A new website — followthemoneycle.org — is now live, allowing anyone to search campaign contributions made to Cleveland candidates, elected officials, political parties and political action committees. The effort is modeled after the website OpenSecrets.org, which allows people to examine the influence of money in politics.
Creators of the site, who say they are unpaid volunteers, plan to add more campaign contributions and expenditure data to the website each month and eventually will include and update filings for Cleveland municipal races and initiatives.
For now, the group is operating the site anonymously, in hopes that the data speaks for itself. According to the site, the volunteers, who hail from wards across the city, came together because they believe that “every Clevelander should have the same access and influence held by the affluent donor class.”
“Our goal is to enhance transparency regarding campaign contributions and expenses related to Cleveland’s municipal candidates and ballot measures,” according to the site.
The site’s domain name was registered in March, but the registration information is protected and the site is hosted using a Florida IP, or internet protocol address.
What’s on the website? Where does the information come from?
Information on the site comes from public records of campaign donations and expenditures filed with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. The individual filings are public and can be found on the elections board website. Those filings are posted as documents – many of them handwritten – that can’t be searched for specific donations or expenses. That makes it difficult to understand the influence of campaign spending across the city.
Campaign finance laws do not require candidates and groups to file their reports in electronic form, which would make the records more easily searchable.
Different sets of campaign finance data will be added to the site each month. Over time, the site will allow people to search the names of donors and see their contributions to all candidates and groups.
Digging into donations to City Council’s leadership fund
The first searchable set of data released includes donations to the Cleveland City Council Leadership Fund going back to 2002. The fund is a political action committee (PAC) created decades ago. It supports elected City Council members. The council president controls the fund and can spend money on behalf of the council as a whole or support the campaign funds of individual members.
The information released includes the details of more than $1.9 million in donations to the fund contained in 111 reports that detail donations and campaign expenditures covering the four most recent council presidents: Blaine Griffin, Kevin Kelley, Martin Sweeney and Frank Jackson.
A search of the data turns up top individual donors to the fund as well as businesses and unions. These include the Cleveland Browns, real estate giant K&D Management, and a group associated with Dan Gilbert’s Rock Holdings. Top individual donors include Raymond Park, best known for owning the I-X Center, and Wesley Finch, founder and chair of the Florida-based Finch Group, which is linked to developments in the Central and Glenville neighborhoods.
Signal Cleveland cross-checked pieces of the information in the first set of data released and found it consistent with filings on the elections board website. In some cases, the original filings are missing information or unclear, including contributions that involve family members with similar names. The site cautions people to double check the original filings.
The site is created to answer questions residents have. But it does contain a few insights, based on analysis of the reports, including the total amounts donated to the leadership fund under different council presidents and how many donors listed addresses inside the city, the county or out of state.