Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Review of Bryan Lentz's State House Campaign Finance Reports

While this blog looks at congressional campaign finance reports on a quarterly basis, as they are filed, nothing has really appeared here on state legislative campaign finance reports. There are a few reasons for this. One being that they are exponentially more candidates filing reports, even in just the three counties I usually cover (Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties), than in federal elections. Another is that the rules for state campaigns are much different and, to my mind, much more difficult to understand and follow.

As one example, federal law requires the reporting of donors’ names, addresses, employers, and occupations only after they reach a $200 threshold per election cycle. At the state level donors names and addresses are reported at the $50 threshold but occupations and employers are not reported until the $250 threshold in each reporting period. The additional information is interesting but without occupations / employers it is of limited use unless you know who the powerbrokers (and their spouses) are in that district. At the other end of the scale, there is no upper limit to what a person or political action committee can donate.

The reporting cycle for federal congressional elections is easy to understand. Campaigns file quarterly with an additional pre- and post-election report due in election years, and 48 hours notice of large donations around elections. The state reporting schedule is in cycles. In non-election years it looks like just an annual report is due. In election years there are five or six cycles for statewide elections and five for other than statewide, for January through March, a pre-primary, a 30 day post-primary, a pre-general (this year goes through September 13) but only for statewide races, another pre-general (through October 18), and a 30 day post-election. So in some years you are inundated with information and in others you are in the dark for months on end. In federal reports contributions and expenditures are reported for that quarter / report and also for the election cycle as a whole which makes it easy to see how the campaign is doing overall.

For me, though, the most difficult aspect is that state reports list only the amount brought forward from the last report and the unpaid debts and obligations. If you want to know how much a candidate has brought in total and how much has been spent total or how much a person has donated for the entire cycle you have to compare reports (in election year this is, remember, about six reports) and add it all up. So while the state reports smaller donations it also makes it harder to track overall donations and spending.

However, I have wanted to start checking these on a more regular basis, at least for the races I follow closely. For the first foray into this effort I wanted to find a candidate with a finite set of reports, whose reputation for integrity would mean there are unlikely to be any unpleasant surprises, and whose reports would be easy to work with (not a lot of amendments or missing data). State Rep. Bryan Lentz (d-161), veteran of the 82nd Airborne, fit the bill. The former assistant district attorney ran as one of the “fighting Dems,” citing his service in Iraq in his campaign. Lentz was first elected in 2006 and is now running for congress in the 7th district (primarily Delaware County), which gives three years total of state house campaign finance reports.

State campaign finance reports are available online at If you search under committee for the word lentz it will come up with 15 reports, though a couple of them are amended reports. However, if you search the word lentz under reports you will also find a few reports filed by Bryan Lentz as a person (required in election years, I think – still a little fuzzy on the rules for this) and a few additional reports filed with Act Blue donations; there was some discussion in political circles over whether Act Blue is a political action committee or a conduit for donations. I’m not sure if that has been settled yet or not. There are five reports each in elections years and two reports in non-election years.

Looking at 2006, there are reports for cycles 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7. During that time Lentz brought in a total of $265,250 in contributions and spent $261,487, which is more or less a wash, spending as much as you bring in. However, he also received $418,817 in in-kind donations. Of the $265,250 in donations, more ($154,823.99) came in from individuals than from political committees ($110,424.52). A sizeable chunk of his PAC money, about a third of it, ($40K) came from his initial congressional campaign. He stepped aside to let Joe Sestak have an uncontested primary, and transferred the money to his state house race. Of the donations from individuals, about two-thirds ($103,800) came in donations of $250 or more and the remaining donations (51,024.99) were in lesser amounts. Those are not bad percentages. The money came from primarily from two traditional Democratic sources – labor and lawyers. A rough count of contributors shows that about 6% of his listed contributors were from out of state. Lentz had a lot of friends in office or in political organizations. The most frequent type of PAC that donated to his campaign was campaign committees. Current or (at that time) future state legislators included Camille George, Jennifer Mann, Dave Frankel, Josh Shapiro, Jake Wheatley, Dwight Evans, and Tony Payton, Jr. Other politicos made individual donations, including Joe Hoeffel, David Landau, Connie Williams, and Babette Josephs. A number of labor related PACs also donated. Lawyers made up the majority of individuals whose occupation was listed. Adding a little pepper to the salt were, among others, a nurse, an architect and a library director. Lentz is from a relatively large family and some of his siblings and their law partners donated. The largest individual donor was a retired gentleman from Massachusetts who donated to Lentz’s 2006 and 2010 congressional campaigns, as well as other political organizations on both sides of the aisle.

The in-kind donations came primarily from two sources, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and the PA House Democratic Campaign Committee. The state party donated about $75,000 in the design and printing of mailing materials, and about $19,000 for postage. The PA HDCC paid for a little over $20,000 in salary, plus paid some health insurance costs. The bulk of their donation, $180,000 went to media buys. Philadelphia is an expensive media market. In part these large amounts may be due to Lentz winning a contest the PA HDCC held to pick races to focus on, but looking at a selection of reports from both parties I see similar support in close races and / or open seats. In cycle 6 there was another flurry of in-kind donations. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party donated a little over $65,000 for, again, designing, printing, and mailing materials. The PA HDCC provided $7692,82 for staff, $25,000 for a media buy and $2,773 for media production, as well as 43,345.68 for voter contact services.

