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PACs load up on cash in Prop 1 & 2 battle

Tuesday, May 9, 2006 by

Most candidates spending scarce campaign funds on TV ads

The groups supporting and opposing Propositions 1 and 2 are both relying on a small number of donors with deep pockets to finance their campaigns in the final days leading up to the May 13 election. A review of the latest filings from the political action committees (PAC) on both sides of the controversial measures shows that a handful of organizations and a few single individuals are responsible for a majority of the money funding the current media blitz.

The Clean Water Clean Government PAC is relying almost totally on the Save Our Springs Alliance and longtime SOS supporter Kirk Mitchell. While the PAC supporting both Propositions 1 and 2 did receive numerous donations from individual citizens ranging from $5 to $100, those contributions pale in comparison to the $110,000 donated by SOS during the past few weeks. In addition, long-time SOS supporter Kirk Mitchell personally donated $50,000 to the Clean Water Clean Government PAC. Other major contributors include former Council Member Beverly Griffith (now listing a Colorado address) and local rancher Ira Yates. Griffith donated $4,000 and Yates donated $1,000. Also, activists Ann del Llano, Bill Bunch, Karin Ascot, Dick Kallerman, and Fred Lewis all backed up their public support of the measure with personal donations ranging from $50 (Kallerman) to $500 (Del Llano).

Opponents of Propositions 1 and 2 are also putting their personal financial muscle behind their cause, only with greater force. Developer Peter Lamy gave $10,000. Attorney David Crist gave $5,000. Gary Farmer donated $3,000, and Diana Zuniga, Janice Cartwright, Tom Terkel, and Terry Mitchell also donated from their personal funds.

Along with those large individual donations, the Committee for Austin’s Future PAC has its own twin guns to match the financial firepower of SOS and Kirk Mitchell. The Real Estate Council of Austin and the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin each donated $50,000. Corporate contributions from a variety of developers, banks, and law firms helped boost the PAC’s war chest.

Although Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. did not contribute to the PAC opposing Propositions 1 and 2, AMD had its own "informational breakfast" for some members of the community, spending about $11,000 and reporting the expenditure to the City Clerk. The decision by AMD to build its new campus over the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer in Southwest Austin was a major factor in the decision by SOS to seek amendments to the city charter.

Among the law firms, Brown McCarroll, Winstead Sechrest and Minick P.C., the Haynes and Boone PAC, Fulbright and Jaworski, and Jackson Walker L.L.P. all contributed significant amounts. Developers chipping in include Streetman Homes Ltd., Wilshire Homes L.P., and the Lumbermen’s Investment Corp.

In a press release issued along with its campaign finance report, the Clean Water Clean Government PAC calls these businesses "developers, lobbyists, and special interests who benefit from city hall’s secrecy." The PAC does concede the major role that a small number of donors played in its own fund-raising effort, noting that "Both the Save Our Springs Alliance and longtime community philanthropist Kirk Mitchell contributed significantly to the campaign."

The PAC supporting the two propositions enters the final week of the campaign with $27,910 in cash on hand. During the previous reporting period, the group raised $182,369 and spent $188,117. Of that, $130,000 went for the group’s television ad campaign, listed under "media services" from Rindy Miller Media. The group also paid just over $700 to the People for Efficient Transportation PAC for the use of its mailing list and for automated phone calls.

The Committee for Austin’s Future has also spent a substantial amount on its TV campaign, with Media Strategies and Research billing the PAC a total of $75,000 for "television advertising." The PAC also spent $113,404 on what is described as "printing, postage, and mailing services" from Kelly Graphics.

But despite spending more money, the Committee for Austin’s Future PAC enters the final days of the race with an apparent financial advantage. The group reports $95,217 in cash on hand, having raised $288,075 and spent $237,794 during the previous reporting period. However, the Clean Water Clean Government PAC began its TV blitz several days earlier, giving it a possible advantage with early voters.

In the heavily contested Place 2 race, candidates Eliza May and Mike Martinez have taken to the airwaves and their budgets show it.

May took in $8,389 in contributions and spent $22,415 during the reporting period. The largest chunk of that went for television ads, with almost $9,000 going to her campaign manager, Stephanie Hale. May lists a balance of $15,576 to spend before Saturday.

Martinez has taken the same path, taking in $21,257, and spending almost all of his $34,334 in expenses on media. Martinez campaign spent $9,000 with Mark Nathan’s Krypton Productions, and $18,000 with Fero Hewitt Global for his television ads. He only lists a little over $3,000 left going into the final week of the campaign.

Candidate Wes Benedict may get the award for the most efficient campaign. Despite the fact that he lists no contributions or expenditures during the reporting period, some observers say he could gain just enough votes force May and Martinez into a runoff.

While his combined opponents have barely raised enough money for a modest election-night watch party, incumbent Place 5 Council Member Brewster McCracken has been raising and spending campaign funds as if he were facing a well-financed challenger. He reports $12,471 in cash on hand as of eight days before the election. He spent $57,224 during the previous reporting period, most of it on TV advertising and direct mail.

