From Slaves To Pornographers, Campaign Contribution Records Rife With Characters
By Zachary Newkirk
Employer: "wife." Occupation: "slave."
That, at least, is how Robert Hannay of Paradise Valley, Ariz., describes his professional life in a campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Hannay's October 2010 contribution of $250 to Robert Steele, the Republican challenger to longtime Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), accurately listed other information, such as his name and address. But Hannay took some liberties when disclosing his employer and occupation.
"It's none of their damn business," Hannay told OpenSecrets Blog.
Freedom fighters, pornographers and self-proclaimed evil rich men are among the cast of characters appearing in federal campaign finance documents stretching back more than two decades, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Federal Election Commission records show tens of thousands of contributions from sales representatives, consultants and mid-level managers, among other generic occupations. But the records also show a variety of "slaves," a handful of "Obama mamas" and even a "venture socialist."
Together, these jokers and political statement-makers toss a quirky curveball at what's typically an exercise in mundane record-keeping, as these they willfully portray themselves to the federal government as people they are not -- or, at least, not completely.
Federal law requires that when a person makes a political contribution, he or she must provide a name, address, employer and occupation, along with the recipient of the donation and the amount. Most people answer these questions truthfully, without a sense of humor or a sense of defiance.
The unusual occupation that has been most prolific in political contributions? "Domestic goddess," accounting for more than $38,500 in donations since 1992. Of that sum, 83 percent benefited Democratic candidates or Democratic-aligned groups.
People supposedly employed by Jesus Christ or other deities appear with frequency, too. While some of these transactions are priests and pastors with a sense of humor, others could be construed as bearing false witness against their neighbor, and therefore, potentially illegal in the eyes of the law.
Here is a chart of the donations of some of these more unorthodox professions, with a breakdown of which candidates and political committees reaped the cash:
FUNNY ELECTION COMMISSION?
In September 2008, the Republican National Committee received $1,000 from William Kalal, who listed his employer as the U.S. Army. For his occupation, Kalal wrote "Retiring Terrorists." It's unlikely Kalal is working at a retirement community for members of al-Qaeda.
Daniel Cardona, who contributed a total of $550 to the 2008 presidential run of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), twice listed his employer as "the streets" and his occupation as "drug trafficker/pornographer."
Kalal was not immediately available for comment for this story. Nor was Cardona able to be reached at either of his stated jobs, so OpenSecrets Blog is unable to determine how accurate his listing is.
Meanwhile, some political donors are no stranger to profanity, with many "f-bombs" in the official public record.
During the 2004 presidential election, Linn Foss listed both his employer and occupation as"f--- you."
Foss, who says he's self-employed, told OpenSecrets Blog that he wrote what he did because he was likely irritated at having to provide the information in the first place. Foss made a $500 donation to the Democratic National Committee.
"I don't believe in expletive arguments as a rule," Foss explained. "I didn't mean to rub anyone the wrong way."
He said he believed his online contribution would simply vanish into the vast realm of cyberspace.
"I just figured somebody would be putting this info into a profile, and I didn't want to be in a profile," Foss said. "In those days, I think I was doing what I could to equalize the woebegone Democrats against the Republican machine."
Some political donors spice their true occupations with a little description.
Patrick Collins, a lobbyist at CSL Behring and Collins Consulting who works mainly with environmental organizations, made an online donation of $1,000 in support of Missouri Democrat Judith Baker's failed run for the U.S. House in November 2008 .
When prompted for his occupation, Collins listed himself as an "evil lobbyist."
"It was more of a response to rhetoric going around the Hill and in Washington that lobbyists are evil," Collins explained to OpenSecrets Blog. "Just a little gesture of solidarity to the lobbyists."
For the record: Collins does not actually consider himself to be evil.
"I am a pragmatic do-gooder," he said.
Similarly, in October 2004, Teresa Roper contributed $250 to the DNC. Her job, according to the official paperwork? "Greedy trial attorney." She did not return calls for comment.
Other contributors list their occupations as self-descriptions.
William Waibel contributed $500 to the RNC in November 2008, and listed his occupation as an "Evil Rich Guy." He was unavailable for comment.
Self-employed Franklyn Bair's occupation -- in a form he filled out for a $250 to then-Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) in September 2010 -- was simply "Bull Shiter [sic]."
The most general occupation the Center found was "human," listed by one Steven Blondeau in an October 2008 contribution of $250 to Barack Obama. Blondeau also made three donations of $250 a piece to Obama listing his occupation as "yogi," a term for someone who practices yoga.
And Blondeau wasn't the only self-described "human." Half a dozen other contributors listed themselves as "human being."
