Sunday, June 17, 2018

Campaign Finance Oddities: Sigaty Edition

As is common practice, I count the number of direct mail pieces that my household receives each election cycle.  I also note the sponsoring entity as well as the topic of each piece. 

For example, thus far, the Deb Jung for County Council campaign has put out four pieces (one on the environment, one on education, another bio/general issue piece, and a neighborhood advocacy/open communications mailer).

So I was going through the latest round of campaign finance reports (reason: fun).  That is when I noticed something a bit unusual.

For most campaigns, especially those who have invested heavily in direct mail over an extended period of time, the pre-primary 1 gubernatorial filing (which was due on May 22) and/or the pre-primary 2 gubernatorial filing (which was due on June 15) should show expenditures that reflect a direct mail spend.  After all, these pieces have been hitting our mailboxes for weeks.  Maybe not every piece sent out to date, but at least some of them should be accounted for in one or both of those filings.

Again, going back to the Jung campaign…Deb Jung’s pre-primary 2 filing shows that a check was cut in the amount of $5,998.23 to a firm that handled the design, printing, mailing, and postage of direct mail.  Given that amount, that was probably one mailing.   The Jung campaign’s pre-primary 1 filing shows $12,567.51 in direct mail costs (most likely two separate mailings).  That accounts for three of the four, and I assume the fourth might not have been invoiced yet.

Then I looked at the June 15 Sigaty for State Senate (District 12) campaign filing. 

Now, my household has received seven pieces of direct mail from the Sigaty campaign over the past several weeks (six regular pieces plus a postcard).  

One would expect to see direct mail costs reflected in the expenditures section of the latest Sigaty campaign finance report.  But no…the pre-primary 2 filing shows only $2,689.78 in expenditures (which would not even cover one mailing).  Of that $2,689.78, $1,000 is campaign staff wages, another $1,550 is for fundraising costs, and $139.78 is for “other” expenses.  In short, zero direct mail expenditures were listed.  Odd.

So I went back to the pre-primary 1 filing, that one showed $27,456.18 in expenditures.    Again, I went through the breakouts: $7,000 for consulting fees/campaign staff wages, $107.50 for magnetic signs, $375 for social media graphics and book advertising for a local church, $750 in postage, $375.20 for fundraising expenses, and $4,461.19 for other expenses.  There was one other section.  In the printing and campaign materials break-out ($14,387.74 total), there was $1,616.40 for postcards.  So perhaps between the postage and the postcard line items, we can account for the postcard…but still…no sign of the direct mail costs.  The rest of the $14,000 and change was for envelopes, letterhead, business cards, t-shirts, stickers, a banner, walk pieces, yard signs, and a campaign handout.  Double oddness.

I went further back to the annual filing for Sigaty (January 2018).  Nothing in there showing a direct mail spend.  Of course, she didn't file for the State Senate until February 26, 2018.  So no surprises here.  

So what is my point?  My point is where are these direct mail expenditures?

Now, it is entirely possible that her campaign has not been invoiced for these pieces yet.  This is not an uncommon practice, as it allows campaigns to report stronger Cash Balance (aka Cash on Hand or CoH) figures.  Campaigns believe they can show strength through higher CoH numbers, so sometimes they ask vendors to hold off on sending invoices until after certain campaign finance filing deadlines have passed.  Nothing illegal about this, but it does subvert the spirit of the campaign finance laws a bit as it obscures how much campaigns have actually spent.

I estimate that the Sigaty campaign has at least another $42,000 in debts that haven’t found their way onto a campaign finance report yet.  

If for no other reason than transparency, by this point in time, at least a couple of those mailings should have appeared on a recent campaign finance filing.  So when you see Sigaty’s campaign’s Cash-on-Hand tally, just recognize that it doesn’t cover significant costs which have been incurred. 

Just shedding some light on sometimes arcane campaign finance practices.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

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