In contrast, Kedron Touvell reports spending $3,265 while raising less than $500, giving him a "zero balance" for cash on hand. Touvell’s bills primarily come from a Pennsylvania-based firm called Capitol Promotions for items such as door knob hangars, yard signs, and bumper stickers. He also ordered $236 worth of "branded keychain carabiners" from of Egg Harbor Township, NJ.

Colin Kalmbacher, who is also running for the Place 5 seat, raised $657 during the most recent reporting period and spent only $19.38 on office supplies and copies. Thanks to a loan, he has a balance of $755 going into the final week. Most of the contributions to Kalmbacher’s campaign range from $7 to $50, but he did receive two $100 contributions from Bill Moriarty and Diane Hyatt. Both list their occupations as "engineer". Moriarty is the former manager of Earth Tech who was removed from the Austin Clean Water Program at the City Manager’s request after an investigation showed that Moriarty had hired Hyatt, his girlfriend, as a contractor in violation of the city’s rules concerning conflict of interest. Moriarty has sued the city and Futrell over his dismissal. Moriarty also accuses McCracken of defaming him by releasing a confidential document concerning the results of that city investigation.

Two of the three candidates for place 6 have begun showing up on local TV regularly in the past week and have the campaign expenses to prove it.

Sheryl Cole has take in $21,257 in the reporting period. She has spent just over $28,000, with $20,000 going to Rindy Miller Media for production and air time expense. Cole enters the last week of the campaign with $15,576 in the bank, enough to buy a few more well-placed TV spots.

Her main opponent, Darrell Pierce, displayed similar spending habits. Pierce took in $18,275 and spent $26,568, including $5,000 with Taylor Made Productions and $17,000 for a media buy through The Davis Group. His war chest only has $3,840 for the stretch drive.

Candidate DeWayne Lofton has kept his spending to leaflets and campaign signs. He reports taking in $695, spending $744 and having $654 left for the final week.

Spending in the Mayor’s race is even more one-sided. Incumbent Mayor Will Wynn has received $40,150, and has spent $78,813 during the recent reporting period. Most of the mayor’s war chest has gone for television, with $28,000 going to Fero Hewitt Global, and printing, with $23,000 to Kelly Graphics. Wynn’s filing notes that he still has about $25,000 left for the stretch.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas posted more modest numbers. He has taken in $4,185 during the reporting period and spent $5446. His largest expense was just under $1,200 for typesetting. He has $2315 left to finish the campaign.

Jennifer Gale took in $47, spent about $16, and has about $120 left.

The reports, which were due by Friday, cover the time period between April 4 and May 3.

County allows bidder to stay—for now

Staff wants Faulkner USA booted off corrections project

Travis County Commissioners will allow Faulkner USA to continue in the design-build bidding process on the new $60 million Travis County Correctional Center project over the strenuous objections of Purchasing Agent Cyd Grimes, who wanted the firm disqualified for being non-responsive in the Request For Qualifications.

The design-build process is a complicated one, with a number of phases and much discretion under current law. During the process, the county can consider qualifications – as well as price – when picking a project contractor. To get to the point of picking that contractor, however, requires a lengthy selection process.

As Grimes outlined to the court last week, Faulkner USA failed to disclose information to the county on subcontractor qualifications and amendments on the project list. Grimes said disqualifying the firm – refusing to let it submit the more complicated Request For Proposal – was the fairest choice.

"The issue for us is whether they were responsive or not," Grimes said. "I don’t want anybody to think that we’re saying Faulkner is not qualified. We’ve never said they were not qualified. What we said is that they did not follow the rules; therefore, they’re non-responsive and should not be allowed to go forward in the process. This is our normal process and this is how you set out rules to go by and you expect the potential bidders to go by those rules, and so it's material to us. It's something that we think should be taken into consideration."

Bonds for the additions to the Del Valle jail were approved in the last bond election. The county moved forward quickly with the project. With only three bidders that qualified under the RFQ, however, County Commissioners expressed concern that it would only help the county to have more bidders at the table. And as County Auditor Susan Spataro pointed out, allowing Faulkner to move forward in the process does not necessarily break the law.

Tim Garbutt defended Faulkner USA’s record, pointing to the company’s successful completion of the Williamson County Jail. Garber said the county selection team – which consisted of a consultant, plus engineers and architects – failed to properly communicate with Faulkner on its preferences. Garber argued that the company’s failure to discuss subcontractors was not a sign – as county staff might suggest – that the company had problems following directions. Faulkner had no problems working with Williamson County, he noted.

"We have a reputation established here locally that demonstrates that we deliver on that promise of open and full communication, a record of no contractor initiated change orders, a record of on time delivery, on budget," Garber said. "In fact, I would point to our friends in Williamson County at the Williamson County Jail — a county jail that we finished recently — an award-winning jail, by the way."

Grimes defended her office, saying it was not her practice to call each and every vendor to correct bids. Such a procedure – after an initial pre-bid meeting with interested potential bidders – would make the process more fair for some than others.