One of them, Shane Vincent of Bartlett, Illinois, listed his employer as God and his occupation as "human being." Another of them, Silvio Levy of Berkeley, Calif., similarly listed his occupation as "human being," but Levy listed his employer as "self."
According to the Center's research, donations from these seven self-identified "humans" and "human beings" totaled $6,850. Of this, 61 percent benefited the GOP, 29 percent went to 2004 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik and 10 percent went to Democrats, including Obama and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).
Opposite these human beings, with perhaps the most physiologically descriptive occupation, is a $500 contribution to Obama's 2008 presidential run from Adam Fein. Fein listed himself as a "balding Jew writer" and could not be reached for comment.
None of this surprises Larry Noble, an election law lawyer at Skadden, Arps and former executive director at the Center for Responsive Politics Politics.
"The FEC has never stated what is an acceptable occupation and employer," Noble said. "There are a lot of issues of standardized reporting."
POLITICAL STATEMENTS: 'WE ARE ALL TAX SLAVES'
Since donors fill out campaign finance disclosure forms for largely political purposes, it should not be too surprising that a few political statements have seeped into contribution forms.
Robert Hannay, the Arizonian who had listed himself as his wife's slave, actually works in commercial real estate, not in involuntary servitude.
Notably, Hannay is far from the only "slave" listed.
The number of "slaves" who contribute to federal-level politicals may raise eyebrows:
There are "tax slaves," "government slaves," "debt slaves," "slaves to the government," a "taxed slave," "slaves to the IRS," "corporate slaves," "drones" and even a "love slave," according to the Center's analysis of campaign finance records filed with the FEC since 1989.
Thirty-four people declaring themselves to be "slaves" account for 66 contributions during the past two decades. This money has overwhelmingly favored Republicans, and Paul in particular (see chart below):
A total of $22,700 has been donated to politicians by self-identified "slaves." Of this, $15,550 went to Republicans and $11,300 (or about 50 percent) benefited Paul's 2008 presidential run.
"We are all tax slaves," Andrew Rule told OpenSecrets Blog. "We are slaves to the state. The state owns us. If we don't pay the tribute money we get punished."
Rule contributed a total of $600 to Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign. He listed his occupation as "tax slave."
Although it was a true political statement, he said humor did, in part, motivate him.
"It is funny and a lark," Rule explained. "It's tapping into the vibe and feeling that 'hey you're taking too much."
Another contributor to Paul, Brian Tennant, told OpenSecrets Blog that "the government don't need to know what I do."
In four separate contributions to Paul in 2007, totaling $1,750, Tennant listed his employer as "me, myself, and I" and his occupation as "slave tax payer."
In reality, he's a roofer.
Hannay, for his part, initially attributed his odd occupation to "humor." Yet upon further reflection, he explained that he must "have [had] a sort of resentment for what you have to put down for governments, banks."
Some contributors making political statements may make up sardonic employers and occupations. Others breathe a sense of defiance into the FEC form. This is the case for numerous "freedom fighters" and one "fascist fighter."
Thirteen individuals listed their occupations as "freedom fighters," and they accounted for more than $25,700 across 63 contributions. Of this money, 96 percent benefited Republicans and 4 percent benefited Pat Buchanan, Badnarik and the Libertarian National Committee.
Democrats have not received a single dollar from self-proclaimed "freedom fighters," according to the Center's analysis.
Sam Wolanyk contributed nearly $1,800 to Paul's 2008 presidential run and volunteered for the campaign in New Hampshire. Wolanyk was one of those who listed himself as a "freedom fighter."
"I am self-employed, and I find that a lot of what I do is confiscated by stupid government regulations," Wolanyk told OpenSecrets Blog. "Wolanyk" also roughly translates to "freedom fighter" in Ukrainian, according to the lifelong libertarian
Last November, Wolanyk was arrested at San Diego International Airport for refusing to yield to Transportation Security Administration pat downs or a full body scanner. Instead, he stripped down to his underwear to prove he was not carrying anything harmful.
"It's about 'you will submit,' and I am not going to f---ing submit," Wolanyk told OpenSecrets Blog. "The government wants the people to be sheep to justify their existence."
He did not express much surprise that the FEC overlooked his contribution or did not notice his unusual occupation.
"They're a government organization. Therefore they f--- up everything they touch," he said.
Wolanyk praised other people who contributed to Paul and listed themselves as freedom fighters. "Those are the only people that care about liberty," he said.
One such person was Michael Roth, another self-proclaimed "freedom fighter," who contributed more than $700 to Paul's presidential campaign.
"We felt out freedom was being taken away," Roth explained to OpenSecrets Blog. "We kind of came together as a group of people who felt lost."
