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Report shows Chamber of Commerce giving $100,000 to defeat Prop 2

Wednesday, October 8, 2008 by Mark Richardson

With slightly less than a month to go before the Nov. 4 election, the campaigns for and against Proposition 2—the charter amendment to prevent the City of Austin from paying tax abatements promised to The Domain—are shifting into a higher gear. Proposition 2 landed on the November ballot as an attempt to bar the city from entering into any new tax abatement agreements with retail merchants or making payments to Simon Properties, owner of The Domain.


According to information filed with the City Clerk’s office, the Austin Chamber of Commerce has given and pledged a total of $100,000 to the group opposed to the charter amendment, Keep Austin’s Word PAC. The PAC, led by former Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley, has also received or has a pledge of another $75,000 from the Real Estate Council of Austin as of Sept. 25.


The PAC reported contributions of $53,750, and pledges of $131,000. Simon Properties also made a $10,000 donation.


Stop Domain Subsidies PAC, led by Brian Rodgers, has collected more than $91,000 in its backing of Prop. 2. But while there are dozens of small businesses who have contributed to the SDS cause, almost 80 percent of the SDS contributions — $78,000 – came out of Rodgers’ pockets.


SDS has spent almost $72,000 as of Monday, with most of the money going to campaign consultant Linda Curtis, ads in publication and production costs for TV commercials. One notable campaign expense listed by SDS, which has shown a penchant for having live animals at it press events, was a $42 entry on Sept. 25 to Fry’s Fun Farm of Lockhart for “pig rental.”


Passage of the amendment might cost Simon as much as $64 million over the 20-year duration of the agreement. According to attorneys for the city, it could also interfere with the city’s long-term plans to develop the old Mueller Airport site.


Both the Stop Domain Subsidies and Keep Austin’s Word PACs filed campaign finance reports Monday, 30 days from Election Day. SDS has a war chest of more than $91,000 and KAW has almost twice that, with about $185,000 in donations and pledges.


The level of political sniping increased on Tuesday. Mayor Will Wynn taped a political ad opposing Prop 2 on the plaza in front of City Hall Monday night. Rodgers accused Wynn and the rest of the City Council of using the prestige of City Hall as a backdrop to oppose Prop 2.


“Tell us it ain’t so, Mayor,” Rodgers said in a press release Tuesday. “Now we know for sure that the City Council is going to try to run this campaign out of City Hall. But who’s fronting them the money? Simon Properties and their allies have contributed and pledged $185,000 in opposition. That’s a small investment to insure that they get their $64 million and continued access to public money. The Mayor has a conflict of special interests and should not intervene.”  


Wynn, who has made no secret of his opposition to Prop 2, said he plans to work hard to defeat it.


“You bet I’m campaigning against Prop 2, just like I did against the ignorance of Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 back in 2006,” Wynn said in an email Tuesday. “Austin voters need to understand how harmful it is for a small group of people to try to circumvent the legislative process and simply change our City Charter. Prop 2 says Austin should renege on our legal agreements and break our word. That’s not the Austin I know, and it’s not right.”


Wynn said the city’s integrity is at stake. “For the proponents of Prop 2 to suggest that I ‘should not intervene’ is just silly. Like a lot of other people, I happen to care about protecting Austin’s reputation for honesty and integrity, so yes, I’m definitely out there asking Austin to vote no on Prop 2,” he said.


The PAC has only spent about $12,668 so far, mostly for campaign materials and consultants’ fees.

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