$1 Million In Donations to City Politicians
Our Political Contributions Tracker hits $1 million, reveals who’s giving and getting cash.
If you want a favor from a politician, contribute to his or her political campaign. That’s how the world works, and it’s no different in the City of Milwaukee.
To track that shadowy world of insiders, Urban Milwaukee created its Political Contributions Tracker, or PCT, as we like to call it, back in March. At that point we had entered data into our digital tracker from the three latest reporting periods, with $482,414 in contributions to politicians from some 2,000 people.
We’ve continued to expand our data base and have by now tracked $1,050,639 in contributions from 3,509 people from the last six reporting periods, going back to January 2015. All told, that’s taken about 350 person hours to create, paid for by our crowd funding campaign (thank you, folks) completed last fall. We currently have data only for the Common Council and mayor’s race (no school board, judges, or other city-wide offices) and will continue adding future reports, even as we also work backwards to enter data from older reports. We intend to finish all the city records (judges, school board, city-wide offices of comptroller, treasurer and city attorney) and then move on to the county.
The Political Contributions Tracker is easy to find: it’s the first drop-down item under Politics on our website’s navigation bar.
What does the data show?:
-A heck of a lot of money, more than $1 million, going to politicians in less than two years.
-The top fundraisers were, not surprisingly the candidates for mayor, Tom Barrett (more than $305,000 during this period), Ald. Bob Donovan ($193,774) and Joe Davis ($117,391). The fourth place politician was a surprise: Ald. Jose Perez, with $95,291. Less surprising was the fifth place ranking for Bob Bauman, given the downtown alderman’s access to major city businesses.
-The top donor, by far was developer Frank Crivello, who contributed $18,104. In addition, his sons Joe ($9,214) and Anthony ($14,748) were top contributors, while Ryan Trost, Senior Vice President of Finance for Phoenix Investors, LLC., gave $3,564 (and his wife Ashleigh Trost pitched in another $4,354). And that’s just scratching the surface of all the many Crivello-family connected donations.
-Many of the other donors are what might be called the usual suspects, from restaurant or tavern owners like Nick Anton ($6,207 donated), to developers like The Moderne creator Rick Barrett ($4,788), PR operatives like Carl Mueller ($3,376) and business leaders like Dennis Kuester ($3,000), the former CEO of M&I Bank and board chair of the Bradley Foundation.
The biggest surprise in compiling the data has been the messy state of the the city’s campaign finance data. As we noted back in March, we were shocked by 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,” says Urban Milwaukee publisher Dave Reid. “And some of it may even be illegal.”
We’ve continued to go a step further than any other contribution tracker in Milwaukee or the state, matching contributions to real people. For example, linking contributions listed as coming from Harjeet Walia and Rick Walia to the same person since one is his legal name, and the other is the name he more commonly goes by. It also includes making sure the many people named Michael Murphy in the metro area are each uniquely credited with their contributions.
Through these efforts we have found a number of errors or questionable records in reports that we will be ultimately be bringing to the City of Milwaukee Election Commission. In addition, there are a handful of reports that seem to be missing that we want to discuss with the commission.
Countless extra hours continue to go into retyping handwritten or scanned reports, with intern Carter Liebscher working tirelessly to retype reports and translate sloppy handwriting. Kudos to Ald. Chantia Lewis and former council candidates Tory Lowe, Justin Bielinski and Meagan Holman for filing their information in a completely digital and easily accessible format. In our opinion, the city should require this of every candidate, to insure the information is as accessible to the public as possible.
But that may be difficult given that one of the worst transgressors is Mayor Barrett. While Barrett is complying with the city’s campaign finance regulations, his campaign made the switch this year from reporting via a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to a format that requires us to retype the reports. Whatever his campaign’s reasons for doing so, it’s a step backwards for transparency in government.
Mr. Mayor, may we suggest the example starts at the top. If you’re not filing all your contributions in the most publicly accessible fashion, why should anyone else?