Monday, September 03, 2007

A Note on the Variations of Campaign Finance Reports: The 2004 13th District Version

Looking through congressional campaign finance reports is a little bit like the Pevensey children looking in the wardrobe in the old Professor’s spare room. Some days you hit the back of the wardrobe and bump your head, sometimes you find yourself in Narnia which is populated by all manner of strange creatures. You, too, can skitter around in these reports. They are all available at

In lieu of telling you about a hodge podge of particulars, I found a race that provided examples of just about all the levels of strangeness to be encountered. The magic race is the 2004 race for the 13th congressional district; a number of people ran and their various situations are a veritable kaleidoscope of possibilities. Remember, it is the 2004 race, not the 2006 race. In 2004 the seat was open because incumbent Joe Hoeffel decided to run for the Senate. The primary election featured Republicans Melissa Brown, Al Taubenberger and then State Representative Ellen Bard, and Democrats State Senator Allyson Y. Schwartz and Joe Torsella.

Starting at the end, let’s look at the winner. Allyson Schwartz defeated Republican Melissa Brown in the general election. I’ve reviewed Allyson Schwartz’s campaign finance reports but haven’t gone over with them with a fine toothed comb. The only strangeness I saw is that she pays health insurance for some, perhaps all, of her full-time campaign staff. Talk to anyone who does campaign work and they will tell you how strange and unusual this is. Since Schwartz is still in office, having been re-elected this past November, she is still filing finance reports.

You might expect that those who are no longer campaigning would no longer be filing reports. In some cases you would be right. Joe Hoeffel, as we might expect, tied up all the loose ends in a neat and tidy fashion. He filed a termination report on April 12, 2005. His last disbursement was to reimburse someone for catering expenses. Ellen Bard also filed a termination report, in June of 2004, having paid off her bills and refunded some contributions. There are limits on what people can donate in the primary and general elections. Contributions to the general election can be refunded if the candidate does not win the primary.

Candidates who have incurred debt file reports until that debt is repaid or forgiven. Republican Al Taubenberger, now running for mayor of Philadelphia, still files reports. He owes $10,725, mostly in printing costs, and has $187 on hand. Melissa Brown also falls into this category. In fact she falls into this category three times. She had three congressional campaign committees, let’s call them Boil Boil, Toil, and Trouble. The debts owed are all to her. To Boil Boil (Brown for Congress Committee), she loaned $1,185,000, none of it has been repaid; the committee has $1582 cash on hand. To Toil (Friends of Melissa Brown), she loaned $175,000, none of it repaid; the committee has $10,552 on hand. To Trouble (Melissa Brown for Congress), she loaned $315,800, $15,000 of it repaid; the committee has $3864 on hand. Yowza!!!! However, it is important to keep in mind that she ran in 2002 also and some of these loans are leftover from that campaign.

Joe Torsella also filed a termination report. In April, 2006. In fact, he was still accepting contributions early in April. In March, 2006 he accepted a donation from Knox from Philly. In January, 2006 he used funds from his congressional campaign fund to pay for 2005 Christmas cards. He had loaned himself $100,000 for the campaign and settled for $89,000 in repayment.

The really strange reports, though, are filed by State Rep. Mark B. Cohen, who briefly flirted with the idea of running for congress but soon dropped out. However, he is still filing campaign finance reports. In fact, in his latest report, filed in July 2007, he has $2493 on hand, with no outstanding loans. He raised a total of $53,155; the last contribution was in August of 2004. Most of the money was raised in an exploratory phase and the donations therefore not recorded in these reports. In February 2007 he refiled the statement of organization, something typically done by some running for reelection. In some late 2006 reports he indicates some spending but the amounts are small enough that no details are provided. In March 2006 he donated $5,000 to his state house campaign account. In June 2005 he reimbursed himself $313 for dinner expenses. This is more than a year after the primary and his campaign ended before that. Maybe he took the campaign crew out to Applebee’s for a reunion dinner. In December, 2004 he reimbursed himself $2211 for travel expenses. In the March, 2004 report he reimbursed himself for various expenses to the tune of $450, and in the January, 2004 report he paid $350 to attend the Foreign Policy Research Institute conference. In the April – June 2004 report and the October – December 2003 reports he did what many former candidates do, and donated a lot of money to other campaigns and political committees. One other thing that struck me as odd is his choice of web services company. Between October, 2003 and December 2004 he paid AssistGuide, located in Missouri, $4055. That must have been some service contract. The company, now known as AGIS, focuses on the aging and disabled community. Perhaps they were testing the political waters and then decided to stick to their knitting. In any event I found it odd.

So, there you have it, a political smorgasbord of what can be found in campaign finance reports. And remember, you too can spend hours exploring this zaniness at

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