by RonK, Seattle
[Obligatory Disclaimer: None of this makes anybody guilty if it's true. None of this makes anybody guilty if it's not. Osama bin Laden is a bad, bad man. Jack Abramoff is a bad man.]
Sometimes the trained eye is drawn to numbers that just don't look right on the page. And sometimes the numbers are not right.
Bloomberg filed a quick & dirty rundown on Abramoff-influenced tribal campaign contributions in December. This would have been quickly forgotten except that it said the Saginaw Chippewa tribe gave $277,210 to Dem's in 2001-2004, versus $279,000 in 1997-2000. Last week the report made a stellar (lunar?) comeback, as a coven of blog-harpies dragged it out of the morgue for a second dance in the spolight
What's the big deal? I argued that Abramoff directed his tribal clients to increase campaign contributions to both parties. ("Invariably".) The Bloomberg report offered one lone published exception, albeit to the tune of less than $2K. Blogstorm ensued.
I based my comparisons on the 2000 and 2002 cycles (data-rich, adjacent in time, and consistent in governing law). Pre-Jack history is sparse, and an eccentric $220K push to the DCCC in the 1998 cycle swamped the Saginaw baseline (which consists of about a dozen transactions). Is it a pattern? Or just a history? [More on that in future posts.]
But something else didn't add up. Literally.
Sifting through subscription-only compilations of Indian giving at Tray.com, the details for 1997-2000 didn't add up to $279K. Used all the search tricks -- ZIP, city, name fragments and variants, checking CPR and FEC directly, and CPI for 527's, and invited other data-monkeys to do the same -- but still came out about $20K short. [Bloomberg relied on compiled summary data only, and did not delve into itemized detail.]
FEC filings are hard to work with, and there are nuances -- checks earmarked for future races, debt retirement for past races, checks refused/refunded, checks written in one period but received and reported in another, reports reversed and resubmitted, checks written between Election Day and New Years. And no compilation is perfect ... but $20K is still $20K -- a healthy red flag.
On further review, Bloomberg's total contributions for 1997-2000 -- D's plus R's -- looked too "fat", by $96,750. And the 2001-2004 total was too thin, by $95,750. Check, double-check, re-check ... something's wrong. Almost $100K of a stated $340K pre-Abramoff total is in the wrong bucket(s).
By my best cut at the numbers, Dem's landed $308,960 in Saginaw Chippewa contributions in 2001-2004, versus $257,210 in 1997-2000 -- a $50K increase, not a $2K decrease. Tribal giving to Democrats increased under Abramoff's influence -- "invariably".
Our readers are eager to move on to "Dems Don't Know Jack", so here's the connection. The Bloomberg piece and the Prospect piece are both built on the same digest of FEC data, compiled by Dwight L. Morris & Associates -- serious, professional campaign data-monkeys. Data-gorillas, maybe.
But Bloomberg's numbers just looked wrong on the page, and same for the Prospect.
Visit Don't Know Jack, download the spreadsheets, and check the Saginaw Chippewa line in All_Tribes_By_Cycle. Summarizing:
Prospect/Morris Spreadsheet: All_Tribes_By_Cycle.xls
Period Dem GOP Total
1991-1996 $ 2,000 $ 200 $2,200
1997-2000 $279,000 $158,000 $437,000
2001-2004 $282,210 $500,500 $782,710
Total $563,210 $658,700 $1,219,910
That major dislocation is still present, with minor adjustments. [Disclaimer: All the Abramoff digests are slippery, moving targets. No compilation of FEC data is perfect. Tray.com isn't, though they do good work on the tribal data, which is messier than most. My own extracts may have settled during packing and shipping.]
Next match these figures to the front-page presentation of Saginaw Chippewa contributions. (The Prospect's first spreadsheet, Abramoff_clients.xls , gives essentially the same summary.)
Prospect: Article Body
Period Dem GOP Total
1991-9/2000 $371,250 $285,000 $656,250
9/2000-2003 $191,960 $401,500 $593,460
Total $563,210 $686,500 $1,249,710
Obvious question: How can Democratic receipts thru September 2000 possibly be higher -- $90K higher -- than the same receipts thru December?
Is the illustration in the body text mis-labeled? Wrong dates? Wrong tribe? Does it include contributions after the stated "Post-Abramoff" period? [I can't reconcile it on that basis, either. It would help if the respective epochs were labeled "Pre-Abramoff", "Abramoff", and "Post-Abramoff".]
Saginaw wasn't the first tribe to grab my attention. The Chitimacha of Louisiana are portrayed as favoring D's before Abramoff got involved, and R's afterward. By my run of the numbers, Chitimacha gave more to Republicans -- not Democrats -- before Jack came along ... and the published summary again clashes with its own supporting detail, and with external data.
And there are other landmarks that just don't look right, to someone who has spent considerable time in the quantitative backcountry.
I have analytical bones to pick with the thesis of Dems Don't Know Jack. Did tribes shift from pervasively pro-Dem giving patterns to pervasively pro-GOP pattern?
In my view, Jack -- as part of his game -- necessarily favored Republicans, but directed very substantial sums to Democrats. "[A]nywhere near the same rate"? Under the appropriate (logarithmic) lens, I have to say yes. Not as big a multiple, but a big one ... on the order of 4X for Dem's, and 6X for the GOP.
But we can't have that argument -- or any argument -- until the data is ship-shape. The Prospect is aware of my concerns, they will review and refine their work as they see fit, and at some point we'll conduct a healthy reality-based exchange.
For reference, here's my best cut at the Saginaw numbers -- also subject to futher refinement:
Dem GOP Total
1991-1996 $1,000 $1,000
1997-9/2000 $257,210 $80,000 $337,210
9/2000-12/2000 --- none ---
2001-2002 $83,980 $225,000 $306,980
2003 $146,980 $236,500 $383,480
2004 $78,000 $103,000 $181,000
pre-Jack $258,210 $80,000 $338,210
Jack $230,960 $461,500 $692,460
post-Jack $78,000 $103,000 $181,000
Total $566,170 $644,500 $1,211,670
Here's the complete Saginaw Chippewa pre-history, best I can determine.
1996-03-13 $1K -- Clinton/Gore
1997-06-27 $90K -- DCCC soft
1998-06-30 $30K -- DCCC soft
1998-08-11 $100K -- DCC soft
1998-10-28 $80K -- NRCC soft
1998-11-01 $1K -- Gephardt
1998-11-20 $250 -- NRCC soft
1999-10-18 $1,500 -- South Dakota Dem. Party
1999-11-03 $5K -- Evegreen Fund (Democratic)
1999-12-31 $20K -- DSCC
1999-12-31 $5K -- DSCC nonfederal (soft money)
1999-12-31 $5K -- DCCC soft
2000-05-26 $2,500 -- DSCC soft
Morris totals suggest a couple of additional items -- $1,000 here, $200 there -- in the early years.