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Corporate ad touting Meeker may be illegal

Friday, April 4, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Discount Electronics’ owner Rick Culleton has made no secret of his distress about the fact that Wal-Mart is putting in a super center down the street from his store on West Anderson Lane.


Culleton, who does business through his corporation, First E-Commerce Inc., has likewise made no secret of the fact that he supports RG4N spokesman Jason Meeker’s attempt to unseat incumbent Lee Leffingwell from Place 1 on the City Council.


This week, however, he took his support a step further—placing a political ad for Meeker atop his Discount Electronics ad in the Austin Chronicle. Since the company is a corporation, Culleton’s ad appears to be illegal under Texas law. The Texas Election Code expressly prohibits corporations from making political contributions to candidates or making independent expenditures to aid in the election or defeat of a candidate.


Carol Flagg, advertising director for the Austin Chronicle, told In Fact Daily Discount Electronics and Culleton delivered the ad to the weekly newspaper camera ready. “We bill Discount Electronics,” she said.


Although Culleton served as Meeker’s campaign treasurer until March 26, Meeker says he did not know Culleton was going to do the ad touting his candidacy. Meeker says, “what I knew Rick was going to do was he was probably going to do something for RG4N forum (but) I did not ask him to do the ad for the forum…someone else did.”  The forum is mentioned in the last line of the ad, although it does not indicate a time or place for the April 8 meeting.


Headlined, “It’s time to clean up Austin’s City Hall,” the ad attacks Leffingwell for taking contributions from employees of Armbrust & Brown, the law firm which represented Wal-Mart in the past and now represents Northcross developer Lincoln Properties. It contains the important words “Vote for Jason Meeker,” making it a political ad. Culleton is out of the country for the next week and not available for comment.


Meeker said he decided to replace Culleton because, “he’s a really busy man. I need to have someone on the ground.” His new treasurer is Allan McMurtry, who will help him in “reaching out to Allandale,” which is close to Meeker’s own neighborhood.

Leffingwell consultant Mark Nathan said, “It’s hard to ignore the irony of this attack ad about Lee’s campaign contributors being funded with an apparently illegal campaign contribution to Jason Meeker.”


A full-page ad in the Chronicle costs $1,500. The political part of the ad appears to be about 20 percent of the page—or about $300 worth.


Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay gave up his post after being indicted in Travis County for trying to divert corporate contributions into the 2002 elections. Some of those charges are still pending.

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