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The money game on Philadelphia City Council has changed. Twenty years ago, most council members raised only a minimal amount for their campaigns, often less than $30,000.
Things are different today. Very different.
As a look at our new AxisPhilly tool shows, it’s not unusual for Council incumbents to raise five to 10 times that $30,000 amount, even though most of them usually face only token opposition.
Take Jannie Blackwell as an example. Blackwell is a fixture in her West Philadelphia district who — when she has any opponent — regularly wins by margins of 4-to-1 or better. Yet, Blackwell raised $158,000 during the 2007 election cycle. During her re-election campaign in 2011, she raised $238,000. Last year, she raised nearly $90,000, even though she will not face the voters again until 2013.
Other Council members took in equally substantial amounts. Council incumbents raised and spent $3.1 million in 2011, when each faced re-election. They won’t have to run again until 2015, but last year they raised $1.5 million.
The fund-raising never stops for the 10 district council people and seven at-large council members.
In Philadelphia, campaign money not only talks, it also walks.
As our new interactive map of recent campaign donations shows, most of the money raised by council people does not come from within their districts. Instead it emanates from a broad geographical area that includes not only the Philly suburbs, but other states as well. Note: our tool and analysis includes only contributions with a valid U.S. address on record. The estimated two percent that exclude this information are omitted.
Our new tool is called The Money Maps. It is intended both as a resource and an illustration of the geographical flow of local campaign money in Philadelphia. It’s easy enough to map out the boundaries of Council members’ human constituents; but these maps show the boundaries of their financial constituents — and the two aren’t always the same.
The Money Maps also give interested citizens easier access to campaign finance data on the local level. The Department of Records does post the data online, but the system can be cumbersome to use. For instance, there are no totals on what an individual candidate raised.
Our interactive maps not only make the where more transparent than public records, but also the who. Click on an area depicted on the map and it will display a list of givers.
The tool also reveals the power sources of campaign money in the city.
For example, the city’s 6th District, represented by Councilman Bobby Henon, runs along the northeastern boundary of the city’s 64th and 57th wards. In 2012, a year after Henon had successfully won his seat on Council — the Councilman reported only three donations, totaling $5,800, from within those wards.
But our maps show another source of money just beyond the border of his district. In the same year, Henon received 18 campaign contributions, totaling $28,650, from donors in the city’s 66th ward — mostly donations from labor union political action committees based in the Northeast (Henon himself is a former political strategist for the influential IBEW Local 98). In all, Henon raised more than $900,000 for his campaign in 2011.
Other Council members — particularly candidates with close ties to labor — have financial bases in the northeast and southeast parts of the city as well, home to the headquarters of the city’s powerful labor unions.
Then there are the seven at-large members of Council, who theoretically represent the entire city — but who clearly have different geographical bases when it comes to campaign finance.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, for example, drew almost all of her campaign donations in her 2011 bid for re-election from donors in the city’s Northwest and west of Broad Street. She raised close to $250,000 in the years running up to her 2011 election campaign.
In contrast, at-large Councilman Bill Green has a list of givers who span the entire region. In the three-year run-up to his 2011 re-election Green raised nearly $740,000.
The Money Maps also show the abiding and omnipresent financial pull of a few small areas with gigantic ties to politics.
The city’s eighth ward — Center City west of Broad — is the Everest of these areas, contributing the bulk of campaign money for many campaigns. Many of these donations come from political action committees maintained by law firms, trade groups, and corporate interests. There’s plenty of money east of Broad Street as well — including several large groups of real estate interests who donate frequently and generously.
And it isn’t just Philadelphian who feel compelled to spend money on Philadelphia politics. If money equates influence, Center City and the vested interests it represents have great pull. But so do interests living along the Main Line, in New Jersey, and elsewhere.
The data sets included in The Money Maps deals with all council members starting in 2007. At a later date, we plan to add information on other city office holders, including judges, to give a complete roadmap of campaign spending.