Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

August 24, 2009

Some observations from Cambridge City Council campaign finance reports

Filed under: 2009 Election,campaign finance — Robert Winters @ 11:14 am

Cambridge City Council 2009 Campaign Finance Report Summaries (PDF) – updated Oct 19, 2009

While some people enjoy reading novels, I get my reading pleasure from things like meeting minutes and campaign finance reports. For extra fun, I’ll analyze ballot data and voter history records or maybe write a little piece on proportional representation. I hope someone other than me finds this stuff interesting.

Here are a few items from past and present that get my attention:

  1. Henrietta Davis’ recent reports show three different people paid as campaign staff (though two of them were only for a few hours). This contrasts with, say, Denise Simmons whose reports show no paid campaign staff. Some new candidates have hired campaign managers while others rely entirely on friends and family. [Aug 30 Note: Lest anyone misinterpret the intent of this note, the only point is that some candidates have paid staff and others do not.]
  2. Marjorie Decker’s 2006 Annual Report showed a debt of $13,808.85 to Cambridge Offset Printing left over from her 2005 campaign. It makes you wonder why a business allows such substantial debts to remain unpaid for so long, yet additional unpaid bills for $1833.75 appeared on the 2007 report for a total liability of $15,642.60. This same report showed the illegal in-kind contribution of $2500 from the John Buonomo campaign paid to Cambridge Offset Printing which apparently covered what would have been an even greater debt. [Note: This story has been somewhat covered recently by the Cambridge Chronicle.] The report was later amended to bring the unpaid debt to Cambridge Offset Printing to $17,424.08. The 2008 Annual Report continued to show a $15,642.60 debt to this vendor with no indication yet of this debt being paid. At some point it’s fair to ask whether this is an unpaid debt or a very large in-kind donation of services.
  3. Craig Kelley continues to personally fund a substantial portion of his campaigns, though his periodic reports show very little activity so far this year. So far, the campaigns of new candidates Cheung, Glick, Leavitt, Marquardt, Stohlman, and vanBeuzekom are primarily or entirely self-funded, but this will likely soon change as they attract more voters and supporters.
  4. David Maher pulled in $14,465 in donations last December. Other incumbent city councillors will have similar major fundraising months. This illustrates one of the primary advantages of incumbency.
  5. Gregg Moree’s 2007 Report showed an entirely self-funded $22,390 campaign, yet no details whatsoever appear about his expenditures.
  6. Ken Reeves’ 2005 Report shows $12,170 in liabilities but absolutely no details are provided. In that year, he maintained a headquarters for perhaps four months in a prominent Central Square storefront, yet there is no record of any expenditure for rent or any record of an in-kind donation for what is far in excess of the campaign finance legal limits. Candidates are required to report the fair market value for any such donation of space and the name(s) of those who provide the space. Reeves also maintained a headquarters on Mass. Ave. for several months in the 2007 campaign and this also never appears in any reports. His 2007 reports show an outstanding debt of $14,875.83 primarily for campaign staff but with no mention of the headquarters. A very low estimate for the unreported donation of office space would be at least $6000 – far in excess of anything Mr. Buonomo improperly contributed to Ms. Decker’s campaign.
  7. Two of the biggest funders of political campaigns (primarily in 2007) were Timothy and Amy Rowe (he’s the CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square). The recipients were Galluccio ($1250), Kelley ($1000), Davis ($1000), Toomey ($1000), M. Sullivan ($500), Decker ($1000), Maher ($1000), Reeves ($1000), Simmons ($1000), Seidel ($1000), and Murphy ($1000). The other king donors are John DiGiovanni (Trinity Management, Harvard Square) and his family. Since 2007, they gave to Reeves ($1500), M. Sullivan ($1000), Murphy ($2000), Galluccio ($3000), Decker ($1000), Maher ($2000), Simmons ($2000), E. Sullivan ($500), and Toomey ($1000). Surely, all this money flows from the kindness of their very large hearts.
  8. Tim Toomey continues to pay Jason Alves (his City-funded personal aide) every month out of his campaign account as staff for his state representative district office. It’s apparently legal, but it highlights the clearly political nature of these City-funded aides.
  9. As of Oct 19, the campaign treasure chests in decreasing order were (to the nearest dollar):
    Candidate
    Balance
    Candidate
    Balance
    Candidate
    Balance
    Decker, Marjorie$29,547Seidel, Sam$10,402Ward, Larry$1,144
    Simmons, Denise$20,073Glick, Silvia$9,344Reeves, Ken$491
    Maher, David$18,040Cheung, Leland$9,212Adkins, Lawrence$244
    Davis, Henrietta$13,766Sullivan, Edward J.$7,469Flanagan, Mark$100
    Kelley, Craig$13,748vanBeuzekom, Minka$5,348Moree, Gregg J.$0
    Toomey, Tim$13,539Stohlman, Tom$3,920Podgers, Kathy$0
    Marquardt, Charles J.$10,826Leavitt, Neal$1,726Williamson, James$0
  10. [addendum] Marjorie Decker’s campaign receipts for September 2009 are something to behold. It seems like Billy Walsh must be her chief campaign fundraiser. It’s all about the real estate.

