A hundred thousand dollars here, a hundred thousand dollars there. Pretty soon, you’re talking serious money.
Speaking of serious things, this is one of our more technical pieces. It has to be given the subject matter. If numbers give you a headache or put you to sleep, feel free to skip ahead to the last 2 paragraphs.
Here’s the thing… We’ve found yet another problem with the campaign finance reports filed by Friends of Sheila Dixon. The committee’s recently amended reports, which go all the way back to 2006, have a $97,336 problem. We didn’t notice this error before because it never occurred to us, until a few days ago, that totals the committee reported on expenditures schedules might be seriously inaccurate.
$97,336 is the amount by which the committee overstated its cash balance when it filed Ms. Dixon’s sixth amended report for 2008 just last year, in March of 2015. This error, when corrected, will affect all Ms. Dixon’s campaign finance reports filed since then, initiating yet another round of amended filings. Given that she’s asking Baltimore to overlook the history of her first term as Mayor to give her a second chance to run a $2.5+ billion city budget, it’s entirely reasonable, even essential that voters know whether or not she can handle her campaign’s financing and reporting.
Hi. As you can see from the title, this is the third chapter in our brief series on campaign finance reports filed by Friends For Sheila Dixon. Ms. Dixon is running again for Mayor and is currently leading in polls published in November and in January. If you’re interested, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of this series can be viewed using the links we just gave you. There is also an article published Friday, February 12 in the Sun, “Dixon Campaign Finance Reports Under Scrutiny,” that includes some reaction from Ms. Dixon’s campaign committee.
We began looking at Ms. Dixon’s campaign committee reports as part of an ongoing review of all 6 major candidates for Mayor. At first, it was just a matter of routine due diligence, but it’s turned out to be more interesting than we had expected for what it tells us about the political process and campaign financing in particular. It’s a noteworthy case study that local students of Political Science may want to pursue. As for our interest in it, Baltimore Rising is about creating jobs and encouraging all-inclusive economic growth. The election is only important to us because it will be helpful to our objectives if the new Mayor and City Council are qualified and share a like-minded commitment to reducing unemployment and poverty in the city.
Chapter 3 of this story begins, as always, innocently enough, with our efforts to generate the simple table that you can see via the link below. It’s the PDF version of a spreadsheet. If you find the type is too small, just use the “+” spyglass to blow it up and make it easier to read.
There are two interesting things about this table. One has to do with its original purpose. It shows you how then Mayor Dixon’s campaign committee continued to raise substantial money ($134,431) even after her home was raided and then even more ($253,366) after she was indicted on 12 counts, including perjury, theft, fraudulent misappropriation and misconduct. And she wasn’t even running for re-election at the time – such is the power of being a sitting Mayor and having the relationships and charisma that, once again, have Sheila Dixon leading in the polls. In fact, it wasn’t until after she was convicted that fundraising came to an abrupt halt.
But then there’s something else interesting about this table. To generate data that matched the milestones of Ms. Dixon’s abbreviated term as Mayor, we had to use the comprehensive lists of receipts and expenditures available from the Maryland State Board of Elections website. You can see these lists for yourself by using the link and then selecting either “contributions” or “expenditures” from the third bullet under “Campaign Finance Database.” We couldn’t just use the totals for receipts and expenditures from the committee’s campaign finance reports because their reporting periods didn’t match the milestones in the timeline.
Ms. Dixon’s time in the Mayor’s office covered three campaign reporting periods. Using the comprehensive lists, instead of the reports filed by the committee, we calculated the amount of money the committee had on hand at the end of the third reporting period to be $17,642. That’s very substantially less than the $114,979 that the campaign finance report for that period was showing. See the last column on the right in our table? The difference is a whopping -$97,336.
Okay, we know this can be confusing. Think about this way… The mess swirling around then Mayor Sheila Dixon that resulted in her being forced out of office occurred during three consecutive campaign reporting periods. Here, below, are the operative dates and PDF files for the first 2 pages of each of the 3 campaign finance reports. Keep in mind that, even though these reports date back to 2008, 2009 and 2010, we’re using the most recently amended versions of these reports that the committee filed on March 13, 2015.
- To see the summary pages for the amended report covering January 10, 2008 through January 14, 2009, click here.
- To see the summary pages for the amended report covering January 15, 2009 through January 13, 2010, click here.
- To see the summary pages for the amended report covering January 14, 2010 through January 12, 2011, click here.
If you look at page 2 of the first of these reports, you’ll see the simple math of campaign finance reporting as shown in the screenshot of “Part 4” below…
Prior Balance + Total Receipts – Total Expenditures = Cash Balance at the end of the period. It’s just that simple. Notice that the starting balance is a negative $4,431.93. At the time, according to the report, Friends For Sheila Dixon had a negative balance in its account. And here’s what this same Part 4 looked like at the end of the third reporting period. It’s a screenshot from the second page of the PDF in the third bullet…
Notice, in particular, the Cash Balance at the bottom of the screenshot above. $114,978.68. That’s what the report tells us, but analysis of the individual receipts and expenditures that we’re showing in our table calculates that the balance should be only $17,642.27. Big difference. -97,336.41, to be precise.
Needless to say, we did out best to explain this difference, starting with questioning our own work which we reviewed several times. And then it occurred to us to check each of the 3 reporting periods to find out where, precisely, the problem might be. What we found was that the difference of -97,336.41, almost all of it, was associated with a single campaign finance report, the first one covering January 10, 2008 through January 14, 2009.
One line item at a time, we compared the expenditures on the detailed list we used for our table with the expenditures listed in the report’s schedules N through Y. You can see these schedules for yourself in the PDF below.
And do you know what we discovered? Nothing. Zip. The line items matched exactly, so how could the totals be off? (Go ahead. Admit it. This is edge-of-your-seat stuff, isn’t it?)
Well, as fate would have it – and, to be honest, as a forensic Hail Mary – we decided to actually check the item amounts in each report expenditures schedule to see if they added up to the totals the committee was showing at the bottom of those schedules. In other words, we checked the committee’s math. Those schedule totals are, after all, where the grand totals come from in the Part 4 screenshots above.
“This isn’t your ordinary post, is it?” No, it’s not. We agree, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. Hang in there. We’re almost done. “There won’t be a quiz at the end, will there?” No.
So we added up the items in each expenditures schedule, and this is what we discovered… Remember, we’re using the most recently amended version of the Friends For Sheila Dixon report covering 2008. Since the original that was filed on or before January 21, 2009, this report has been amended a total of 6 times, most recently on March 13, 2015.
See that number in the lower right hand corner? The -$97,769.29? Well, it’s almost the same as the -97,336.41 error we discovered. The good news is that the difference between these two negative numbers of $432.88 can be explained by a $332.88 error the committee made on the receipts side of its January 10, 2008 – January 14, 2009 amended report and another $100.00 error it made on the receipts side of its January 15, 2009 – January 10, 2010 amended report.
We’ll spare you the details of these other two errors.
“Thank goodness.” Hey, we heard that.
The bad news is that Sheila Dixon and her campaign committee clearly have no idea how much money they have on hand, not even close, at least not according to the reports they’ve filed and amended so many times. Is it just incompetence or is there something else going on? We have no idea and don’t mean to suggest either one or both. That’s up to the Board of Elections to figure out.
What’s up to you, the voter, is to figure out whether or not you feel comfortable trusting a $2.5+ billion complex city budget – not to mention your family’s and city’s future – to someone who had her chance and blew it and who clearly has questionable financial management skills.