Arash Kamiar: Financing the 2015 Mayoral Election

July 15, 2015 17 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Political Action Committees (PACs) were the economic engine behind the 2015 mayoral race. Here's some analysis on where the money went and how it got there.

In 2014 a study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens released by Martin Gilens, of Princeton, and Benjamin Page, of Northwestern, revealed something we all knew, the “economic elite” dictate the policies we all live by.

The rest of us have as much influence on policy as animals on a farm have influence over their living conditions.

When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose…even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it...In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. (p. 576)

It may be a leap to assume that the general public of Jacksonville is as powerless on a local level as Gilens and Page describe in their study. I can’t say with any certainty how Jacksonville policies are impacted by public opinion or money. That’s a project for Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute.

Still, we can at least look at the raw number of dollars raised (and spent) on this election just to keep it in the front of our minds as policy discussions take place over the coming years.

Yada, Yada, Yada...I just want to know who contributed the most money to the election.

When huge contributions are given to Jacksonville mayoral candidates one has to consider if motivations extend beyond altruism and if so, what are the “vested” interests of those contributing large amounts of money.

I’m not rich and I’m totally clueless as to what it’s like to give $100k away. For someone with hundreds of millions of dollars a $100k contribution may be the same as my theoretical $.99 contribution, which is to say it’s meaningless. Then again, if my meaningless $.99 contribution can influence policies for my benefit (monetary or otherwise), I would have at my disposal something that is personally meaningless to me but still has a lot of power.

It’s marginal utility, right? Your first slice of pizza is awesome. Your fifth slice of pizza is fat shaming. What about your sixth slice of pizza? The one you’re definitely too full to eat.  What if I can give that slice away to someone now, in order to get more pizzas later, when I’m hungry again (my apologies for the trite example).  

Before we get into the who’s who ($$$) of the 2015 Jacksonville mayoral election let’s get a sense of how much money was funneled into the election, where it went and how it got there.

Political Action Committees (PACs) were the economic engine behind the 2015 mayoral race because PACs are able to accept as much money from individuals, organizations or businesses as they would like. A candidate's campaign and a PAC are two different entities. Generally, there are more limitations on a campaign.

A candidate’s campaign cannot accept any more than $1,000 per “person” for local elections. The figure increases to $3,000 for statewide campaigns. When you read Jacksonville headlines exclaiming that “so-and-so” contributed a gazillion-quadrillion dollars to your favorite candidate that money probably went straight to your candidate’s respective PAC.  

Alvin Brown’s PAC: Taking Jacksonville to the Next Level
Lenny Curry’s PAC: Together for a Greater Jacksonville

In total, Lenny Curry and Alvin Brown’s respective campaigns and associated PACs raised $7.3 million. This figure does not include “in-kind” contributions. As you’ll see, including “in-kind” contributions can be redundant. The practically famous political consultant @Ben_America explains campaign finance as the art of “money laundering”. It is charming the way money is moved from one bank account to another.

Although you and I are limited as to how much we can give to a campaign directly state parties do not have the same types of limitations. They can give as much as they want to a campaign...almost. State party contributions to a campaign cannot exceed $50k BUT there are certain categories of contribution in which there are no limits.  

“Polling services, research services, cost for campaign staff, professional consulting services, and telephone calls are not to be counted toward the contribution limits, but must still be reported by the candidate. All other contributions are counted toward the contributions limits”  Candidate and Campaign Treasurer Handbook, p. 24

PACs are limited in the same way that you and I are. These organizations can only contribute a maximum of $1,000 to local campaigns, which I surmise is the reason that money seems to be funneled through the state parties (which have less limitations) and into the candidate’s campaign. The state parties in this election didn’t really give anything to Jacksonville’s mayoral candidates; although, campaign finance records showed significant sums.  What really happened? Money was funneled from the candidate’s respective PAC to the candidate’s respective state party as a “contribution”, which was then given to the candidate’s respective campaign as an “In-Kind Contribution”.

Confusing? Maybe this Chart will help…


And, of course, money seems to “disappear” in the process. I haven’t looked at the financial reports of the state parties but according to the financial reports of Brown and Curry’s PACs and campaigns a big chunk of the money contributed to the state party wasn’t used for the Jacksonville mayoral campaign. Those dollars didn’t have to be spent on the mayoral election, since it was technically a contribution and not a payment for services.

Both Lenny Curry and Alvin Brown's associated PACs gave large sums of money to their respective state party:

Lenny Curry:

Of the $2.77 million raised by Together for a Greater Jacksonville (Curry)  $1.02 million was “contributed” to the Republican Party of Florida. The Republican party of Florida’s “In-Kind” contributions to Lenny Curry’s campaign was $535k, which leaves $492k “remaining”.
Alvin Brown:

Of the $2.8 million raised by Taking Jacksonville to the Next level (Brown) $2.7 million was “contributed” to the Florida Democratic Party, which provided “in-kind” Contributions to Brown’s campaign totaling $1.37 million, which leaves $1.4 million “remaining”.

PACs can spend money in support of (or opposed to) a candidate independent of a candidate’s campaign without it counting as a “contribution” to the campaign.  This is referred to as an  “independent expenditure”. Loosely explained, a PAC cannot communicate/coordinate with anyone “acting on behalf of the campaign” on how PAC money is spent.  

This includes any “pollster, media consultant, advertising, advertising agency, vendor, advisor, or staff member…” A PAC can’t strategize in any way with the campaign. At least, that’s how I interpret the linguistic nightmare defining independent expenditure rules in the Political Committee Handbook (p. 12 & 13).

When I look at the expenditures of Together for a Greater Jacksonville (Curry) and Curry’s campaign there are handful of expenditures to the same people and businesses, within the same time periods.  This doesn’t mean Curry’s campaign and the PAC were working together. It's just, you know, interesting. Data Targeting Research, was paid the most consistently throughout the election by both Curry's Campaign and Together for a Greater Jacksonville.

This chart shows which people and businesses were paid by both Lenny’s Curry’s Campaign and Together for a Greater Jacksonville. The light green shows the expenditures of Curry’s campaign and the light blue shows the expenditures of Together for a Greater Jacksonville for each month from December 2014 to May 2015.

Taking Jacksonville to the Next Level (Brown) contributed 97 percent of their money to the State Democratic Party. The money that remained in the PAC (approx. $100k) was not spent on any of the same people or businesses as Brown’s campaign.  So, it's kind of opaque how PAC dollars were actually spent by the State Democratic Party.  

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