Money and the FDP Chair Race, Part I: Ruth’s List: Useful Organization or Cash Cow?

Lamborghini-MurcielagoTo the left is a picture of the 2007 Lamborghini Murcielago. It was the first supercar that the Italian car manufacturer built after it was purchased by Audi. Therefore, it was styled by a Belgian, while also having the handling and comfort of a German-built car. Basically, it is quite a nice car. This model has a 6.5 V12 engine which produced 640 brake horsepower, 490 lbs. per foot of torque and can go from 0-60 in 3.3 seconds. True, it might not be like the new Aventador, which is…..

Well, we could talk about Italian super sports cars all day long. Anyway, the reason we brought up the Murcielago is because Ellis Robinson, the founder of Ruth’s List, has made enough money, purely from Ruth’s List, over the last two years to buy a 2007 Murcielago.

Since the founding of Ruth’s List, which was in 2009, over $381,000 worth of donations has gone into the organization. Stating that they support progressive and Democratic women, one might assume that most of these resources are used to promote their campaigns, helping women across the state to win campaigns. But that would be far from the truth.

In the time that Ruth’s List has been around, over $224,000 has been paid out to The Buttonwood Group, which is Ellis Robinson’s company. This amount accounts for 59% of the money that goes into Ruth’s List. Therefore, for every dollar you pay to Ruth’s List, $.59 cents goes straight to Ellis Robinson.

But that isn’t all, Robinson also reimburses herself from the group. Of course, there is no problem with that whatsoever, but it is still money that is paid out of the contributions from the organization. According to the Division of Elections, Robinson has reimbursed herself a total of $32,730, which is a total of 9% of the total contributions going into Ruth’s List.

So, lets recap. Around 68% of the money that goes into Ruth’s List, which is $.68 for every dollar, goes directly to the pocket of Ellis Robinson? That seems about right.

Even though Robinson takes in a lot of money, surely she gives back to the women that are part of it, right? We have reported on one of their “training sessions” for candidates and were highly disappointed, as we have mentioned in a previous article. Not only is it centered around fundraising and selling of the NGP/VAN, the training session didn’t talk about grassroots organization whatsoever. Therefore, the training session was far from productive.

But let’s look at the NGP/VAN. During these training sessions, Robinson tries to sell the candidates this service. Yes, the NGP/VAN is a great service, but it is still a sales pitch during these “training sessions”. So, how much does Ruth’s List pay to have access to the NGP/VAN? Well, as of right now, the total has approached $14,155, which is 4% of all contributions to Ruth’s List.

Let’s recap, 59% to Robinson via her company (which was originally registered in Washington state in 1998), 9% to Robinson for reimbursement and 4% so that Ruth’s List can sell the NGP/VAN. We are at a grand total of 72% of all that Ruth’s List raises which is centered around money and selling.

So, what does Ruth’s List do for female candidates? Well, they do give checks to many of the candidates. To date, Ruth’s List has given just a little over $32,000 total to female Democratic candidates. Nice number, until you realize that it is only 8.5% of the total contributions to Ruth’s List. Mind you, it does help some candidates, but in the overall picture, it is far from any substantial help for any candidates.

But still, maybe you think that they do something else for the candidates? So far, we have shown where over 80% of the money for Ruth’s List goes. Surely the other 20% goes toward something productive for the candidates, right? Actually, not really.

One would assume that maybe Ruth’s List does direct mailers for the candidates, possibly robo-calls? Nope. No direct mail pieces or robo-calls have been done by Ruth’s List, according to the information provided by the Division of Elections site. In fact, the grand total of $0 spent on these two electioneering items is less than the amount of money that Ruth’s List spends on greeting cards, which is $88.60.

The only piece of electioneering of any substantial value seems to be the billboard that was up for visitors to the Republican National Convention that Ruth’s List proudly puts on its website, which totalled $6,500, just under 2% of the total contributions to the organizations. Even with that, the billboard is made to promote Ruth’s List and does nothing to help any specific candidate whatsoever.

So, where does the other 20% go? Well, to make sure the credit card and bank card donations start flowing in, the charges to process those is quite important. To date, bank card and credit card processing as well as bank fees equals $7,157, or 2% of all donations into Ruth’s List.

On top of that, making sure that Ms. Robinson attends events is quite important as well. While she does reimburse herself on some of the expenses, others expenses are paid for directly from Ruth’s List. For example, the organization dished out $4,600 for hotel rooms. As for meals, $1,888 was paid by Ruth’s List for meals with candidates, volunteers, interns and whatnot. What is even more interesting is that Ruth’s List is quite specific on what they spend the money on. For example, June 23rd, 2011, Ruth’s List paid for a “meal on way to Tallahassee”, for $7.61 a Panera Bread. So yep, if you donated a one-time donation or $10, over 76% of that donation went for a splash-and-dash meal in Gainesville, Florida.

The rest of the spending seems to be for other office related materials and services, such as accounting, website hosting, copies, office supplies and whatnot.

So, in the end, out of the nearly $380,000 that has come into Ruth’s List, less than 10% of that money is used to directly help the candidates.

Basically, almost every aspect, as well as every penny spent, by Ruth’s List seems to be for the benefit of making Ruth’s List more money and not for the benefit of promoting female, progressive Democratic candidates. Therefore, what is the use of it? Is it there to truly promote female candidate, or to make one person a lot of money while not having to pay for anything in return?

