Saturday, September 7, 2013

Donations by Government Contractors and Lobbyists in Local Politics

We have a strict policy at SeeClickFix that myself and my full-time co-founders can not donate to local politicians. SeeClickFix is a city contractor, and although we're allowed to donate by law, I feel that it is unethical to contribute to the campaigns of those who may decide whether or not you get paid

I've had a number of conversations recently with city contractors who do play the donation game and their reason for playing is completely rational. They won't say that the donation is a straight transaction where they put money in and its guaranteed that money comes out. That's illegal. They will tell you that they think it is more likely that money will come out if they put money in. These are people who feel that their businesses depends on this game, and as long as its legal, money coming out means food on the table for their families. In one case I talked to an out of town city contractor who strongly disagrees with the candidate he/she is donating to because of the recipients position on city pensions.  But the donor also admits that the city's financial picture will not effect them personally as the donor is not a New Haven resident. At the end of the day I believe that most people playing the game are playing because family comes before community and its nothing more than a personal security decision. I get that. My family comes before community as well but I'm going to fight to keep perspective on where one is actually jeopardizing the other.

As money in politics is something I am clearly passionate about, I took the time this morning to look at the data from New Haven's Mayoral election as gathered from the most recent SEEC filings by all four candidates.  All candidates are required to submit receipts for donations to their campaigns. There were three boxes on these forms that I was interested in tallying. The boxes are as follows and are required to be answered with a Yes or No.

1) Is contributor a lobbyist, spouse, or dependent child of a lobbyist?

2)If contribution is in excess of $400 to a candidate committee for a chief executive officer of a municipality does contributor or business he/she associated with have a contract with said municipality valued at more than $5,000?

3)Is contributor a principal of state contractor or prospective state contractor?

To get the data Hall of Records provided me with all of the SEEC Form 20 for July 1 - September 1.
This morning I put out a call on twitter and facebook for someone who would check my counts. Brad Armstrong agreed to come down and help count the filings with me.  At the last minute I realized that the Town Clerk forgot to give me the July filings for the Elicker campaign. Fortunately the State Election Enforcement Committee posts the filings of those participating in the democracy fund on-line. For the Elicker campaign's July SEEC Form20 filing I counted on-line here and my wife Kati did the double check.

To follow is the number of contributions to Mayoral campaigns between July 1 and September 2013 where the lobbyist, contractor boxes or both were checked 'Yes.'


  1. Thank you for doing this work.

    Is it possible to spit this out to show these "checkbox donations" as a percentage of votes per candidate, and as percentage of total donations (in USD) of total raised per candidate?

    So, for example, what percent of Carolina's X number of contributions were lobbyist/contractor/both, and what percent of Justin's X amount of total dollars raised were from the same?


    1. Hey M,

      I have the filings at my office if you want to pick them up and collate. For me I wanted to just show the number of transactions that come from folks who might being doing business or lobbying with the City so I could understand scale. This data dive was more about the total number of folks who might be playing that game and not about the Candidate's fundraising otherwise. I should also state that there are always people (could even be the strong majority) who happen to be lobbyists or family members of lobbyists or City contractors who expect nothing in return or no punishment for not donating who are tallied here. There is no way of knowing and they may just be supporting the candidate because they think that candidate is the best for the City not themselves. I have no anecdotes of people like that or I would have listed them here. Let me know if you want to pick up that paperwork tomorrow and I'll have it at the office for you.