Sheila Dixon’s Campaign Finance Reports: Chapter 2

As part of our ongoing review of candidates for Mayor – and City Council too – we noticed some issues with the campaign finance reports filed by Friends of Sheila Dixon. At it turns out, in February and March of 2015, Ms. Dixon’s committee revised 17 of these reports covering the period January 14, 2015 going all the way back to November 22, 2006. That’s just before Sheila Dixon became Mayor when her predecessor, Martin O’Malley, left to start his first term as Governor.

These amendments corrected a number of issues, but their primary purpose was to explain a discrepancy of $195,830. That’s the amount of money by which Ms. Dixon’s campaign now claims to have overstated its cash on hand. Her committee is now telling us that it actually had almost $200,000 less money in the bank than originally reported. And they just realized this, years after it happened.

Details of the changes the committee made to its reports are described in our article entitled “Sheila Dixon’s Campaign Finance Reports” that we published here, on our website, on January 24. Here’s the link to that article if you’d like to read it.

This second post on the subject focuses on campaign contributions and costs of fundraising associated with the same 17 reports over the same 7+ years.

Just to be clear, we’re not suggesting for a moment that the committee or Ms. Dixon did anything wrong. We mean that. There’s no political trickery going on here. If we have something to say, we’ll say it in no uncertain terms. The data are just interesting for their insight into the finances of a significant, troubled candidate and the continuing operations of her campaign committee even when she wasn’t running for office.

The link below is to a single page PDF version of a table, a spreadsheet that we’ll talk about. Click on it to read or print it. It’s formatted to fit on a single legal-size sheet of paper, so the type is mall. No problem. All you need to do is blow it up to make it easier to read. It’s written to be self-explanatory, but other people’s spreadsheets can be difficult to follow. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call or email us. If you like, we’ll even send you the Excel file from which the PDF was generated.

SD Contributions and Expenditures for Fundraising

Here are some notes to help you make your way around our spreadsheet…

  • The first column – column A – contains line numbers that we can reference in these notes.
  • Column B indicates the content – Contributions, Fundraising Expenses, etc. – of the all the other columns.
  • Column C contains grand totals for all 17 reports combined.
  • Columns C through V contain dates, dollar amounts and percentages for each of the 17 reports.
  • Rows 7 through 13, beginning in column F, show highlights of Sheila Dixon’s political career to help us understand what was going on during the periods covered by each of the campaign reports. If you’re looking at the data associated with a given report, you might look up to see whether or not Ms. Dixon had been indicted, executed her plea agreement or left office.
  • And then the table itself begins in row 19.

Now that you understand the layout of the table, feel free to take a look for yourself. We found 3 things to be the most interesting…

1. The percentages in row 28 show the ratio of fundraising expenses to contributions. Campaign committees are, to an extent, like businesses. They’re always doing their best to maximize their returns to the investments they make in their efforts to raise money. These percentages in row 28 are, in other words, indictors of how efficiently the campaign is attracting the contributions it needs to market the candidate. The lower the percentages, the greater the efficiency. Put another way, the more bang for its bucks the committee is getting.

While, for whatever reasons, the individual monthly percentages in row 28 are all over the place, the overall ratio in row 28, column C, is 12.44% and that’s pretty good. Ms. Dixon was using Rice Consulting (“Maryland’s Top Fundraising Firm for Politicians and Organizations,” according to their website) to raise money. We don’t know what the Rice firm charges but, let’s say, a fee of 10% of the money it raises wouldn’t be unusual or unreasonable. Keep in mind also that campaigns raise money on-line and from other sources that may not be subject to consulting fees.

2. So important was Rice Consulting to Ms. Dixon’s campaign that we decided to include – via this link to SD Contributions and Expenditures for Fundraising – a section that shows how much it was paid for fundraising, but possibly also for other campaign services as well.

Notice, in column C, rows 34 and 35, that, during the period covered by the 17 reports, Rice Consulting was paid over $408,000 which is about 20% of the total contributions the campaign received. That’s too much, unless of course the $408,000 wasn’t just for fundraising, but for other services as well. Either Rice Consulting raise more money than what the reports are showing or the company was providing substantial other services, apart from fundraising, for which they were also compensated.

On a related point, in row 36, column C, it’s clear that Rice Consulting was being paid substantially more – over 157% more – than what the campaign was reporting having paid for Fundraising Expenses. That 157% is for all 17 reports overall. If you continue out row 36, you’ll see how that percentage changes from report to report.

FYI, throughout the history of Friends for Sheila Dixon according to filings with the Maryland State Board of Elections, the campaign has paid Rice Consulting a total of $510,747. That’s the total from January 27, 2005 through November 5, 2015 principally for fundraising, but perhaps also for other services – no doubt well-earned for raising a ton of money.

3. This third point is by far the most interesting. Take a look at the numbers in row 24 (Contributions), columns K and L. Those numbers are $134,750 and $231,986. Add them together and you get $366,736. Now look up at the timeline in these same two columns, K and L.

You would think that, when a candidate’s home is raided by the Maryland State Prosecutor’s office, when the candidate – a sitting Mayor – is indicted on 12 counts including embezzlement and perjury and is subsequently convicted and signs a plea agreement throwing her out of office… You’d think that, during that highly publicized fray, contributions would come to an abrupt stop, wouldn’t you? Mayor Dixon wasn’t even running for re-election, and yet she still managed to raise $366,736. What can we say but, “Wow.”

If that isn’t an interesting observation for students of political science, we don’t know what is. And like all great lessons, it raises more questions than it resolves.

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