In addition to the expenses, the contributions are quite odd. Over the last year, many of the donors to Ruth’s List are not identified. Even donors that have given $500 are identified as “1 MEMBERS AT $500.00”, according to the Division of Election’s website. In total, $108,219 of Ruth’s List donors, or roughly 28%, are not identified.

There are two reasons we bring up Ruth’s List, as well as other organizations and people that will be discussed in the coming days. First, all of the people that we will be discussing over the course of the next few days have either directly or indirectly supported Allison Tant for the Florida Democratic Party chair position. Ruth’s List is actively supporting Mrs. Tant.

The second reason that we bring this issue up is because we personally feel that taking away the hard-earned money of those people who donate to these organizations is wrong! People donating to Ruth’s List should know that the organization is spending $1,200 on an image consultant in the United Kingdom. They should know that the bulk of their money is NOT going to support Democratic candidates, but directly to the pockets of Ellis Robinson and her company The Buttonwood Partnership. We are not only tired of seeing people being duped into thinking that they are helping a good cause (when they are in fact making just one person rich), but that it is some sort of a sin to talk bad about groups like this, who are just taking money and not giving anything in return.

Over the last year, we have exposed problems within the Florida Democratic Party. The whole reason behind this is so that we can become a better, as well as more productive party. Giving over $250,000 to one person doesn’t benefit the party. It is time that we ask the serious questions about what our money is actually being used toward. This article on Ruth’s List gives you an insight into where your hard earned donation goes. And yes, it is quite depressing.

Oh, if you would like to know more about the Murcielago, here is a clip from Top Gear that will give you a little more insight into it. It isn’t an Aventador, but still…

14 thoughts on “Money and the FDP Chair Race, Part I: Ruth’s List: Useful Organization or Cash Cow?”

  1. According to the math you did here, 224,000 /4 years means Ellis is only making $54,000 a year, which really isn’t a huge amount of money, definitely less than the “Murcielago” you claim she could pick up.

  2. That also means that only $8,000/year goes to candidates as well. If you want to split up the money, let’s split it all. I have rarely, if ever, seen any “political organization” where the person heading it makes seven times more than the money that goes out to help the candidates.It is usually the other way around. And yes, the total amount of money directed toward her company is enough to buy a 2007 Lamborghini.

    I think you will also find that she is reimbursed for expenses as well. That is over $8,000 a year. In addition, the actual Ruth’s List account pays for many of the hotels, travel and other stuff. So money paid directly to Robinson is more like $62,000 a year with, again, many expenses paid for by the Ruth’s List account.

  3. I think you failed to make your point. Had you listed that for the last 12 months or so she has taken $8K a month for “management fees”, totalling $96K over a 12 month period, PLUS expenses PLUS actual travel costs, your case would have been better argued.

    I do not belong to Ruth’s List and this is exactly why. Let’s also mention that the candidates they support for the most part, such as Rep Lori Berman or Rep Katie Edwards, were going to be Democratic seats no matter what. And in a race in Broward, where two solid pro-choice women were running for the House against a recently switched former officer of the REC male, she stayed out. Maybe because she was having an event for katie edwards at his campaign manager’s home. Try evaluating her actual worth in terms of the races she chooses to support.

  4. That is why most of the women that go towards Ruth’s List are those that are already handpicked by the Democratic Party & are not pro-choice. The organization is a joke. They did a fundraiser for Sachs who never stood up or showed up at any Planned Parenthood event in her career. There is no party it is just a bunch of people making money for their own agenda which does not include women’s progress. Ellis is nice but so clueless about any issue.

  5. Lewis in Lauderdale

    Who cares. Ruth’s List a harmless non-entity. They don’t do anything nor do they claim to do anything.

    Why doesn’t someone, anyone go after Florida Watch Action? That’s surely the real story.

  6. Two things. First, It that that the over $380,000 that has gone into Ruth’s List could have been been used to help Democratic candidates.

    Second, in regards to Florida Watch Action, tomorrow…..

  7. So, this is an interesting point about Ellis taking a salary, good reporting here. Just wondering though, does that mean you are calling for Clendenin to take no salary as FDP Chair? That would surely save $520,000 over four years that we can use to support Democratic candidates. If that’s the case, can he submit a pledge to those of us who are state committeemen and women? I sure would love to see that money used for Democratic candidates too.

  8. Can someone give an accounting on the amount of money that Alan Clendenin has spent on advertising on this blog? Let’s compare apples to apples if you’re gonna go there.

  9. yeah b/c the price for online ads is definitely in the same ballpark as the price for a Lamborghini…

  10. Good point, and I don’t know what Alan’s view on salary is. Still, actually being a chair of a major political party and trying to implement a plan to get Democrats elected is much more than just collecting money for doing absolutely nothing whatsoever.

  11. Let’s skip the personal acrimony. Debating the best logistical arrangements for candidate recruitment is an absolutely fair target. Asking if CCEs, 527s, and other organizations are effective is fair as long as it’s tough and not personally targeted. But mixing up strategy and tactics, on the one hand, with personal attacks, on the other, is heading towards replaying Stalinism but with plaid golf shorts.