael Oberer of Washington Twp.

Together the two candidates raised $487,159 in cash and spent $552,544. By comparison, spending for the the Turner-Rhine McLin match totaled $770,000.

But while that 2001 race still wins as far as overall spending, using another measure, Whaley may very well have run the city’s most expensive mayoral bid for a single candidate. “In-kind” contributions – which are services or things of value, such as production cost for mailers or food donated for events provided to a campaign – save the campaign from having to spend money on those items and services. If the value of those in-kind contributions are included with Whaley’s total cash contributions she easily tops Turner’s spending in the 2001 race, with $532,640 in expenditures and in-kind contributions.

via Dayton Mayor candidates spent nearly $500k | www.mydaytondailynews.com.

All that money, to get a measly 9,211 votes and a record low turnout of 16,334. For comparison, 4 years ago, Gary Leitzell won the office over Rhine McLin with 15,316 while spending around $20,000.

When you take Whaley’s $532,640 and divide it by number of votes, she spent an astonishing: $57.83 per vote. Wagner, spent $19.78 per vote to get 7,123 votes.

Looking over the reports a few things:

  • Mims and Williams reports are incomplete, missing their expenditure pages.
  • Greer’s report says he spent $4,414.19- but only has listed $300 expense to Dayton Weekly News- suggesting he was doing totals for the campaign- not the period (which was only from Oct. 18 to Dec. 6, 2013.)
  • A.J. lists his vendors, right down to everyone he paid to stand out at the polls on election day. Nan’s lists vendors- who then subcontracted work- so you don’t know what she really paid for or to whom. Apparently, her friend Gen Murphy runs a temporary services company now- since she paid her $1,000 for “election day services” which is a nice way of obfuscating who got paid on election day.

Whaley spends big money with out-of-town people:

  • Ohio Democratic Party 10/17/13 $22,971.09 Contribution 340 E. Fulton Street Columbus OH 43215
  • The New Media Firm 10/18/13 $4,905.50 Media 1730 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Suite 213 Washington DC 20036
  • Momentum Analysis 10/19/13–$1,000.00 Consulting Fee 1508 Monroe Street, NW Washington DC 20010
  • The New Media Firm 10/23/13 $36,003.18 Media — 1730 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Suite 213 Washington DC 20036
  • Ohio Democratic Party 10/29/13 $18,384.51  Contribution 340 E. Fulton Street Columbus OH 43215
  • JVA Campaigns 10/29/13 $7,293.70 Media  1301 Dublin Road, Suite 302 Columbus OH 43215
  • The New Media Firm 10/29/13 $14,236.75 Media  1730 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Suite 213 Washington DC 20036
  • Ohio Democratic Party 10/30/13 $6,204.43 Payroll Service 340 E. Fulton Street Columbus OH 43215
  • JVA Campaigns 10/30/13 $2,250.00 Media 1301 Dublin Road, Suite 302 Columbus OH 43215 1486
  • Ohio Democratic Party10/31/13 $12,022.84  Contribution 340 E. Fulton Street Columbus OH 43215

Note, this is all within a 2-week period- and tells us nothing of what she was actually buying. Mailings, TV time, volunteers- we have no idea.

And, there are media buying firms in Dayton who have a lot more experience buying media in our market. Considering the regular commission for placing TV and Radio by an agency- is 15%- this is $54,897.90 in buys, sending $8,234 out of our community to DC or Columbus- and that was just the money on media- what the ODP did with their $59,582.87 in two weeks, we’ll never know.

The real question is where have all the voters gone? 4 years ago 29,750 people made a decision on who would be mayor. This year, 16,334. Did we really lose 13,416 voters? Or were that many people non-plussed by the choices?

Four years ago I got 9,440 votes. That’s 229 more votes than Whaley won with. Had I drawn the same number this time, I would have come in 2nd to Williams and you’d be calling me commissioner.

  • Jeffrey J. Mims Jr. 8,698 30.94%
  • Joey D. Williams 10,333 36.76%

It was also interesting that the Dayton Daily News didn’t mention anything about Mims having to quit his elected position on the state school board – giving the Republican Governor yet another appointee, until after the election. It was on Nov. 17th in an article written by the Akron Beacon Journal:

Just one board member — Jeffrey Mims of Dayton — is African American, and Mims is resigning from the board after getting elected to the Dayton City Commission Nov. 5. Mims is also a Democrat, meaning the board could add another Republican when Gov. John Kasich names his replacement.

Just two of the 17 members reside in urban school districts, and one of the two is the departing Mims.

via Obscure board has big impact on school policy | www.mydaytondailynews.com.

A minor detail, conveniently overlooked, despite my asking Jeremy Kelley of the DDN what happens to Mims school board seat in our pre-general election interviews.

