Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Inaccuracies in TAB Reporting of At-Large Campaign Finance Reports

The TAB newspapers has an online story -- that I couldn't find available in their print edition -- that contains a summary of the campaign finance reports for candidates for Boston City Councilor-At-Large.

The TAB story incorrectly reports that Councilor Stephen Murphy has the most cash on-hand in the race; in fact, Councilor Murphy is in third place for cash on-hand with $83,232.86 as of October 15, 2007. Councilor Michael Flaherty has the most with a whopping $438,759.79 sitting in the bank, and challenger John Connolly is a distant, but respectable, second with $115,916.52.

I reported these numbers previously based on a careful study of the on-line campaign finance reports of the candidates, including information going back several years.

How did the TAB get the story so wrong? As I described in that previous posting, candidates are required to file reports of their bank checking account twice a month during the campaign and one a month otherwise. But the candidates only file reports on their savings accounts once per year in their year-end reports using a "Schedule S." To find these numbers, you have to go back to the year-end reports in previous years, and also inspect each and every checking account report from the current year (under "expenditures") to look for additional transfers from the checking account to savings.

The TAB story appears to have completely missed the money that Connolly and Councilor Flaherty have sitting in their savings / money market accounts. Those savings accounts are money in the bank that can be pulled out at moment's notice to spend on, e.g., media advertising. Due to peculiarities in the campaign finance law, those "transfers to savings" are listed as "expenditures" on the campaign finance reports.

For example, Councilor Flaherty had $202,070.49 in his savings account as of 12/31/05. He transferred $50,000 more to it on 8/30/06, another $75,000 on 12/21/06, and $50,000 more in the campaign report ended 5/31/07. With interest, he probably has more than $380,000 right now sitting in that savings account. Not accounting for it is a significant blunder.

The TAB is in pretty good company, though, as I reported previously:
The Boston Globe appears to have fallen into the trap of not noticing that Flaherty transferred more than $202,000 to a savings account in 2005, which is not an expenditure, even though it is itemized by OCPF under "expenditures." Flaherty therefore spent around $309,000, not $511,000 as reported by the Globe, in 2005. Ooooops!!!
I'm sure Mayor Thomas Menino is full aware of the money Councilor Flaherty has stashed away... which is probably one reason why the Mayor has been doing lots of his own fund-raising lately, raising $347,000 in the year-to-date.

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