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(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

 Commissioner Daugherty’s Criminal Case Delayed

Statute of limitations will expire in May, attorney
investigating alleged offense had health issues

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2015
Posted Monday February 23, 2015 9:41am

Gerald DaughertyGerald DaughertyA court hearing scheduled last Thursday on the criminal complaint against Travis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty was not held.

The doors of the designated 390th Judicial District Court were locked. A judicial aide said the attorney investigating the complaint and assigned judge had agreed not to proceed with the criminal case until a related civil lawsuit filed against Daugherty was resolved.

Leslie B. Vance of Marble Falls was appointed “county attorney pro tem” to investigate the complaint filed 11 months ago by William G. “Bill” Bunch of the Save Our Springs Alliance. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla was recused because the Travis County Commissioners Court controls his budget. Judge James E. Morgan, retired from the 220th Judicial District Court with jurisdiction over Bosque, Comanche, and Hamilton counties, was assigned to hear the case.

The complaint, supported by Daugherty’s testimony in a deposition in a related civil case filed November 12, 2013, claimed that Daugherty had violated the Texas Public Information Act by not turning over his correspondence related to the proposed controversial State Highway 45 Southwest.

At the time the complaint was filed, Daugherty told The Austin Bulldog it was “nothing more than a rehash of the allegations they brought in the civil suit. I don’t put anything past Bill Bunch or the SOS organization to thwart the will of the people,” he said, referring to efforts to halt construction of SH45 SW.

Bill BunchBill BunchBunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, was also at the 390th Judicial District Court for the Thursday hearing and was disappointed to learn it would not be held.

Bunch said, “The Texas Public Information Act has distinct civil and criminal remedies. The (civil and criminal) cases are separate.  My understanding is that Judge (Billy Ray) Stubblefield (who assigned Vance to the case) referred our complaint for prosecution. The documents we provided in our complaint, including Commissioner Daugherty’s sworn testimony, were sufficient to file charges and take to a jury. We did most of the work upfront. So I don't understand the lack of action.

 
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(14 votes, average 3.21 out of 5)

 Zimmerman Paid Wife For Campaign

Using campaign funds to pay a candidate’s spouse
is prohibited by law, and is a Class A misdemeanor

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2015
Posted Tuesday February 3, 2015 10:39am

Council Member Don ZimmermanCouncil Member Don ZimmermanDistrict 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman, after being elected but before being sworn in, used campaign funds to pay his wife “Salaries/Wages/Contract Labor” in the amount of $2,000 for “campaign office and field work.”

This may be a violation of Texas Election Code Section 253.041, which prohibits a candidate or officeholder from knowingly making or authorizing a payment from political contributions if the payment is made for personal services rendered by the spouse or dependent child of the candidate or officeholder.

Such a violation would be a Class A misdemeanor offense, according to Texas Election Code Section 253.041(c). If adjudged guilty, a Class A misdemeanor offense is punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000, confinement in jail not to exceed one year, or both the fine and confinement, per Penal Code Section 12.21.

The $2,000 payment to Zimmerman’s wife is reflected in the last item on the last page of the Campaign Finance Report filed January 15, 2015, by Zimmerman’s campaign treasurer and attorney Stephen Casey.

Zimmerman did not return calls to comment on this story in reply to specific messages left yesterday with his Chief of Staff, Joe Petronis, and other council office staffer Trent Pool.

Stephen CaseyStephen CaseyCasey himself, or rather his law firm, was paid $500 on November 25, 2014, for “legal consulting,” according to Zimmerman’s Campaign Finance Report filed December 8, 2014.

Casey also did not respond to a message left on his office telephone yesterday requesting comment about the $2,000 payment.

The payment to Zimmerman’s wife was discovered by The Austin Bulldog while reviewing expenditures in the 61 Campaign Finance Reports filed by the 11 winning candidates for mayor and City Council. (An overview of the research is provided in Review of City Council Campaign Finance Reports for Prohibited Expenditures.)

Our review indicates that only the Campaign Finance Reports for Zimmerman and Kathie Tovo included questionable expenditures.

Tovo campaign also may have erred

 
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(10 votes, average 4.60 out of 5)

 Almanza Gave $10,000 to PODER

Campaign finance report indicates campaign funds
given day after runoff election to nonprofit she heads

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2015
Posted Tuesday January 26, 2015 3:57pm

Susana AlmanzaSusana AlmanzaSusana Almanza lost the District 3 City Council runoff election December 16 to her brother, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, and the next day she donated $10,000 of her campaign funds to the nonprofit she heads as director and board member.

