Unpacking campaign bundlers

This week the New York World published an article analyzing campaign contributions bundled for the 2013 mayoral race. We found that almost $1 million of donations for six candidates had been bundled by individuals who are doing business with the city: raised from individuals and passed along by the bundler to the candidate. The vast majority of these bundlers had connections to the real estate industry.

To do this story, we used information from two different databases. The first set of data came from the city’s Campaign Finance Board. From the agency’s website we were able to download a list of intermediaries who had bundled donations for each candidate.  We wanted to compare the names of bundlers to the to the city’s Doing Business Database.

When downloaded (see option under “additional information” on the city website), that second database includes the name of lobbyists, as well as the principal officers, owners, and senior managers of every company and nonprofit that have been awarded or sought procurement contracts, franchises, grants, economic development agreements, pension investment contracts, real estate deals or land use actions from the city.

Matching the data from the Campaign Finance Board and the Doing Business Database was challenging. The records do not have unique identifiers that would allow us to easily match the records from one database with the records from the other. Also, spellings of first names and company names were not standardized. For example, someone might be identified as “Joe Smith” in one database and “Joseph Smith” in the other. Likewise, Smith’s employer might be listed as “ABC Company” in one database and “ABC Co.” in the other.

So, we started our analysis by matching last names only. If the last name of a bundler matched the last name of someone who was doing business with the city, we then looked at the individual records to see if the first name of person matched and if the company name matched.

In many cases, matches were easy to identify: the first name, last name and employer name were all the same. In other cases, the first and last name of a bundler matched someone listed in the DBDB, but the name of the employer did not match. In those instances we had to do additional research to confirm whether the individual who had bundled money was the same individual that was doing business with the city.

We then wanted to see how many of these individuals were also connected to the real estate industry. In certain instances we could do this by looking at the campaign finance records; some campaigns had listed “real estate” as the occupation of certain bundlers. We then did additional research to identify law firms, communications companies, lobbyists groups that had significant real estate connections.

This data only provides a snapshot of bundlers who were doing business with the city as of June 2011, the date of the most recent dataset provided by the Mayor’s Office of Contracts.

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