This week, the first campaign finance disclosure reports for Mayoral hopefuls were released. Via SFist and the Examiner, we learned how much each campaign had raised as of December 31, 2010. (If you were on any of these candidates’ mailing lists, you probably got a million emails asking for money up until 11:59pm December 31.)
While these do report how much they raised and spent, they do not necessarily indicate how much money each candidate has on hand as of today. That’s because virtually every campaign engages in a little trick whereby they will defer certain payments (salaries, etc.) from friendly vendors or employees, until after the reporting period. This then allows them to show more money on hand, even though the very next day (January 1) they’ll pay out the money owed to whomever hasn’t been paid yet.
Making this link is almost impossible, since the next reporting period won’t be for several months, and by then, no one will remember this. It’s a neat trick, for sure, but it can also bite a campaign in the backside later on. If in fact a campaign really doesn’t have the money after paying out their debtors, moving forward in 2011 can be tough.
So in the end, these reports don’t mean much if you don’t know if the campaigns are playing the deferred payment game or not. A better way to do reporting would be to have campaigns report daily, their donations and expenditures, and have that information online and printed out and distributed to the public to designated locations daily, or weekly. That ends the deferment game, and the public would be better informed on who is paying for whom in an election season.
Of course, the next step would be to regulate taxpayer funded campaign mail, which we’ll have in 2011 in the Mayor’s race this year, with several candidates likely to take advantage of the program. After all, we’re paying for their propaganda – shouldn’t we at least regulate it in the best interests of the citizens that fund it?
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