Almanza reported the $10,000 donation to PODER on page 14 of her Campaign Finance Report filed January 15, 2015, listing PODER’s address as 4926-A E. Cesar Chavez.

Asked if she sought legal advice before donating the $10,000 to PODER, Almanza told The Austin Bulldog, “No, I was told that you could donate to any nonprofit.”

Almanza is one of three runoff candidates who each received checks for $27,988.58 from the Austin Fair Campaign Finance Fund. The Austin Bulldog’s investigative report published December 1 indicated that neither Almanza nor her District 3 opponent Renteria were entitled to the funds because they signed the Austin Fair Campaign Contract too late.

The Austin City Charter, Article III, Section 8(F)(3) requires that a candidate no later than 90 days after an election “shall distribute the balance of funds received from political contributions in excess of any remaining expenses for the election: (a) to the candidate's or officeholder's contributors on a reasonable basis, (b) to a charitable organization, or (c) to the Austin Fair Campaign Fund.

But, while leftover campaign funds may be donated to a charitable organization, state law prohibits conversion of political contributions to the personal use of the candidate.

As director and board member of PODER, Almanza might exercise some control over how the $10,000 she donated to the organization with campaign funds will be spent.

Almanza told The Austin Bulldog that PODER’s board of directors will decide how the $10,000 will be used when it meets in about a week and she will recommend the money be used to pay students who participate in PODER’s Young Scholars for Justice program, a summer program founded in 1995.

Almanza still maintains $3,455.78 in political contributions on hand and said she would decide later how those funds will be used.

Fair Campaign Funds key source

 
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(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Locals United Against Citizens United

Pay 2 Play documentary, panel discussion focus
on reducing influence of big money in elections

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2015
Posted Friday January 23, 2015 11:52am
Updated Friday January 23, 2015 12:24pm

Panelists Craig McDonald, Sara Smith, Smitty Smith, Caroline Homer, and Christina PuentesPanelists Craig McDonald, Sara Smith, Smitty Smith, Caroline Homer, and Christina PuentesOn the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 21, 2010, decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, a sold-out showing of a documentary, followed by an hour-long panel discussion, indicates there is considerable local interest in overturning corporate personhood and money as free speech.

The film by John Ennis, Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes, released in September 2014, was shown to a full house of about a hundred people at the Alamo Drafthouse Village Wednesday evening. The 90-minute documentary focuses on multiple congressional elections in Ohio, the corrosive effects of unlimited spending from such figures as the Koch Brothers, and features numerous nationally known experts, among them Professor Noam Chomsky, Professor Lawrence Lessig, economist Robert Reich, and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The film asserts that for corporations, politics is a game akin to Monopoly that is rigged in their favor. The film also focuses on numerous ways that people are engaging in political struggles across the country to fight back, from the Occupy movement to street artists, from candidates running for office to public protests.

 
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(6 votes, average 3.33 out of 5)

Zimmerman Lawsuit a Costly Boondoggle

First council candidate in decades, if ever, to
sue the media in effort to suppress coverage

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2015
Posted Tuesday January 20, 2015 9:55am

“To my memory, your honor—and I've been defending libel cases in Austin since 1990—this is the first time a candidate for City Council has ever sued the local media.”

Peter KennedyPeter KennedyAttorney Peter D. Kennedy made that claim in court January 5, 2015, representing The Austin Bulldog in seeking dismissal of the defamation lawsuit brought by District 6 City Council candidate Don Zimmerman.

The case was decided January 7 in The Austin Bulldog’s favor by Judge Amy Clark Meachum of the 201st District Court of Travis County, after hearings held December 18 and January 5. The decision came the day after Zimmerman was sworn into office.

Zimmerman’s lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning he is “forbidden from filing another lawsuit based on the same grounds.” Further he was ordered to pay $8,400 in reasonable attorney’s fees (less than a third of the $28,420 actually incurred in defending this lawsuit), court costs and other expenses of $579. In addition the court ordered Zimmerman to pay a sanction of $1,000 under Section 27.009 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.

The significance of Zimmerman’s ill-fated attack goes far beyond what happens to The Austin Bulldog, a small independent nonprofit publishing investigative reporting in the public interest. It is crucial that the First Amendment right to report on judicial proceedings be protected. Judge Meachum’s order upholds that right.

