Sunday, December 04, 2005

Gerlach's Typo

US Rep. Jim Gerlach's (Republican. PA-06) re-election campaign has a few numbers problems. For one thing, they took $35,000 in excessive contributions that had to be returned. That’s sloppy but it happens.

The other problem is a bit stranger. They over-reported their income by $2.2 million. According to the campaign it was a computer and clerical error. A staffer typed in an incorrect date and information from the 2004 campaign was included in this year’s FEC filing.

My one foray into actual campaign work was in campaign finance. It was short lived, only lasting a few months, but I had to file a few reports. It is a gruesome business. While everyone else in the campaign is fixated on bringing in money the few working on campaign finance reports are trying to make sure everything is by the book. I’d see checks that weren’t signed that made it past three other people, checks signed by someone whose name wasn’t listed on the check, and so on. It wasn’t anyone else’s job to notice these things and suggesting that money be returned won’t make you any friends.

It is possible to make errors on dates when typing in data. When I did it, though, I always ended up losing money. Transpose some numbers on the date of a check and it won’t show up on the report, because it no longer falls between the specified starting and ending dates. When defining the ending date of a quarterly report I once typed in 30th and instead of 31st and all the receipts for the last day of the month at the end of the quarter disappeared. As soon as a draft copy of the report was distributed someone was on the phone saying “Where’s that MONEY???!!!!” I always had to file amendments. You can see why I resigned. You can imagine the candidate was a little relieved. The press doesn't help any here. Although reports aren't due until a certain date if one candidate (usually the better financed candidate, with the paid finance workers and the jazzy computer set up) sends political reporters a copy of their finance report the reporters are on the phone asking where the other candidate's report is, and then the unpaid volunteer on that campaign gets no sleep at all.

But I’m not sure how you can include an extra year. The software I used caught a lot of errors (except it wasn’t programmed to know which months had 30 days and which had 31). Including an extra year would have been next to impossible. But maybe the Gerlach campaign uses a different software. Usually there are a number of people tracking contributions so a number far out of line with daily or weekly updates would be noticed. They certainly were in the one campaign I worked on.

In cases like this I tend to cut a challenger or an independent some extra slack. An incumbent or someone with a lot of party support is likely to be able to have experienced people working on the campaign reports, maybe tucked away on some patronage job where they get paid for doing the work. A challenger is likely to have some doofus volunteer like me, staying up till all hours typing things in and struggling with a manual or calling tech support at one or two in the morning. Candidates with strong party backing are going to have a robust Internet connection to file their reports online. A challenger might be in their basement with dial-up.

In the eyes of the law all candidates are the same, but someone who’s been in office and presumably has access to campaign workers who have used the software and filed reports before clearly has an advantage.

Either the Gerlach campaign is far more disorganized than any incumbent should be or someone was playing fast and loose with the numbers.

Gerlach's opponent, Lois Murphy is rightly having a field day with this and other blunders he has made.

[Update -- this post is designated as the clearinghouse for my Lois Murphy posts. Read Lois Murphy in the Money (here); Bermuda Triangle -- Gerlach, Rove, Delay (here)]

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