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Council votes to adopt new campaign finance regulations

Friday, August 29, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Trying to plug a huge gap in the city’s campaign finance rules, the City Council on Thursday approved criminal penalties for failure to comply with regulations for collecting and spending money in City Council races. The Council is trying to rectify an oversight which lead the City Attorney to advise them that the city currently has no way to enforce the contribution and expenditure limits that have been on the books since 2002.  (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 22, 2008.)


The move to limit how much individuals can contribute to a Council campaign dates back to 1997, when voters approved an amendment to the City Charter. That amendment was modified by a public vote in 2002, and the limits established by that charter amendment have played a significant role in the election process.


“People have been running City Council campaigns for a number of years, going to great pains to make sure we stay within the law,” said Council Member Lee Leffingwell, “and then we find out that if you don’t obey the law, there’s no way for anybody to do anything about it. So we sought to change that.”


Leffingwell, along with Council Member Mike Martinez, sponsored an ordinance that would provide for criminal penalties for violating the campaign finance regulations.


That involves a series of amendments to the existing city code, Leffingwell said, “which have the thrust of having everybody conform to the city’s campaign laws. That involves a new section specifically addressing enforcement…there’s a section addressing specific purpose PACs…and then there are also some reporting requirements for people making independent expenditures in a City Council campaign.”


One particular political action committee that has raised concern on the Council is Friends of Carole Keeton Strayhorn. If the ordinance were effective, it would prevent Strayhorn from converting her $100,000 in PAC funds to allow her to run for Mayor.


The proposed revisions to the city code were passed unanimously on first and second reading. Leffingwell expects some further refinements to the ordinance before it returns to the Council for final approval at the Sept. 25 meeting.

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