Lawsuit legally futile

 
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(13 votes, average 3.92 out of 5)

Zimmerman Lawsuit Dismissed and Sanctioned

The Austin Bulldog’s anti-SLAPP motion approved
after second hearing, damages and cost assessed

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday January 7, 2015 3:02pm
Updated Wednesday January 7, 2015 4:22pm to define SLAPP

Don ZimmermanDon ZimmermanCouncil Member Don Zimmerman’s defamation lawsuit against The Austin Bulldog was dismissed today by Judge Amy Clark Meachum of the 201st District Court, based on approval of The Austin Bulldog’s anti-SLAPP motion (to dismiss a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).

Zimmerman filed the lawsuit October 15, 2014, during his election campaign, in response to The Austin Bulldog’s article published October 9, 2014. The article was based on court records that say the court ordered he “shall have no possession of or access to” the minor child. The petition that led to the court order states, “Respondent (Zimmerman) has a history or pattern of physical and emotional abuse directed against M.Z. (his daughter Marina Zimmerman).” On June 16, 2014, Zimmerman signed and approved an Agreed Order stating the “Court finds that the material allegations in the petition are true.”

Peter KennedyPeter KennedyJudge Meachum awarded defendant Austin Investigative Reporting Project (dba The Austin Bulldog) $8,400 in attorney’s fees for the work of Peter D. Kennedy of Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody PC, who represented the Bulldog, plus court costs and other expenses of $579, and a sanction of $1,000.

The ruling followed two hearings, held December 18 and January 5, concerning The Austin Bulldog’s motion to dismiss Zimmerman’s lawsuit under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, enacted in 2011 “to encourage and safeguard the constitutional rights of persons to petition, speak freely, associate freely, and otherwise participate in government to the maximum extent permitted by law and, at the same time, protect the rights of a person to file meritorius lawsuits for demonstrable injury.”

Section 27.009 of the Act states if the court orders dismissal the court “shall award” court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, other expenses, and “sanctions against the party who brought the legal action as the court determines sufficient to deter the party ... from bringing similar actions described in this chapter.”

 
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(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

2014 in the Rearview Mirror

A review of ‘The Austin Bulldog’s unique
coverage and its impact on the community

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Monday January 5, 2015 10:36am

The structure of journalism has changed dramatically. The dominance of electronic media provides free and open access to massive amounts of information delivered immediately via the Internet. But it provides no qualifying filter and trusted sources of news and commentary are found side by side with the misguided and misleading.

Yet news itself hasn’t changed. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still have crooks, thieves, power abusers, and the inept. Cover-ups will exist as long as humans exist. To keep dishonesty at bay requires watchdogs—investigative reporters who are willing and able to dig beneath the surface, examine the details, and bring the truth to light. It is more important than ever to identify and support the news sources that have proved themselves worthy of your trust. The Austin Bulldog strives to be such a source.

Election coverage

The year 2014 ushered in an historic shift in political power. The system of electing council members from 10 geographic districts broke the Westside grip and allowed suburban sprawl to overtake City Hall. For the first time women will make up a majority of the City Council—a super majority of seven in fact. Hispanics finally gained representation close to their share of the population and the first Latina will take a seat on the dais. Republicans not only broke the Democratic stranglehold but will hold three of the 10 District council seats.

The Austin Bulldog’s reporting played an important role in helping voters to decide which candidates deserved donations, volunteer efforts, and votes.

Steve AdlerSteve AdlerThe next mayor—We provided in-depth coverage of Steve Adler, the man who will lead a council of nine newly minted members and only one holdover. Early articles covered Adler’s achievements as chief of staff to a state senator and as a leader of several important local nonprofits. These were followed by articles critical of his role as an attorney for property owners who were able to avoid compliance with current environmental regulations. The final installment detailed how he personally profited from not having to comply with the Save Our Springs Ordinance for development of a tract in Oak Hill. While Adler won a landslide victory in the mayoral runoff he did so no endorsements from the environmental community and will have to work harder to overcome distrust by protecting our environment.

 
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(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

 An Election For History Books

Geographic representation achieved, GOP wins
three seats, and several other records set

by Ken Martin
©The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday December 17, 2014 8:28pm
Updated Thursday December 18, 2014 6:21am

Steve Adler at victory party, with wife Diane Land looking onSteve Adler at victory party, with wife Diane Land looking onThe largest landslide margin ever in an Austin mayoral runoff was achieved last night, as mayoral victor Steve Adler swamped incumbent Council Member Mike Martinez.