In expenditures there are the expected costs for rent and utilities. (Lentz paid some of the rent personally and that is reflected as in kind expenses and also on his personal report forms.) Lentz’s campaign made donations to other candidates, Patrick Murphy, Bob Casey, and Joe Sestak, as well as groups such as the Mid-County Democrats, the Nether Providence Democratic Committee, and the Democratic Committee of Greater Ridley. There are expenses for fundraising events, catering, etc. He also contributed $119,000 to the PA House Democratic Campaign Committee, perhaps to offset the amount they spent on his media buys. There is also a $4500 payment to the Campaign Group for another media buy. He bought newspaper subscriptions; it’s always good to keep the office staff informed and to read what is being written about the race. Like many Democratic candidates he paid for NGP software to keep track of and report campaign contributions. There are three paid employees and a consultant, plus reimbursements here and there for office and related expenses. These get very detailed. The reports note a $7.42 supplies and copying expense at Dollar Magic, and a $4.76 payment to Target. Federal law requires expenditures be listed only after a particular threshold has been reached but all expenditures are required on a state campaign finance report. Still, no one can accuse Lentz of keeping shoddy records.

Since 2007 was not an election year the campaign only filed two reports, a 30-day post election and an annual report. Lentz raised a total of $56,859.41 for the year. Of that $39,595 was contributed by PACs, and the remaining $16,450 from individuals, with a total of 63 individual donations (2 out of state), roughly the same as the number of PAC donations. The PACs are, again, mostly labor, professional groups, and political organizations. Rendell for Governor donated as a PAC, he received donations from Larry Farnese, Jr., Daniel McElhatton, and Rob McCord as individuals. He spent a total of $25,562.56, with most of it going to consultants, the largest amount was $10,000 to someone local, and for website expenses. There were also political donations to a few candidates, David Landau, Peter Amuso, and Frank Daley. The campaign had $35,060.39 cash on hand at the end of the year, having carried a small amount over from 2006. There were no in-kind expenses listed.

As might be expected, 2008, an election year, showed more financial activity, though not as much as in 2006. In the five reports filed, a total of $181,140 was raised, almost evenly split between individuals ($82,630) and PACs ($93,828), and spent $212,925, leaving him with $2977.95 cash on hand at the end of the year. There were in-kind donations totaling $37,763.16.

In contributions, ActBlue contributions are listed as PACs. Again, most PAC donations are from labor organizations or from other political groups or candidate funds. For instance, Ed Rendell’s fund donated $7,500. Other political contributes include Joe Sestak, Mark Cohen, Josh Shapiro, Dwight Evans, and Keith McCall. A carpenter’s union and a bricklayer’s union each donated $10,000, ad sis the Laborer’s Council (though this is listed with individuals not a PAC). Among individuals, less than 10% are from out of state. Overall, as in 2006, lawyers re the predominant occupation of those contributing over $250.

Of the in-kind donations, the PA HDCC paid $6,000 for research from Kennedy Communications and the state party again paid for design, production, and postage to the tune of $30,000. Continuing the political circle, Lentz donated to political candidates.. DeFrancesco for State House received $9,000, Tony Payton, Jr and Rich Cosetello each received., $1,000. Paul Drucker and David Kessler received $2,000 each. . Other disbursements include rent, $10,000 to Campaign Central for campaign literature, donations to local organizations and ad book payments. He also paid the PA HDCC $45,000 for mailers and $24,000 for campaign literature, as well as $19,000 to Kennedy Communications directly for mailers. The Global Strategy Group received $13,000 for polling. Again there are small ticket items, such as $9.90 to Partyland for the Obama party; this may offset the $3200 paid to the Oriental Trading Company for the Obama party. There are four employees on the payroll but some were very short term. He also paid a firm to manage his website.

Since 2009, like 2007, was not a campaign year only two reports were filed and neither showed a lot of activity. Only 11,985.24 was raised, almost all of it from PACs, again mostly union with organizations such as Planned Parenthood, CeasefirePA, and the PA Medical PAC mixed in. There were no in-kind donations. The campaign spent a total of $13,144.88, $3,500 going to a communications form for consulting. Another $2308.20 went for the inauguration party. Political organizations and local candidates received donations.

Throughout his tenure in the state house and the campaign before his initial election, Lentz has raised more money from individuals than PACS (I counted the amount he donated from his first congressional election as a collection of individuals and not a PAC, though it was listed as such in his report). He has made a collection of supporters among other elected officials and has helped out those running for office at lower levels as well as those running for office for the first time. Campaign expenditures are orderly and nothing there set off alarm bills.

I hope to examine the campaign finance reports of other state legislators, house and senate, and will use the standard set by Lentz as a comparison.

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