The first campaign finance reports for the Rockville Mayor and Council elections for the period ending September30, 2013 were recently submitted and they reveal that Zip Code 20850 (includes Fallsgrove, West End, New Mark Commons, East Rockville, Lincoln Park, College Gardens, King Farm) provides more than 60 percent of the funds, with other Rockville Zip Codes 20851 (Twinbrook), 20852 (Hungerford, Montrose, North Farm), and 20854 (Horizon Hill, Fallsmead, Potomac Woods) falling far in the distance with an average of 5 percent. That roughly mimics the voting records for those regions and perhaps how much they feel engaged with the larger Rockville community. For individual campaigns, the breakdown varies considerably and can signal how much a candidate has engaged with or is subject to influence by a particular neighborhood.
New candidates often have to rely on support from themselves, family, or friends and that’s the pattern seen with Hadley, Palakovich Carr, and Whittaker. Feinberg, on the other hand, has been able to obtain more than 95 percent of her supporters within Rockville, an impressive achievement for an experienced candidate and extraordinary for a newcomer. The mayoral candidates of Newton and Pierzchala, both current councilmembers, are relying heavily on residents within 20850 and from outsiders–donors outside of Rockville exceed 25 percent for both candidates. Feinberg and Palakovich Carr have gathered the broadest representation of supporters across Rockville’s four zip codes.
The number of donors seems to fall in three groups. Newtown and Pierzchala lead with about 80 supporters each, Feinberg and Palakovich Carr in the second batch with about 55 donors each, and the remaining candidates with 15-35 donors making up the third grouping. Out of 60,000 residents and 6,000 registered voters, it is obvious that local elections generate serious attention from a very small number of people. For this first round of campaign reports, fewer than 400 individual donations were received in total and many were gifts from one person to several campaigns, so I estimate that less than one percent of Rockville’s citizenry is significantly engaged in its governance. You can either view this as welcome news because one person can wield tremendous influence on the city or disturbing news considering how much influence local government has on the daily lives of its residents and businesses.
The amount of money coming into the campaign coffers may set new records. Mayoral candidate Bridget Newton is at the top with more than $17,000 raised by the end of September, and with another month to go could raise another $7,000. In the last election, the mayoral candidates raised between $21,000-$24,000. Mark Pierzchala and Team Rockville come in at less than half that amount at about $7,500 each and the remaining candidates have so far raised between $2,500 to $5,000 each (which is typical). The amounts raised portend that the races will hammer voters during the next few weeks with signs, mailings, and door knocking to get their votes. The major donors so far to each campaign are:
- Bridget Newton: $1000 James K. Donnell of PA; $1000 Blair Raber of DC, $1000 Stephen Raber of DC
- Mark Pierzchala: $500 Paul and Barbara O’Brien
- Beryl L. Feinberg: $300 Isiah and Catherine Leggett
- Don Hadley: $500 Jack Leiderman, $500 Victoria McMullen
- Tom Moore: $750 OrgAction LLC of TX
- Virginia Onley: $500 Law offices of Patrick J. Smith & Assocs.
- Julie Palakovich Carr: $250 Randy Carr
- Claire Marcuccio Whitaker: $1000 Phyllis Marcuccio; $1000 Betty Briscoe
In Rockville, the campaign fund reports are required but are not reviewed or audited by the City or any committee, such as the Board of Supervisors of Elections. No one verifies their accuracy or completeness. They are simply accepted by the City Clerk’s office and posted online. Citizens are expected to analyze the reports by themselves and draw their own conclusions.
My analysis provides an introductory overview to the money involved in the current election. I encourage you to examine the campaign reports to determine if candidates are honest and fair or subject to undue influence by a certain faction or interest. I’ve already discovered that the forms contain a calculation error that double-counts in-kind contributions under expenses. That must have driven some campaign treasurers crazy. As a result, the expenses reported are unreliable and not consistent with each other because campaigns handled this problem differently (compare the reports for Pierzchala, Team Rockville, and Hadley as examples). Secondly, some reports are incomplete or missing information: Beryl Feinberg and Don Hadley are both missing Schedule IB although they received in-kind donations; several addresses for Bridget Newton’s contributors are incomplete; and the page detailing contributions to Claire Whitaker from another campaign is missing (it was written on the back of a page and only the fronts are scanned). I’ve reported these errors and omissions to the City Clerk and I’m sure all of them are simply oversights and are not intended to confuse or hide anything. You may find other issues, so share them with the City Clerk and post them here so others can have a look as well.
Having run for Council previously, I was happy to share my financial records but found the reports to be more complex than an IRS Form 1040. Despite numerous complaints to improve and simplify the campaign fund reports in the last election, it looks like there’s still work to be done.
NOTE for 10/7/2013: To avoid confusion between number of donors (e.g., there are ten donors) and dollar amount of donations (e.g., they gave $1000), I’ve retitled the first two tables since the original posting.