In Travis and Williamson counties a combined total of 80,669 votes were cast in the mayor’s race. Adler garnered 54,366 for 67.39 percent, while Martinez netted 26,303 for 32.61 percent.

Laura Morrison set the previous record by getting 65.0 percent of the votes in her 2008 runoff against Cid Galindo. Robert Barnstone got 64.98 percent in beating Sam Guzman in a 1988 runoff.

Lee Cooke in 1988 set the prevous record for margin of victory in a mayoral runoff when he got 58.43 percent of the votes to unseat incumbent mayor Frank Cooksey.

Greg CasarGreg CasarAt age 25, Greg Casar became the youngest Austin City Council member ever elected.

Previously the youngest council member was 26-year-old Jeff Friedman, elected in 1971.

Friedman’s campaign consultant in that election, Peck Young, verified this, saying, “Jeff was the youngest when he was elected and Greg beats him by a year.” Casar will turn 26 in early May.

Casar ran a smart campaign to soundly defeat now two-time loser Laura Pressley (she got an impressive 44.48 percent of the votes in her one-on-one challenge of incumbent Martinez in 2012).

Laura PressleyLaura PressleyCasar’s District 4 victory of 2,851 votes (64.62 percent) to her 1,561 (35.38 percent) resulted in part from her campaign’s faux pas. Perhaps not the least of which was getting involved in a discussion of the 9-11 attacks being an inside job, which drew intense media coverage, and her latest mail piece attacking Casar for, among other things, allegedly being an atheist.

Still, last night Pressley couldn’t resist a parting shot. A little after 8pm as early voting results showed she was already behind by more than 700 votes, she insisted on being quoted as saying, “Greg sold District 4 to special interests.”

In response Casar told The Austin Bulldog, “My track record stands up for working people and progressive ideals, even when special interests stood in the way. I’m going to stay committed to that.”

Women rule

 
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(3 votes, average 4.00 out of 5)

Postcard Wars Down to the Wire

Which mayoral candidate best for environment
the theme of two latest campaign mail pieces

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Thursday December 11, 2014 5:41pm

In the waning days of the mayoral runoff campaigns to decide who will lead the first 10-1 Austin City Council with nine brand-new members, the main benefactor may be the printers and the U.S. Postal Service.

Steve AdlerSteve AdlerMike MartinezMike MartinezSupporters and detractors of Steve Adler and Mike Martinez are nevertheless doing what they can to sway potential voters before the December 16 election.

After five-plus weeks of relentless campaigning since the November 4 general election, it’s doubtful these last-minute attempts will make a huge difference in the outcome. But that’s not stopping people from making independent expenditures that are separate from the candidates’ own campaigns.

A four-color, six-by-11-inch postcard with a photo of Barton Springs landed in mailboxes yesterday, headlined, “Should the future of the springs be in Steve Adler’s hands?” (See link to two-page mailer at bottom of this story.)

The mailer points to three articles published by The Austin Bulldog, two of which detailed Adler’s work as an attorney representing developers that sought to evade compliance with then-current environmental regulations. The third article exposed how Adler profited from the sale of Oak Hill property that did not have to comply with the Save Our Springs Ordinance. (Links to all three stories are provided at the bottom of this article.)

“Move Austin forward with Mike Martinez” the flier urges.

Lorri MichelLorri MichelThe postcard includes a statement that it was paid for by Austin-based attorney Lorri Michel of the Michel Law Firm PC, who specializes in property taxes.

Progress for Austin strikes again

 
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(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

 Firefighters Back Martinez With $170,000

He sure needs it with opponent setting fundraising records;
PACs independent spending now more than $610,000,

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday December 10, 2014 2:28pm

While runoff candidates are scrambling to raise money that they decide how to spend in seeking victory, 20 political action committees (PACs) involved in the mayoral and city council elections more than doubled their independent expenditures since the November 4 general election.

Since then, PACs have laid out more than $347,000 for a total to date of $610,000. (For details, see spreadsheet Independent Expenditures for 2014 Austin Mayor and City Council Elections through December 8, 2014.)

Bob NicksBob NicksBob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, raised eyebrows in late October when he told The Austin Bulldog that its political action committees (PACs) had a $200,000 campaign budget for the mayor and City Council elections.