One observation worth noting is the trend over the years toward paid campaign managers. There was a day when managing the campaign of an Independent candidate would be entirely the work of friends and family. Paid staff was typically seen only with CCA type candidates. Nowadays, many candidates (other than the usual suspects) will hire campaign staff, though not all. Some incumbents have several paid staff (in addition to the City-funded personal staff who handle all their Council business while they’re out on the campaign trail).

Anyone can search the campaign finance reports at the OCPF website. Knock yourself out. – RW

August 21, 2009

Open Forum – Proportional Representation

Filed under: Cambridge government — Robert Winters @ 6:41 pm

When Cambridge adopted the Plan E Charter in 1940, it included the use of proportional representation as the method of election for City Council and School Committee. This election method is designed to ensure majority rule while at the same time guaranteeing minority representation. At its inception, the concept was the representation of political minorities, but this has naturally extended to include ethnic minorities and other constituencies as defined by the voters.

Proportional representation is much more general than the specific method used in Cambridge. Most democracies throughout the world use some form of proportional representation, primarily in parliamentary systems of government.

The origins of the PR method used in Cambridge, the single transferable vote (STV), date back to 1821, but the method is often associated with Thomas Hare who promoted the method during the mid-19th century. The “Hare System” was popularized by John Stuart Mill and, with some modification after the ideas of Henry Richmond Droop, this system is essentially what is used in Cambridge today. Basically, every 10+% of voters who can galvanize around an issue or other definable quality among candidates will likely elect a representative on the City Council. For the School Committee, it takes slightly more than one-seventh of voters to earn a seat.

The topic of this Open Forum is the concept of proportional representation, not the mechanics of the PR elections. We’ll save the mechanics for the next topic.

Specific questions:
1. How important is proportional representation of a range of viewpoints and backgrounds on the City Council and School Committee today? Is this true in practice as well as in theory? How does representation in Cambridge compare to other cities, the state legislature, or the U.S. Congress?

2. How would things differ if we elected councillors and school committee members by wards using winner-take-all plurality elections (and possibly gerrymandered districts)?

3. Has the use of candidate slates been effective over the years in our PR elections? Have some constituencies benefited more from PR than others?

August 10, 2009

Open Forum – The Plan E Charter

Filed under: Cambridge government — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 8:37 am

There have been some people lately challenging the Plan E Charter under which the City of Cambridge operates. This includes some local candidates and their handlers. Those who have lived in Cambridge long enough will recall that this criticism tends to be cyclical with several candidates raising the issue perhaps every decade.

The primary claims are that the City Manager has too much authority or that the system is somehow not democratic. Others argue that because the City Manager “serves at the pleasure of the City Council” there is actually greater accountability than in a “strong mayor” system where the mayor is all-powerful and the City Council is impotent (as in the City of Boston). It’s worth noting that public process in Cambridge (as well as public comment at City Council meetings) tends to be far greater than in most other communities – which usually leads to City-funded projects costing far more than original estimates.

Discussion of the Plan E Charter generally doesn’t draw much of a crowd, especially in light of the fact that Cambridge’s residential property tax rates are among the lowest in the Commonwealth and the City’s fiscal position is the envy of every municipality in Massachusetts. Nonetheless, Plan E does have its critics.

So, what are your thoughts on the Plan E Charter? You can read the Charter here: http://rwinters.com/docs/PlanE.htm

We’ll take up the issue of proportional representation (PR) elections in another week or so.

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