Following the Money

2015-03-02T14:20:15+00:00 April 25th, 2014|

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.

[blocktext align=”right”]A call for cash one month before the election may mean things aren’t going so well for Keep Cleveland Strong.[/blocktext]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?

[blocktext align=”left”]No contributions from anyone named Dolan or Haslam or Gilbert either.[/blocktext]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.


  1. Ron Copfer April 25, 2014 at 9:06 am - Reply

    Nice reporting. Too bad our Pee Dee can’t do the same!

  2. Anastasia Pantsios April 25, 2014 at 10:03 am - Reply

    I wonder if Joe Roman can tell me when, if these venues are “owned by the public not the teams,” we will be receiving “our” money for naming rights (who gets to pocket money for selling rights to something they don’t own?) as well as for the advertising on the signage on “our” facilities. These buildings may be technically “ours” when it comes to paying for them but effectively they do not belong to us.

  3. Patrick April 25, 2014 at 10:10 am - Reply

    How much of the anti-sin tax money comes from Tobacco and Alcohol companies?

    • Dan McGraw April 25, 2014 at 10:41 am - Reply

      Patrick, thank you for reading and thank you for your comment. Two organizations opposed to the sin tax also filed their reports yesterday, and listed some donations with some ties to alcohol and tobacco. The Coalition Against Unfair Taxes raised $35,000 — $25,000 from a group associated with the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, and $10,000 from the Wholesale Beer & Wine Association of Ohio. The Coalition Against the Sin Tax raised 6,591.67 and $5,000 of that came from Alan Glazan, who owns several bars in Cleveland. But remember, Patrick, those numbers pale in comparison to the $1.8 million in cash, loans, and in-kind contributions made by the three professional sports teams to the pro- sin tax organization.. Support Your Belt.

      • Patrick April 28, 2014 at 1:45 pm - Reply

        Thank you!
        The original sin tax proposal in the early 90s had an opposition heavily funded by alcohol and tobacco companies.
        I just wonder why they are not a major player this time around. Its the same tax.

  4. […] on its campaign, while the pair of opposition groups have raised approximately $41,500, combined. Belt Magazine’s Dan McGraw has the details here, including that “civic leaders who have made more than $1.7 million in annual salaries and […]

  5. Laura April 25, 2014 at 10:54 am - Reply

    I’m really interested in learning more about this issue. I keep stumbling across peripheral commentary like this — nicely done, but not comprehensive enough for someone without a basic grasp on the proposals. Can you recommend an unbiased analysis so this article makes more sense to me?

  6. David Faulk April 25, 2014 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    As one of the commenters alluded to above, this is the kind of reporting you will not find in the mainstream media. Thanks, Daniel, for your contributions and congratulations to the Belt for such fine reporting. I look forward to each new post knowing that I will find writing that I can’t get anywhere else.

    • Dan McGraw April 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      Thanks, David. Spread it around. Because our current sponsorship deal is that people who donate $20 to us for an annual membership with great benefits can have the same financial power of 75 Cleveland area business leaders and politicians combined. I think our $20 is worth more than theirs, however.

  7. Roldo April 25, 2014 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    I wouldn’t bet against Gilbert, Haslam and Dolan putting up some dough before the fundraising is over.

    Here’s what Jaccobs and the Gund brother did on the original sin tax:

    For the original campaign in 1990, Indians owner Dick Jacobs plunked down $150,000, other Jacobs interests added $64,000 and owners of the Cavs, the Gund brothers, donated $100,000 via various interests. That’s more than $300,000 from two ownerships.
    They knew what they were buying.

    For more such info on the greed of these people check out:

    and more at Cleveland Leader.

    Glad you’re checking on these people Dan.

    Roldo Bartimole

  8. Mick April 27, 2014 at 11:28 am - Reply

    The root of the problem is Northeast Ohioans’ unhealthy, almost pathetic obsession with sports. Imagine what we could accomplish if we channeled one-fifth of the time, energy, money and emotional power we invest in sports into things that benefit all of us (better schools, better roads/bridges, true and sustainable economic development i.e. the creation of good, steady jobs, etc.), instead of handing our hard-earned money over to a handful of multi-millionaires?

  9. […] is.” Of course, it’s really easy to understand why Haslam, Gilbert and the Dolans, who have invested more than $1.5 million themselves to get Issue 7 passed, want to maintain the status quo. It’s easy enough to understand why […]

  10. […] on the “sin tax” (and featured several quotes from me), in which the local pro sports owners, with the help of their corporate sponsors, spent $3 million on campaign advertising to secure some $300 million in tax dollars to fund their […]

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