Turns out that was an understatement. Firefighters have now poured more than $238,000 into independent expenditures—money spent to support a candidate without coordinating with a candidate’s own campaign—on behalf of the candidates it backs. And the PAC is about to spend an additional $15,000 for political mailers, Nicks said.

More than $200,000 of Austin Firefighter Association funds have been spent since the November 4 general election—a startling $170,000 of which has been poured into the last-ditch effort on behalf of mayoral candidate Mike Martinez, an incumbent council member.

Mike MartinezMike MartinezSteve AdlerSteve AdlerMartinez trailed runoff opponent Steve Adler by more than 12,000 votes on November 4, getting a hair under 30 percent of the votes cast that day to Adler’s nearly 37 percent.

The latest poll commissioned by the Austin Monitor and published December 5 showed Adler widening his lead over Martinez 56-39 percent, with only 5 percent of the 942 likely voters polled being undecided.

The Austin American-Statesman today reported that Adler has raised more than $1 million during his campaign and loaned it another $360,000, exceeding by leaps and bounds the resources available to any previous Austin mayoral candidate.

The independent expenditures firefighters made to support Martinez in the runoff include $100,000 for broadcast and cable television ads, $50,000 for “pre-roll video” that plays to targeted audiences on the Internet, and $20,000 for live telephone calls, according to PAC reports.

“We’re not counting Mike out but we know he’s got a higher burden at this point, ” Nicks said Monday. Martinez is not only a former firefighter but once headed the association. “Firefighters are a loyal group and once we build relationships with someone we will back them to the teeth. ... We’re not going to jump ship because we’re reading the tea leaves and he’s not doing as well as we’d like.”

So loyal are the firefighters, in fact, that the Association’s 1,010 dues-paying members voted to kick in a total of $122.08 each over 16 pay periods to back endorsed candidates.

Besides the major expenditures for Martinez, the Austin Firefighters Association spent $15,000 for a campaign mailer and nearly $1,400 for yard signs to support District 8 candidate Ellen Troxclair. The Association also spent minor amounts for yard signs and supplies to boost runoff candidates Sabino Renteria in District 3, Greg Casar in District 4, Leslie Pool in District 7, and Mandy Dealey in District 10.

Cole won’t endorse a mayoral candidate

 
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(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

 New PAC’s Postcard Slams Martinez

Progress for Austin hits Martinez for
Open Meetings Act violations, legal fees

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog
Posted Thursday December 4, 2014 9:42pm
updated Friday December 5, 2014 3:16pm

Mike MartinezMike MartinezA postcard funded by a new general-purpose political action committee (PAC) hit mailboxes today, aimed to undercut support for mayoral candidate Mike Martinez by pointing out he was part of the City Council investigated for violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The Progress for Austin PAC’s postcard—which cost nearly $20,000—also attacks Council Member Martinez for getting taxpayers to pay the private lawyer who defended him in the ensuing investigation of the violations by the Travis County attorney and for his rash statements in e-mails, for which he apologized when the e-mails became public.

The Austin Bulldog broke the story of the Open Meetings violations on January 25, 2011; filed public information requests for e-mails exchanged by the mayor and council members; and sued when these elected officials refused to turn over e-mails about city business they exchanged on private accounts, resulting in the release of those communications. The Bulldog also broke the story that the City spent $157,636 to defend the elected officials during the 21-month criminal investigation, including $24,657.50 for attorney Joseph Turner, who defended Martinez.

The postcard features a large photo of Martinez being quoted in the Austin American-Statesman of March 11, 2011, based on his letter to the community, in which he apologized for the derogatory statements he had made in the e-mails: “I have eroded public trust and confidence in my ability to be a leader in this community.”

Bo Delp, deputy campaign manager for Martinez, commented on the mailer. He told The Austin Bulldog, “This demonstrates that Steve Adler and his allies are out of ideas for how to address the issues that are most important to middle-class families in Austin and quite frankly this distortion of Mike's unimpeachable career as a public servant and firefighter is disappointing.”

Referring to the Open Meetings Act violations, Delp said, “My understanding is that Mayor (Lee) Leffingwell was also associated with this particular process, and if Steve Adler thinks it’s such a terrible thing, I assume he will be refusing Leffingwell’s endorsement.”

