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City campaign law means PACs have power of the purse

Monday, January 31, 2005 by

Two years ago, when the Austin Police Association Political Action Committee (APA PAC) endorsed Brewster McCracken, they took a bold step—joining forces with the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) Good Government PAC to enhance McCracken’s election chances.

McCracken won, of course, but Austinites did not realize that the RECA PAC had funded police PAC mail pieces until a year later, when an enterprising American Statesman reporter looked at records from the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC).

According to records on file at the TEC, the RECA Good Government PAC filed an amendment to its appointment of campaign treasurer on May 9, 2003. The filing simply indicated that the Austin Police Association PAC would be a recipient of the RECA PAC’s funds. Other records show that RECA PAC gave the APA PAC $25,000, which the APA PAC spent to support McCracken. Although a city ordinance requires a similar filing with the City Clerk’s Office, the city has no record of this filing. In fact, the city has no records of the RECA Good Government PAC. City Clerk Shirley Brown said state law only requires the city to keep campaign finance reports for two years. When her office moved to the new City Hall, Brown said, they discarded all records they were not required to keep.

When the police PAC endorsed Place 3 candidate Gregg Knaupe two weeks ago, the rumor mill went into high gear. Knaupe was seen as the favorite of many of those active in RECA but that organization has not endorsed candidates since 1997, having learned that such an endorsement can be the kiss of death for a candidate. Others say the RECA membership is just too split amongst the four candidates to anoint one with PAC money. The other Place 3 candidates are Margot Clarke, Mandy Dealey and Jennifer Kim.

So the talk in some political circles has predicted that the APA PAC and RECA PAC would team up for Knaupe in the same way they did for McCracken. That apparently will not happen, however. APA President Mike Sheffield told In Fact Daily his group would like to spend money in conjunction with other groups but that it would not be RECA. The APA PAC, unlike many other organizational committees, accepts contributions from anyone who chooses to make them.

Between May 30 and June 5, 2003 the APA PAC took in $34,150, which includes the RECA PAC money plus $5,000 from McCracken’s father-in-law and $1,000 each from Ben Barnes and John Lewis and $500 each from Tom Terkel and the Texas Capitol Area Builders Association.

In addition to records for the RECA PAC and the APA PAC, the TEC has a recent designation of campaign treasurer from the Small Business PAC led by Paul Silver. The Home Builders Association of Greater Austin has also filed documents at the TEC for its political action committee. A group called Austin Supports Health (ASH), which is expected to work for passage of a stricter no smoking ordinance, has also filed its appointment of campaign treasurer. Of those, the APA PAC, ASH PAC and the Home Builders PAC have records on file with the City Clerk. City ordinance requires that PACs working for or against election of a candidate file the same documents with the city clerk as they file with the TEC if they intend to spend $2,500 or more on a city election.

In 1997, Austinites approved a charter amendment limiting campaign donations to City Council candidates to $100 per person, but independent committees are allowed to collect and spend unlimited amounts to elect candidates so long as they do not coordinate those expenditures with the candidates. So, while those running for office struggle to bring in funds at $100 per check, a PAC can solicit $5000, for example, from anyone with an interest in the election. After endorsing a candidate it appears that there is no legal impediment to soliciting specifically to support that candidate in an independently produced mail piece or other kind of advertising either.

No one of the several experts and politically involved Austinites who discussed this matter with In Fact Daily was willing to speak on the record. It’s a touchy subject that will surely come up again before the May election and a presumed June runoff is over.

Leander prepares plans for TOD

Open air shopping planned for end of rail line

Leander’s city government has completed a week of charrettes on the city’s transit-oriented development plans for the north end of Capital Metro’s planned commuter rail line, leading up to the presentation of an ordinance in May.

Mayor John Cowman presented a progress report to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority at least week’s meeting. The 2,300 acres that Cowman has proposed for transit-oriented development is alongside the proposed terminus of the rail line and bisected by the path of US 183A.

“We’re creating the first transit-oriented development as a high-density area of about 30,000 people,” Cowman said after the CTRMA presentation. “We’re creating an area which will cater to people who get on the toll road and the people who get off the rail. We’re going to create an area that’s going to become a destination spot.”

Cowman says the Leander TOD concept is finalized and soon will become an ordinance. Along with 30,000 people living and working around a town center, the Leander TOD also will have up to 1 million square feet of retail. That retail will serve as a destination spot, one with small specialty boutique shops and restaurants, he said.

The area could look something like Mockingbird Station in Dallas, the highly successful mix of shops, restaurants, lofts and office space that serves the DART Red and Blue rail lines. The Leander area will be accessed not only by US 183A and the commuter rail line but also the extension of Parmer Lane.

Cowman describes an open-air shopping area built in a “ New Urbanism” style. Streets will be narrow and pedestrian-friendly. Shops will be “charming” rather than overwhelming. Leander will become a spot for a quick shopping trip or a romantic dinner, Cowman said.

To make transit-oriented development work in Leander will take more than an ordinance, Cowman said. The land is divided between the 300 acres the city owns and 2,000 acres owned by 7 private landowners. Those landowners have agreed to work together to roll out the transit-oriented development in an even-handed manner.

“This is a true public-private partnership,” Cowman said. “The city is the de facto developer, but it’s the landowners that put up the $500,000 for the study. We put the entitlements in place, but we all know that we’re working together.”

The landowners paid to assist in the creation of the plan. Now the city has to put financing in place to stimulate development. That will likely come in the form of tax increment financing districts and public improvement districts, Cowman said. Cowman won’t name names but says major developers have approached the city.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved How to honor a member of Congress . . . The city of Austin’s Water Utility will thank members of the Travis County congressional delegation for their assistance in bringing the city more than $2.6 million in grant money for the Shoal Creek Wastewater Improvements Tunnel. The delegation will get an opportunity to descend approximately 60 feet into the tunnel shaft and view the start of excavation of a 96-inch diameter, 3,100-foot long tunnel. That tunnel, when completed, will hold a new wastewater pipe that will replace the existing, deteriorating line currently located in Shoal Creek. The Mayor and other dignitaries will gather for the event at 11am . . . Meetings . . . This being the fifth Monday of the month, there are no city meetings scheduled. The Travis County Hospital District Board of Managers is set to meet at 6:30pm to discuss their selection as CEO of the district. Much of that discussion will probably be held in executive session . . . Playing without rules . . . City staff pulled an item on last week’s City Council agenda approving a resolution to adopt procedures for collective bargaining talks with firefighters. The contract firefighters currently have with the city calls for talks to begin on Wednesday. The battle behind the scenes involves whether firefighters will be able to talk to Council members privately. Firefighters do not want to give up that access but city management wants them to do so, arguing that collective bargaining is supposed to take place entirely in public. But since the Council did not consider the matter last week the question remains as to how negotiators will proceed on Wednesday with no ground rules to follow . . . Legislative press conference . . . State Rep. Senfronia Thompson and supporters from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault will hold a press conference at noon today in the Speaker’s Committee Room outside the House chamber. Rep. Thompson will discuss legislation she has filed relating to care of sexual assault victims. For more information, call Torie Camp, 474-7190 ext. 7008 . . . Franchise factoids . . . .Austin will host the Texas Franchise Summit on February 25. The Texas Franchise Summit is for entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs interested in exploring and understanding the business of. . . you guessed it!: franchising. The event will be held at the Commons Center at the JJ Pickle Research Campus, 10100 Burnet Rd. in North Austin. Registration is $85 in advance, $150 the day of the event. Check http://www.texasxl.com/events/franchise/index.html for details.

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