Franklin L. Haney is a case study on how hard it can be to get a comprehensive picture of the campaign contribution clout of a particular individual or company given the limits of state and local level disclosure.
The influential developer, who bid unsuccessfully to become the owner of the Washington Nationals baseball team and helped bankroll the political career of fellow Tennessean Al Gore, has long been known as a major Democratic donor. But he leaves a surprisingly small footprint on Sunlight's Influence Explorer. The totals show $1.2 million since 1989 to federal candidates and parties and state candidates and parties–a small amount given his reputation and compared to other significant super PAC donors. The biggest chunk is his recent $1 million contribution to Priorities USA, the super PAC that is advocating for President Barack Obama's reelection.
Stealthy Wealthy: Haney collects from Uncle Sam and gives to Democrats
Some of this is a matter of older contributions not captured by the records. For example, a 1998 congressional report that charged Haney with paying an illegal contingency fee to secure a government contract states he had contributed "over $200,000 to various state Democratic parties and the Democratic National Committee in 1996." None of those show up in Influence Explorer; the National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP), the source for state level contributions, did not add contributions to state parties to its report until the 2000 election cycle.
Also not yet included in the NIMSP data: Any contributions that Haney has given to state level political action comittees (PACs) that in turn contribute to state level campaigns. However, there's anecdotal evidence that Haney has followed a strategy of making such contributions in states where he has sought government contracts.
For example, the state of Alabama's online campaign contribution search system does not allow the user to search by contributor. But an analysis by the Alabama Public Policy Institute, which describes itself as devoted to free markets and limited government, showed that Haney had given $291,000 between 2006 and 2009 to state PACs. The group has not recently updated its online search, and as of this posting, it is now offline.
There are other tantalizing clues, largely from press reports, of donations that would not show up in a search of online contributions.
- In 1986, Haney gave $70,000 to Nashville Mayor Richard Fulton's gubernatorial campaign, "deemed the largest individual donation ever given in Tennessee by a contributor outside a canddiate's immediate family," according to a 2004 report in the Knoxville News Sentinel. The check came in, reported the paper, within a month of a Haney partnership securing a "$1.1 million piece of city-owned property to build an 800-room apartment complex in downtown Nashville."
- In 1999, the New York Times reported Haney gave $10,000 toward the renovation of then Vice President Al Gore's official residence.
- Haney reportedly gave $50,000 toward the mayoral campaign of William Bell in Birmingham in 1999, according to a 2004 report in the Birmingham News.
- A search of Haney's contributions to politicians in Washington, DC, shows a total of $3,000 in contributions to Council Member Harold Brazil and Mayor Adrian Fenty.
- His son, Franklin Haney Jr., who is in business with him, also gave $25,000 toward the transition and inaugural of current DC mayor Vince Gray, according to this 2011 report from the Washington Examiner's Harry Jaffee.
At present, thanks to lack of online disclosure by local governments, it's impossible to trace all the contributions given by an astute political player like Franklin L. Haney.