New PAC in town

 
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(5 votes, average 3.40 out of 5)

 Fair Campaign Funds Allocated Unfairly

Two of the three candidates who split the money
may not be entitled, city rules are in question

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Monday December 1, 2014 5:17pm

Jannette GoodallJannette GoodallThe Austin City Clerk deemed three candidates in the City Council runoffs eligible for equal shares of the $83,965.74 held in the Austin Fair Campaign Finance Fund, which provides partial public support for qualifying candidates. The Fund is built through lobbyist registration fees, donations, money collected for violations of campaign contracts, and candidate filing fees.

District 3 candidates (and siblings) Susana Almanza and Sabino Renteria and District 7 candidate Leslie Pool were notified November 14 they would each get checks for $27,988.58, City Clerk Jannette Goodall told The Austin Bulldog. They picked up the checks between November 18 and 21, she said.

None of the other candidates involved in runoffs for mayor and council signed the voluntary Austin Fair Campaign Contract.

Susana AlmanzaSusana AlmanzaSabino RenteriaSabino RenteriaAlmanza and Renteria, however, may not have been entitled to those funds because they signed the Austin Fair Campaign Contract too late, according to one City Code provision.

To be eligible for a share of the Austin Fair Campaign Finance Fund, City Code Section 2-2-11 requires that candidates must sign the Austin Fair Campaign Contract agreeing to abide by limitations on contributions and expenditures and to participate in a series of candidate forums.

Section 2-2-11(B) states “A candidate must personally sign the campaign contract the earlier of (emphasis added):

(1) 30 days after he or she becomes a candidate under the Texas Election Code; or

(2) the date the candidate files for a place on the ballot.

Goodall said she had consulted with the Law Department and Ethics Review Commission and followed the same procedure used in past elections to disburse money to these three candidates based on the dates they filed for a place on the ballot.

“We had always used the ballot application deadline as a trigger and we kept with that date as well for this election,” Goodall said.

Tradition trumped City Code

 
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(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Downtown Alliance Rail Spending Questioned

 Civic activist Rodgers warns City of Austin not to
reimburse $440,000 in Let’s Go Austin contributions

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Tuesday November 25, 2014 10:09pm

Brian RodgersBrian RodgersCivic activist Brian Rodgers sent a letter to City Manager Marc Ott and other city officials today to urge the city not to reimburse the DAA for political contributions it made to a pro-rail campaign as such payments might entail a “potential criminal violation.”

The Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) contributed a total of $440,000 to the Let’s Go Austin Political Action Committee (PAC) to help fund the pro-rail campaign, according to campaign finance reports filed by the PAC.

The November 4 election sought approval for a $600 million bond for an urban rail starter system if the city also provided $400 million for roadway improvement projects. Voters soundly defeated the $1 billion initiative by a vote of 108,396 (57.2 percent) to 81,107 (42.8 percent).

Charlie BettsCharlie BettsDAA Executive Director Charlie Betts said he has been with the DAA for 17 years and this is the first time a question has been raised about the organization making political contributions.

Betts said, “We have contributed to issue-oriented PACs many times in the past, such as the Health District, the last two transportation bond issues, and the PAC to support the last affordable housing bonds campaign. We have never contributed to a political candidate.”

Bill AleshireBill Aleshire“That doesn’t make it legal, it just means they didn’t get caught,” said Austin attorney Bill Aleshire of Riggs Aleshire & Ray PC, who assisted Rodgers in drafting the letter to city officials. “The fact they got away with it in the past doesn’t make it any less of an issue.” (Disclosure: Aleshire is one of the attorneys who represents The Austin Bulldog.)

How DAA is funded

 
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(7 votes, average 2.71 out of 5)

 

Bulldog Defends Zimmerman Lawsuit

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Tuesday November 25, 2014 8:37pm

The Austin Bulldog has moved to dismiss District 6 candidate Don Zimmerman’s libel lawsuit under Texas’ anti-SLAPP law, the Texas Citizen Participation Act.

The Austin Bulldog argues that Zimmerman’s lawsuit should be promptly dismissed because The Austin Bulldog article and the accompanying e-mail News Alert were accurate reports of the abuse allegations made against him in the judicial proceedings that led to Zimmerman losing all legal right of custody or access to his only daughter.

A copy of The Austin Bulldog’s motion can be found here: Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Chapter 278, Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code (113 pages with Exhibits)

Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Chapter 278, Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code (22 pages without Exhibits)

If Zimmerman files a response to The Austin Bulldog’s motion, we will post it as well.

