Elections

Published — December 26, 2019

By the numbers: a 2019 money-in-politics index

(AP Photo/John Lent)

Introduction

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates betrayals of public trust. Sign up to receive our stories.

With a federal government lurching from crisis to crisis and a presidential election afoot, Center for Public Integrity reporters uncovered, analyzed or otherwise crunched a lot of numbers during 2019.

Here are a few that stand out:

1 out of 5: The number of Democratic presidential donors who gave to two or more Democratic presidential candidates during the first half of 2019, a Center for Public Integrity/FiveThirtyEight analysis of campaign finance data found.

33 percent: The rough percentage of dollars donated to Democratic presidential candidates that came from either New York or California, reliable Democratic ATMs, during the first half of 2019, a Public Integrity/FiveThirtyEight analysis of campaign finance data found.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Mich., on Dec. 18, 2019. (AP/Paul Sancya)

$841,219: Amount Trump’s campaign owed various municipal governments for police and public safety costs related to his campaign rallies, according to a Public Integrity investigation in June. That number has since soared past $1.5 million, with cities such as Minneapolis and Albuquerque adding to the total.

70: Minimum number of re-election campaign fundraising text messages President Donald Trump’s campaign sent from Sept. 24, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry, to Dec. 18, when the U.S. House impeached the president. Many were impeachment-themed.

$105,000: Amount Trump has personally contributed to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over the years (although not recently).

292: Pages of Department of Defense and White House Office of Management and Budget documents obtained by Public Integrity via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Trump administration. Despite heavy redactions, the documents have helped illuminate internal, Ukraine aid-related discussions among Trump administration officials at a time when the president is being impeached for his actions related to withholding military aid to Ukraine.

$1 million to $2 million: The value of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s interest in Stormchaser Partners, his wife Louise Linton’s film company. He divested his interest to Linton, a transaction that led federal ethics officials to decline to certify his required personal financial disclosure forms.

$3,700: The value of the BankUnited stock that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross failed to properly divest and disclose after federal ethics officials repeatedly warned him to make sure he accurately reported all his holdings and complied with ethics requirements. The amount is a minuscule fraction of Ross’ net worth, but he was forced to acknowledge another inaccuracy, prompting federal ethics officials to decline to certify his personal financial disclosure forms. 

300: Number of state-level bills related to hemp and introduced since 1995 that have included similar language. These are among the tens of thousands of examples of “model legislation” — prefabricated bills often written by moneyed special interests that want government to help them achieve a political goal.

$133.1 million: Amount paid to a network of companies run by a Las Vegas telemarketer, Richard Zeitlin, out of $153.1 million raised since 2006 in the name of sick children, people with breast cancer, police officers, firefighters, veterans and others. Public Integrity spent more than a year investigating Zeitlin’s operation, which has included fundraising services for charities and political action committees.

7: The number of PACs in 2002 that were raising money in small increments, then plowing most of it back into fundraising, wages and administration. That number has grown to 61 PACs that collectively raised $349.3 million and spent $344.3 million since 2001. They spent most heavily on fundraising, including telemarketing and direct mail.

Kecia and William Pollock. (Facebook)

$3.7 million: The amount spent on fundraising by four PACs run by Las Vegas police officer William Pollock and his wife, Kecia Pollock. Together the four PACs spent about $4 million from 2017 to mid-2019, almost all of what they raised. About $3.7 million of that went to a network of companies owned by Zeitlin, the Las Vegas telemarketer, while the Pollocks brought home about $150,000. Most of the rest covered overhead.

$9,000: Value of the fine the Federal Election Commission levied against Robert Piaro, who runs four PACs that contract with Zeitlin. Piaro was fined for allegedly failing to disclose certain disbursements made by one of his PACs, Americans for the Cure of Breast Cancer.

0.3: Percent of the Put Vets First! PAC’s expenditures that went to political campaigns or committees before abruptly shutting down in July, following a 2017 investigation by Public Integrity into the PAC’s spending habits. Over its life, the PAC raised more than $4.8 million. Telemarketers kept $4.4 million of that, and the PAC’s leader, retired Army Maj. Brian Arthur Hampton, earned about $183,500. He also earned hundreds of thousands of dollars as the head of two nonprofits, which spent about 90 percent of what they raised on telemarketing.

5: Number of years in prison faced by Scott B. Mackenzie, one of Washington’s most controversial political fundraisers, who pleaded guilty in October to one count of making a false statement to the FEC on behalf of two political action committees: Conservative StrikeForce and Conservative Majority Fund. In addition to the prison sentence, Mackenzie faces a fine of $250,000 and restitution of $172,200, according to court documents.

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2: Number of school districts the Mississippi Department of Education took control over in April following a Public Integrity investigation into the Yazoo City Municipal School District. The  district — which ranks near the bottom of the list in almost every measure of academic performance in the state — is part of a startling pattern in Mississippi, Public Integrity found. 

4: Number of months, as of Jan. 1, that the FEC will have operated without a quorum of commissioners, meaning the agency cannot enforce federal campaign finance laws or otherwise attend to high-level duties.

11: Number of public meetings — out of 22 scheduled — that the FEC canceled during 2019. Blame the partial government shutdown in January, and the lack of a commissioner quorum in September, October, November and December, for most of them.

$158,500: The annual salary that remaining FEC commissioners Ellen Weintraub, Caroline Hunter and Steven Walther receive, regardless of whether they’re showing up for meetings or capable of fully carrying out their duties.

28: Number of months it took the FEC to hire an inspector general — an official empowered to defend against agency waste, fraud and abuse — after a tumultuous search stained by delays and accusations of sabotage.

19: Number of current or former federally registered lobbyists (at least) who contributed to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s first winning run for mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speak during a Democratic presidential primary debate on Dec. 19, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

$139,000: Amount Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign spent from March through September on products and services from Amazon — despite Sanders’s blasting the corporate giant for what he says are unfair labor practices.

$8.4 million: Value of the contributions made by Democratic megadonor Paul Egerman to various Democratic candidates and PACs over the years. Egerman serves as treasurer for the Democratic presidential campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who routinely decries the role of big money in politics.

7: Number of phone and email messages — inquiring about whether Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign would disclose information about its campaign bundlers — that the Biden campaign did not return.

$35: Price of a “Cocaine Mitch” t-shirt sold by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s own re-election campaign.

78: Percentage of Americans who believe that presidential campaigns should wait to start somewhere between six weeks to one year before a scheduled election day, per a Public Integrity/Ipsos news poll.

Read more in Money and Democracy

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