Each commissioner took a different view of the situation. Commissioner Margaret Gomez said her line was the bottom line. She could be flexible on a number of aspects to the process, as long as the county got a qualified contractor that was on time and under budget. Commissioner Ron Davis wanted to see as many companies as possible bidding on the project. And County Judge Sam Biscoe noted that the alternative to disqualification – moving forward, and rolling the RFQ scores into the final recommended score on each firm – would certainly punish Faulkner enough, as the firm already is 150 points behind its construction competitors on the bid, Hensel Phelps and Gilbane.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner compared the RFQ scores to the preliminaries in the Olympics. Certainly, the scores mattered, but they shouldn’t weigh as much as the more complicated and fuller explanation under the Request For Proposals.

Although the court appeared to settle early on allowing Faulkner to continue in the process, albeit with its reduced point score, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty still had concerns. Daugherty said he had contacted the two remaining contractors on the bid and both had expressed some doubts if Faulkner continued in the process. Daugherty did not vote against the final motion, but he said he would monitor the situation closely in the next phase.

Grimes noted that if the county did not have sufficient response in the next phase – if, say, only one or two contractors moved forward – then the commissioners could decide to scrap the bid process and start over again on the RFQ/RFPs.

Commissioners instructed the selection team to meet with each of the three bidders to discussion expectations and questions. A full RFP should be available within a month, and commissioners want to review that proposal and possibly set how the RFQ and RFP will be weighted in the final tally.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Today is the last day to vote early . . . Slightly more than three percent of Travis County’s registered voters have cast their ballots in the many interesting contests going on this year. More than 1,900 of the 17,087 who have voted so far cast their votes at the Randall’s on Bee Cave Road. Randall’s on Research and on South MoPac, as well as the Northcross Mall early voting booths have also drawn more than 1,000 voters apiece . . . Williamson Elections Chief quits . . . The Williamson County Elections Commission accepted the resignation of Elections Administrator Cliff Borofsky late last week. He has given no reason for the move. His tenure with Williamson County elections has been problem-plagues, with problems on both of his previous elections, and voting machine malfunctions arising this election. Borofsky began working for the county on August 2005 after holding a similar job in Bexar County. The Commission retained Borofsky as an elections consultant through June 1, and appointed Debra Stacy as acting elections administrator. The position is posted and will remain open until filled. . . . Meetings. . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . RMMA Plan Implementation Advisory Commission meets at 6pm in Room 105 at Waller Creek Plaza . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Court Chambers at 314 W. 11th St . . . The Williamson County Commissioner’s Court meets at 9:30am in the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . Public Hearing planned . . . The Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department is sponsoring three public hearings to receive the public’s feedback about the City of Austin Draft Action Plan FY 2006-07, the City’s annual strategy for addressing the community’s critical housing and community development needs. Three hearings are scheduled with the first at 6:30pm tonight at the Street-Jones Building, 1000 E. 11th St. Other hearings are planned for 6:30pm on May 24 in the Boards and Commission Room at City Hall and at 6pm on May 25 during the City Council meeting . . . Tree Trimming. . . Just about the same time that Austin Energy crews were getting the last few customers back online Monday after last week’s severe thunderstorms, the Council’s Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee was hearing a report from its Tree Task Force. The Task Force has been working on the report for several months, so the timing on Monday was merely coincidental. Chair Carolyn Paliama presented the report, which outlines a long-term plan to protect the city’s tree population and takes preliminary steps towards resolving problems between Austin Electric and some homeowners over the city’s tree trimming policies. Some of those policies, including expanded notification and relocating lines at the customer’s expense, may go into effect in the near future, while others were sent back for more work by City Staff. Council Member Lee Leffingwell also instructed Austin Energy officials to prepare an analysis of the recent post-storm crisis and bring it to next month’s LUT meeting . . . The lights went out . . . These whispers went astray for awhile . . . Moratorium continues . . . The Council on Thursday approved extending the interim development regulations for single-family homes passed during the "McMansion" debate until June 23. "This is something that’s been unanimously supported by the task force doing the interim residential standards and the final ordinance, and also supported by the homebuilders association," said Council member McCracken. "My understanding is they are very close to a consensus final proposal for the Council . . . Holly closing a little early . . . The Council also passed a resolution to close the Holly Power Plant at the end of September of 2007. That’s about 90 days sooner than the deadline set by the Council’s previous resolution. The move surprised some employees of Austin Energy, including Mike Pope, who works at the Holly Power Plant. "We have a lot of concerns as to how that will affect the employees’ plans, because they had planned originally for 2009…then it was changed to December 2007. People made commitments to stay at the power plant and make sure it was operational and safe." Deputy City Manager Joe Canales assured Pope the accelerated closure would not mean the loss of any jobs. "There are no plans anticipated to have reductions in force associated with the earlier closure," he said. "There are no plans to lay off employees." Workers who want to be reassigned to other facilities will be able to receive training for new jobs.

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