 
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(5 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Austin Political Power to Shift Radically

Interactive maps show historic achievements afoot
in 10-1 system of City Council representation

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Tuesday November 18, 2014 8:07pm

This map indicates where electees and runoff candidates said they lived when filing for a place on the ballotThis map indicates where electees and runoff candidates said they lived when filing for a place on the ballotSuburban sprawl will overtake Austin City Hall when the new mayor and 10 City Council members are inaugurated January 6.

Other significant trends are that for the first time women are almost certain to outnumber men on the council; whites will still outnumber people of color but Hispanics will have more representation than ever, including the first-ever Latina; areas never before represented will finally have a seat on the dais; Republicans may gain a foothold; and the near-stranglehold on political power that the Westside has enjoyed for decades will be ended. (More about all these later.)

These are some of the trends evident in The Austin Bulldog’s 2014 interactive map of those already elected or engaged in a runoff as a result of the November 4, 2014, general election.

Linda CurtisLinda CurtisLinda Curtis, the Austinites for Geographic Representation sparkplug who led the volunteer petition drive that got the 10-1 plan on the ballot, said, “It's obvious that we have accomplished with 10-1 the immediate goal, which was to have representatives in these districts. The real question is, ‘So what?’ Is business going to change? We'll see.”

“What does it mean to have representation that's still under the influence of the old political players—and to what extent that's still in place will be seen when the new council takes seats in January,” Curtis said. “In politics it's always about the future and what people actually do.”

 
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(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

Two Women Win Without Runoffs

Delia Garza Austin’s first Latina council member,
former state representative Ann Kitchen also victorious

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday November 5, 2014 4:39pm

Two female candidates won seats on the Austin City Council in yesterday’s election, while the mayor and eight other council seats will be decided in a runoff election December 16.

Delia Garza flashes a winning smile on election nightDelia Garza flashes a winning smile on election nightDistrict 2 council candidate Delia Garza gained a place in history by becoming the first Latina elected to the City Council.

Garza thumped her three opponents by gaining 65.01 percent of the votes while her nearest competitor got just 16.53 percent. “I am honored to be the first Latina elected,” Garza told The Austin Bulldog as her party was winding down at Trudy’s restaurant off South I-35. “It’s been a long time coming.”

It has taken nearly four decades for Latin women to achieve political parity with their male counterparts. The first Latino won a seat on the council 39 years ago, when John Trevino Jr. was elected in 1975.

Mary Ann Neely, Ann Kitchen, Steve Beers, and Roy Waley gathered for Kitchen’s party.Mary Ann Neely, Ann Kitchen, Steve Beers, and Roy Waley gathered for Kitchen’s party.District 5 candidate Ann Kitchen netted 53.62 percent to beat six opponents. Her nearest opponent, Mike Rodriguez, was a distant second at 22.21 percent. Although the votes were not final when The Austin Bulldog stopped by Kitchen’s party at Red’s Front Porch on South Lamar a little before 9pm, she was edging over 50 percent and the crowd was enthusiastic.

Kitchen’s husband, Mark Yznaga, anticipating the possibility she would win without a runoff, told The Austin Bulldog if she did so he would resign his position with Opticos Design Inc., the lead urban planning consultant for the City of Austin’s CodeNEXT project.

Runoff candidates and indy backers

 
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(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

PACs Indy Spending Tops $262,000

Another $68,000 dumped into campaigns
in last three days to back favored candidates

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Monday November 3, 2014 1:40pm

Local political action committees (PACs) have already spent more than a quarter-million dollars trying to influence the outcome of the mayor and City Council elections set for Tuesday November 4.

Robert ThomasRobert ThomasFor the pick of the big-money PACs look no further than District 10 candidate Robert Thomas. He has garnered nearly $60,000 in independent expenditures, so far, including a whopping $50,000 from the Austin Board of Realtors—a sum that far exceeds the total amount of independent expenditures made on behalf of any other candidate. The rest of support for Thomas came from the Austin Firefighters Association, Austin Police Association, and some free billboards courtesy of Reagan National Advertising.

Total independent expenditures jumped almost $68,000 in just the last three days of reporting as PACs chipped in to push last-minute ads, mailers, phone banks and block walkers aimed at getting preferred candidates elected. Of if not elected outright, at least getting them into a runoff where independent expenditures may be even more effective in influencing who serves as the new mayor and fills 10 council seats.