Other contributors are more explicitly political in their employer and occupation.
In September 2004, Kelly Jacobs of Hernando, Miss., contributed $1,000 to the Democratic Party of Mississippi. She listed her employer as "Fire Bush" and her occupation as "Fire Bush Mama."
Dennis Worden of Pleasanton, Calif., contributed from the other side of the political spectrum.
He contributed $500 to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle of Nevada and $1,000 to the conservative Super PAC for America in 2010. Both times he listed his employer as "Unemployed Thanks to Obama" and his occupations, respectively, as "Still waiting for Obama's stimulus" and "None thanks to the Democrats."
Neither Jacobs or Worden could be reached for comment.
EMPLOYED BY THE DIVINE -- OR HEAVENLY EMPLOYMENT
Some donors are apparently employed by holy beings -- a few listed deities as their employer.
For example, Shirley Burt of Bettendorf, Iowa, reported "My Lord Jesus Christ" as her employer, while stating her occupation was "Kingdom homemaker" when making a contribution to the Campaign for Working Families in April 2010.
Those who declare God or Jesus Christ as their employer are generous in their political contributions.
These spiritual donors account for 56 contributions totaling more than $29,600, according to the Center's research.
Republicans have received about two-thirds of this money, while third-party candidates -- including anti-abortion rights activist Randall Terry's congressional bid back in 1998 -- have received 16 percent. The remaining 21 percent have gone to Democrats.
Some contributors equated themselves with being divine.
Rachel Baker of Tucson, Ariz., was one of the political contributors to list her occupation as "Domestic Goddess" in a June 2010 contribution to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) for $2,400.
In a pair of contributions totaling $500 to the Paul campaign, Rolynda Brewer of Ramona, Calif. simply listed her occupation as "Goddess."
Political contributors can also be a proud of their secular endeavors, as OpenSecrets Blog has discovered.
Scott Hager trumpeted his culinary prowess on his federal election form by listing his occupation at Washington, D.C., restaurant 2Amys as "damn good cook" in a September 2008 contribution to Obama's presidential campaign.
William Hyers is perhaps one contributor who has made waves. In a $200 contribution to Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) made in September 2008, Hyers listed his employer as "Obama" and his occupation as "campaign God."
In a $500 contribution to MoveOn.org in June 2008, Alexandra Sarason of Seattle, Wa., listed her employer as"self-employed" and boasted her occupation as "Mama extraordinaire."
THE NITTY GRITTY LEGALESE BEHIND THE DONORS
The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 puts the burden of ensuring accuracy of campaign finance filings onto political committees' treasurers.
They must show that they have made "best efforts to obtain, maintain and report the information required by law," which includes the contributors occupation and employer, according to the FEC.
"The obligation is on the committee, not the contributor, to try to obtain this information," said Noble, the election law lawyer.
The key word is "try," as it equates to showing "best efforts."
Federal law defines occupation as "the principal job title or position of an individual and whether or not self-employed" and employer as "the organization or person by whom an individual is employed."
"It is lawful to leave [occupation and employer] blank," Noble said. "Those are the classic ones that they have to ask for, but they can accept the contribution if they don't get that information."
Inaccurate reports are possible but "everything is determined on a case by case basis," Mary Brandenberger, a Federal Election Commission spokeswoman, told OpenSecrets Blog.
Determining what is a reasonable occupation and employer is sometimes subjective.
Filing false information is illegal but violators are unlikely to get into big trouble.
"If someone put down their occupation as human being... I don't think people would go after that," Noble explained.
By providing false information on an FEC form, a contributor is providing false information to the government.
"A wholesale effort to hide information from the government would be illegal," Noble told OpenSecrets Blog. "You don't get involved unless it's a concerted effort to hide information."
In these extreme cases, offenses could be prosecuted as felonies and punishable by fines or even jail time.
A reports analyst at the FEC examines every contribution exceeding $200, and if a segment of the required information is missing or inaccurate, the political committee must file additional paperwork.
"There is a fair argument that if an occupation or employer is clearly nonsense, the committee would have to go back and ask again," Noble told OpenSecrets Blog.
Violating political committees may be subjected to administrative fines.
The Center's research turned up a surprising number of unusual occupations and employers but there are still hundreds of thousands of political donors who played by the rules.
"It's a matter of scope and resources," Noble said.
He suspected the Federal Election Commission is unlikely to look at the relative handful of unusual cases when dealing with such massive quantities of contributions.
"These days the FEC is not at all aggressive, so I don't see the FEC taking this issue on as it currently exists," he said. "Occupation and employer is important enough to be put into law so you should [provide] this information. Theoretically, Congress could take a look at this if this is a widespread problem."