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Statement: At an Oct. 10 debate, Ray Ellis said “the vast majority” of his campaign donations have come from inside City Council District 1.

Determination: Barely True

Analysis: Ray Ellis is campaigning to unseat District 1 Councilwoman Sherri Lightner and tried to boost his candidacy at a debate last week by listing some of his biggest endorsements.

He touted bipartisan support from Mayor Jerry Sanders, a Republican; Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, a Democrat; and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a Republican-turned-independent.

Ellis also claimed to have broad support from District 1 residents, and cited his campaign contributions to back it up. He said “the vast majority” of donations to his campaign came from inside District 1, which stretches from La Jolla to Carmel Valley.

We decided to Fact Check Ellis’ fundraising claim and take a closer look at contributions to Lightner’s campaign along the way. How many individual donations and how much total cash have the candidates received from inside District 1?

Counting exactly how much cash flows from any council district is tricky. In financial disclosure forms made available to the public, the smallest geographic marker for each donation is a ZIP code.

ZIP code boundaries don’t perfectly mirror City Council boundaries. For this comparison, we decided to include donations from six ZIP codes that are wholly or partially within the District 1 boundaries. Anything else was counted as outside the district.

We also excluded cash contributions that the candidates have made to their own campaigns ($50,500 from Ellis and $1,000 from Lightner). The point of Ellis’ statement was to describe how much financial support he had received from the community — not his own bank account.

One last caveat: Election laws don’t require campaigns to list contributions under $100, so in some cases, it is impossible to identify where cash comes from. About $13,500 of Lightner’s fundraising and $800 of Ellis’ fundraising was excluded from our analysis for this reason.

The graphic below summarizes all fundraising between Jan. 1, 2011, and Sept. 30, 2012. Ellis claimed the vast majority of his donations came from within District 1 — but the split is almost even.

Ellis has led fundraising overall and within District 1, though Lightner has reported a similar ratio of contributions from within the district.

A closer look shows differences in fundraising within District 1. Ellis has raised thousands more from northern neighborhoods like Carmel Valley, while Lightner has fundraised better in central areas like University City.

The campaigns’ disclosure forms also show La Jollans have poured the most cash into the election. Ellis has reported receiving about $138,000 from the 92037 ZIP code — which roughly covers La Jolla — while Lightner has reported receiving about $131,000 from the same area.

Our definition for Barely True says the statement contains an element of truth but critical context is absent that may significantly alter its impression. It fits this case.

It’s true that a majority of Ellis’ donations came from within the district, but the margin wasn’t that huge.

“Vast” is a subjective term. Merriam-Webster says it means “very great in size, amount, degree, intensity or especially in extent or range.” In this case, the margin is so narrow — just a few percentage points — that it’s reasonable to question its vastness.

We think the difference isn’t vast but realize there is enough room in the subjective language for disagreement. That’s why we landed on Barely True instead of False. Depending on your interpretation of vast, the numbers may or may not change your impression of the statement.

We’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below. Please check out our rating definitions in the right column of this page and join the discussion.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about the District 1 City Council election, local government and creates infographics. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

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