Seeking Truth From Power: An Afternoon with William March

by Drew R. Hamilton

Tampa Tribune political reporter William March visited the Public Affairs Reporting class and unveiled many of his digital weapons in the war on campaign finance corruption.

March’s discussion centered around three stories he has written:

1) Mark Jimenez’s fraudulent campaign contributions to the re-election campaign of Bill Clinton
2) Mel Martinez’s employment with DLA Piper
3) Alan Mendelsohn’s arrest for corruption

In each of the cases, March was able to walk the students through the maze of online search to arrive at the facts that lie behind the corruption involved in campaign finance.

In the Jimenez story, March took the students through the necessary steps that led him to discover that Mark Jimenez was using his business Future Tech to commit campaign fraud.  March gives credit for much of the early work for this story to his editor Ray Lockert.

March explained how Lockert used the Florida Department of State website to discover that Mark Jimenez was the head of Future Tech using the corporate records search.

Next March was off to the Open Secrets website, an organization dedicated to preserving responsible politics.  Open Secrets makes official campaign records more accessible to the public.   Here March was able to look up a list of people who donated to the re-election campaign of Bill Clinton, who also listed Future Tech Enterprise Inc. as their employer.

Once March had a list of Future Tech employees who made political campaign donations, he used AutoTrack to build financial assessments of these employees.  He discovered that many of the donors were not wealthy individuals and that they had never made political donations prior to the year in question.   March also used public records to show that some of the Future Tech employees were non-registered voters or even registered Republicans.

So, why then would a registered Republican, who had never made a political campaign contribution in the past and who lacked the type of financial stability to make such a donation, now suddenly donate to the re-election campaign of Democrat Bill Clinton??

In the Mel Martinez story, March was able to expose what he called the “Revolving Door Lobbying Concept”, through the same online channels he employed in the Jimenez story.

March took the class to the “Influence & Lobbying” menu of the Open Secrets web site.  There he was able to compile a list of DLA Piper clients.  DLA Piper is the lobbying firm that Martinez was quickly hired by, once he left public office.
Staying on Open Secrets, March was able to pull up a list of bills lobbied on by DLA Piper.

From there, March moved to the THOMAS bill search in order to check the bill numbers of those bills lobbied on by DLA Piper to see what committee to which they were assigned.  And wouldn’t you know that Martinez’s committee was assigned to 12 to 20 bills a year, lobbied on by DLA Piper??

It is this type of political-corporate back scratching that investigative reporting, using public records, can uncover.

The final story March discussed was the arrest of Republican Financier Alan Mendelsohn.  Though this story wasn’t explored as thoroughly as the first two, there was a very interesting lesson of diligence.

March explained how many reporters took the arrest at face value and wrote a story headlined, “Crist Supporter Arrested for Fraud”.  However, if those reporters would have used the “Contributor List” on the Florida Division of Elections website, they would have discovered that Mendelsohn had shifted his financial support from Charlie Crist to Marco Rubio.

Just like the 24-hour news cycle, political support can wane in the blink of an eye.

In all three cases, William March was able to use public records searches online to uncover corruption in campaign fundraising.  Free and fair elections are among the cornerstones of Democracy.  Without the work of William March and the tools he has shared, our system is a house of cards waiting to crash.

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Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 4:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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