While amounts already spent are significant and might make a difference in the outcome of the general election, these PACs are sitting on more than $800,000 that can be deployed to influence voters in the seven weeks of campaigning to come, after the November 4 general election and before the December 16 runoffs.

Independent expenditures are monies spent for electioneering communication or express advocacy to support or oppose a candidate without consulting with a candidate’s campaign.

Peck YoungPeck YoungPolitical consultant Peck Young is advising a number of council candidates in this election, some of which have gotten support through independent expenditures.

“As long as you have ridiculously low limits on campaign contributions you need some mechanism to support candidates and that's what these independent expenditures are for,” Young said. “Until we get rational contribution levels these independent expenditures are it.”

 
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(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

Gallo ‘Statesman’ Ads Missing Disclosures

Wednesday ad and newspaper wrappers
both failed to include required statements

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Friday October 31, 2014 3:44pm

District 10 candidate Sheri Gallo's political advertising published in the Austin American-Statesman and printed on wrappers for subscribers’ newspapers did not include key disclosures required by the Texas Election Code and Austin City Code.

Texas Election Code Section 255.001 requires disclosure of the fact that express advocacy is political advertising and the full name of the person who paid for it. The disclosure required by Austin City Code Section 2-2-14 requires stating whether the candidate has—or has not—agreed to comply with contribution and expenditure limits of the Austin Fair Campaign Chapter.

Sheri GalloSheri GalloIn a telephone interview today, Gallo said, “We realized the problem Wednesday evening and contacted the paper.”

“I take full blame,” Gallo said. “It’s my duty to make sure things like this don’t happen.”

The 4-1/4-inch by 9-1/4-inch ad published on page A6 of the October 29 Statesman focused on a few of her qualifications and notes she has been endorsed by three former Austin mayors and a former mayor pro tem.

 
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(4 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Indy Spending Big Election Factor

Fifteen political action committees trying
to influence mayor and council elections

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday October 29, 2014 5:14pm

While mayor and City Council candidates are scratching to raise every dollar they can for their campaigns, political action committees (PACs) are sitting on a pile of campaign cash and have already spent more than $194,000 on so-called independent expenditures to help selected candidates win outright on November 4—or at least get into a runoff.

Independent expenditures are monies spent for electioneering communication or express advocacy to support or oppose a candidate without consulting with a candidate’s campaign.

These PACs still had a combined total of more than $856,000 in contributions on hand as of their latest contribution and expenditure reports and may spend a hunk of that money in the last days of the campaign and then weigh in again for the inevitable runoffs to be decided December 16.

Click on this image to download the spreadsheet.Click on this image to download the spreadsheet.The independent expenditures and funds on hand are detailed in the attached spreadsheet, Independent Expenditures for 2014 Austin Mayor and City Council Elections through October 27, 2014.

Not every PAC reported independent expenditures and many have not disclosed their top donors in advertising or other electioneering communication, as required by the Austin City Code. The requirement to report independent expenditures and include the names of top donors in communications took effect for the first time in this election.

 
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(11 votes, average 2.82 out of 5)

Zimmerman Sues Bulldog, Claims Defamation

District 6 candidate Don Zimmerman claims
‘The Austin Bulldog’ report made false statements

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday October 15, 2014 10:59pm
Updated Thursday October 16, 2014 3pm (additions are underlined)

Don ZimmermanDon ZimmermanDistrict 6 candidate Donald Shelly “Don” Zimmerman has filed a defamation lawsuit against The Austin Bulldog, according to Courthouse News Service.

The Austin Bulldog has not been served and has not seen a copy of the lawsuit, styled Don Zimmerman v. Austin Investigative Reporting Project dba The Austin Bulldog; Ken Martin Cause No. D-1-GN-14-004290. The Austin Investigative Reporting Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for investigative reporting in the public interest.

The Austin Bulldog obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed electronically, this afternoon. A copy is linked below.

Bill AleshireBill Aleshire“Don Zimmerman’s attack on The Austin Bulldog for publishing truthful information from recent court records is an attack on journalism and the public’s right to know what happens in our courts,” said attorney Bill Aleshire of Riggs Aleshire & Ray PC. “The Austin Bulldog will vigorously defend its reporting and defend the right of journalists to report about court proceedings.”

Peter KennedyPeter KennedyThe attorney representing The Austin Bulldog in this litigation is Peter Kennedy of Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody.

 
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