Urban Milwaukee Shines Light on Political Donors
Releases city’s first Political Contributions Tracker, with data on 2,000 donors to politicians.
“Follow the money.”
The by-now famous line by “Deep Throat,” the insider who helped Woodward and Bernstein report on the Watergate scandal, has been frequently quoted as the best way to help explain government policies, yet there has never been a user-friendly way to track political contributions in Milwaukee. And so Urban Milwaukee took on the task. We promised donors to our crowdfunding drive that this would be one of the improvements your dollars would help finance, and after some 250 hours of work we are today announcing the beta release of the city’s first user-friendly, systematized tool.
“We are thrilled to release our Political Contributions Tracker, or PCT, as we’ve started to call it,” says Urban Milwaukee President Jeramey Jannene. “You might call it the beta version, as we still have many features and reports to add. But at this point we have created a user-friendly template and have recorded $482,414 in contributions from some 2,000 people.”
That includes contributions from the last three reporting periods, for January 1st through June 30th of 2015, for July 1st through December 31st of 2015, and for January 1st through January 31st of 2016. Urban Milwaukee has begun compiling contributions from the next reporting period (reports were due on Monday, March 28) and will soon add them and other missing reports to the database. Moving forward, data from successive periods will be added, and next will come data for Milwaukee County and Milwaukee School Board officials.
“The big issue for us was the creation of the application and interface which can best display all the data,” Jannene notes. “Now that we have this it will be easier to expand the database.”
For each political donor, Urban Milwaukee is creating a “personnel file,” a page with all donations listed, plus all stories involving that person and all listed chronologically, giving readers an easy way to track all information about a particular contributor.
For example, you could track the donations and activities of restaurant owner and longtime Democrat Nick Anton, or arts maven and political conservative Nancy Einhorn, or the frequent contributions of Allan H. Nelson, owner of the Cheetah Club.
Once a personnel file is established, it will grow, as we add press releases, photos, articles and contributions related to that person, all in one place. Future updates will add organization and business affiliations, substantially more reports and other improvements.
Also missing in this beta release are expenses, loans, in-kind contributions and account balances for each political candidate, all information that will eventually be added.
“The old adage is that ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant,’” says Urban Milwaukee Publisher Dave Reid. “We believe this new tool will shine a bright light on city politics and provide an easy way for readers and all members of the community to better understand the inside dealings of city government.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise in compiling the data, is how messy the city’s contribution data is, Reid notes. “Frankly, we were shocked by some of what we found: people listed with many different versions of their name, contributions listed as given by an anonymous-sounding LLC, contributions credited to two people, what appear to be loans to candidates that aren’t listed, addresses listed as being in Milwaukee that are actually outside the city. All of this makes it far harder to see a true picture of political contributions in the city. Some of it may even be illegal.”
These glitches also made it harder for Urban Milwaukee to compile the data accurately. “We applaud the officials who have submitted well-formatted, digital reports,” Jannene says, “and we wonder if there is some way for the city elections commission to demand more complete forms.”
Meanwhile, PCT has been born and is there for you to peruse. And we will be actively updating in the weeks and months to come. Our goal is to serve our readers and the entire community, so we would love to hear from you if you have suggestions on how to improve the Political Contributions Tracker. Use our handy contact form to respond.