By Daniel J. McGraw
When a political campaign junkie looks through campaign finance reports, it is the unusual you are looking for that the average novice doesn’t see. So at first glance at the report filed yesterday by the pro-sin tax organization, Keep Cleveland strong, I saw that the three teams – Browns, Indians and Cavaliers — contributed about $1 million between them when the campaign got rolling. They wrote out checks for about $333,000 each in January through mid-March.
That seems like a lot, and it is. But when you consider that the sin tax will bring in about $250-$300 million over the next 25 years for new scoreboards and other accoutrements the teams want, shelling out a little more than $300,000 for getting that kind of cash seems like a decent investment.
A call for cash one month before the election may mean things aren’t going so well for Keep Cleveland Strong.But it was the smaller figure of $200,001 that caught my eye. In early April, the three teams ponied up $66,667 each for the campaign. And these were loans to the campaign, meaning they wanted that money back after the election. But more importantly, that call for cash one month before the election means things probably aren’t going so well for the Keep Cleveland Strong campaign.
The campaign report says they have already spent about $1.3 million on the campaign, in media ad buys and printing of fliers and paying off the various consultants, etc. And if you are winning, you don’t need to hit the big donors for more cash. It is an obvious sign that this is, at the very least, a very close race. And expect the Keep Cleveland Strong campaign to hit the teams up for more bucks. Because at this point, the report says they already spent more than $1.9 million and have only $119,000 left in the bank.
Here are some of the numbers:
- The Keep Cleveland Strong campaign has raised about $2 million from cash, loans and in-kind donations. About $1.8 million of that has come from the teams.
- Of the 75 politicians and business and civic leaders listed as supporters on the Keep Cleveland Strong wesbite, only one made a donation according to the report, and that was only $20.
- The campaign has spent about $670,000 in ad buys, which could include radio and television and print publications. The ad buys were handled by Buying Time Media based in Washington, D.C. The report does not require that the buys be broken down by the media company that the ads were purchased from.
- Nancy Lesic, the spokeswoman for Keep Cleveland Strong, has received $35,000 so far for her public relations agency, Lesic & Camper. R Strategy Group, a local public policy consulting firm, has been paid about $75,000.
- The Cleveland Cavaliers donated $206,000 to the campaign in “in-kind marketing” services, but it doesn’t go into detail as to what those services were. The Cleveland Indians donated $174,900 for “in-kind signage,” which could mean that would have been the value of the ads being run on their scoreboards and exterior signs at Progressive Field.
- The Coalition Against the Sin Tax has raised about $6,500. The recently started Coalition Against Unfair Taxes raised $35,000 and will begin a small ad campaign within a few days.
In a statement about the campaign report, Joe Roman, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership (Cleveland’s version of a chamber of commerce) said: “The team’s investment in educating voters on this issue represents about half a percent of the more than $350 million in repairs, maintenance, operations and other expenses that they have already invested in these three venues that are owned by the public, not the teams.”
What I was curious about, however, after reading Mr. Romans’ statement, was how much the local business community had ponied up for the campaign. A few gave some money, but not a lot: attorney Richard Pogue ($10,000), Medical Mutual ($50,000), AT&T ($5,000). Even Nancy Lesic gave a $100 to the campaign (remember, her firm got $35,000). But what I wondered is where were the big players who have been telling us about how important the renewal of the sin tax is?
No contributions from anyone named Dolan or Haslam or Gilbert either.The Keep Cleveland Strong website has a “cheering section” where they list which politicians and civic and business leaders who support the sin tax. None of the dozens of politicians listed gave any money for the campaign on this report (including Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald). Former Cleveland Cavalier great Austin Carr, color analyst for the TV game broadcasts, is listed as a supporter, but he gave no money to the campaign. Marcus Glover, senior vice president and general manager of the Horseshoe Casino is listed as a sin tax supporter, but also no contribution.
No contributions from anyone named Dolan or Haslam or Gilbert either.
Joe Roman of the Greater Cleveland Partnership is also listed in the Keep Cleveland Strong cheering section. According to the 2012 IRS Form 990 (that non-profits like the Greater Cleveland Partnership have to file), Roman made $520,966 that year. He also did not make a campaign contribution, despite making numerous media appearances advocating for voters to approve the sin tax renewal.
And as you go down the list in the “cheering section,” you find none of the names listed as supporters of the tax showing up as donors on the campaign contribution report, except one: Tom Yablonsky, vice president of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance who makes $155,556, gave $20.
But the other supporters listed in the cheering section, who work for non-profits and have relatively high salary compensations according to the IRS, don’t show up as financial supporters of the sin tax campaign: David Gilbert, President and CEO of Positively Cleveland ($535,744); Joe Marinucci, President and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance ($260,027); Chris Ronayne, President and CEO of University Circle, Inc. ($206,652), and Eric Wobser, Executive Director of Ohio City, Inc. ($87,500).
What is quite apparent, is that the Keep Cleveland Strong campaign didn’t beat down the bushes with enthusiasm to raise money for this effort. They figured they could just put it on the ballot, pay some consultants, run a few ads, and have an easy victory. But it is very obvious that that arrogance wasn’t rooted in basic understanding of political campaigning. Namely, that when you ask the public for money, you ask nicely and don’t have as your main message “do it or else.” Because that doesn’t sit well with voters, and it is obvious that’s what is happening here.
It also doesn’t sit well to find out that civic leaders who have made more than $1.7 million in annual salaries and who advocate that the taxpayers pay up $13 million a year for 20 years for sporting facilities whether they go to the games or not, have only donated $20 to their cause.