A few other interesting details on the reports:

Whaley got a sizable donation well after the election from the CEO of CareSource:

  • Pamela Morris Lemmon 10736 Falls Creek Ln. Dayton OH 45458 11/18/13 Check $1,500.00

Is this to help grease wheels for more taxpayer-funded construction for CareSource- which is hauling in windfall money thanks to the Affordable Care Act?

And, will Oberer Development still be doing their development with city support on Warren Street since Mike Oberer extended a $10K loan to A.J.? Rumor had it that George Oberer got a call from Nan threatening further support for them working in the city if they continued to support her.

His report includes $10,000 loans from Zafar Rizvi of Butler Twp. and Michael Oberer of Washington Twp.

Dayton Mayor candidates spent nearly $500k | www.mydaytondailynews.com

To download and look at the reports yourself, go to the MCBoe.org site: http://www.mcohio.org/boe/candidate_tools/CF_Reports/ and select 2013, and 2013 Post General.

 

 

 

 

 

Ten thousand dollars reached. Ten thousand thank yous.

Last night, the last donation came in. 9 days before the election, and I reached the goal of $10,000. Any donation from this point on- would go for nets, rims, backboards, tools to clean up courts and to cut off nasty old rusted hardware.

If you look at my campaign finance report: David Esrati PreGeneral Report 2013 PDF you’ll see that the money was spent responsibly. Some may argue that much of the money came back to my own company- The Next Wave, as if I’m paying myself to run- however, when you compare it to others- you’ll realize I spent a lot less on printing, website development, video production etc. – because, I do a lot of it myself. I manage my own campaign (not the smartest way to go)- I edit and post my own videos (other than the interns who did the hoops video) and I maintain my own site- and post to it too. I do my own social media- etc. It’s a hands-on campaign. I even cook for my own fundraisers- and if you missed my pancakes- or chicken parmigiana, you missed out.

The real question is- what good is a $10K campaign if you don’t win? The answer is- it’s not. But, the idea that my principles haven’t been compromised is priceless to me. Of course, when it comes to politics- principles left the building long ago in this country.

Back in 1999 I ran against Bootsie Neal and Dean Lovelace in a 3-way race. Dean raised and spent $12K, Bootsie did $10K and I ran on $7k. When the votes came in- Dean had 12,000, Bootsie 10,000 and I had 7,000. It came in almost exactly at $1 a vote. I was disgusted, but I don’t give up that easily.

The real eye opener has been the Internet- both from a standpoint of being able to directly communicate with so many- and the advent of tools like CiviCRM. Working on the first Obama campaign I got a good look at how data was used to target voters. It changed my perception of how to run an effective campaign. The second epiphany was in my last run in Dayton 4 years ago (2 years ago my petitions came up a few signatures short) was that many of the voters I needed to reach weren’t online. To most of you reading this- that’s almost inconceivable. I knew I had to do something totally different to reach voters who aren’t connected.

The basketball net idea wasn’t fully formed when I began this campaign. In fact, after the bruising year I had last year, I almost wasn’t going to run. Had it not been for Terry Posey pushing with a donation and Gary Leitzell needing candidates and the fact that I’d already given up a relationship that was important to me partially over this- the smart thing would have been to not run. But here I am. $10K raised, a ton of doors knocked on. New friends in barber shops all over town, and more thank yous than I’ve ever heard in a campaign- mostly from people too young to vote.

Even if I lose- because of my choice to invest in actions over words with the “hoops Dayton” campaign- Dayton is a better place.

To everyone of you who’ve donated, I am humbled. To the few people who’ve donated nets and rims- those were the best donations because they empowered me to change the city one small bit toward my vision of what Dayton can be. And to those of you who stepped up and helped hang rims, clean up courts, hang nets and walk and talk to people- actions speak louder than words- and I can’t thank you enough.

The last push is this week. I still have a few low-budget tricks up my sleeve, but, mainly I need all of you to spread the word to your friends who are voters in Dayton- to urge them to give me a chance to represent them. To have someone who will work tirelessly to restore pride and respect in and for Dayton. To change the way we think of government and what it can do for us- to make Dayton a place where people want to live, invest, work and play- regardless of their socioeconomic status, race, religion, nationality or moral compass.

If you want to volunteer- I have literature and walk lists. On election day, I need people to stand outside the polls and talk to voters. If you can or want to do either – call me at 985-1312 or write [email protected]

10,000 thank yous.

And special thanks to Ryan- for being the final donor.

Now- someone can test to see if you can still donate over the goal…. so we have some money for rims. I was at Washington Park yesterday morning- 2 backboards had no rims. I can fix that with a few hundred dollars.