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Campaign report shows steep price of Mayor’s race, even for winner

Thursday, July 16, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The final round of campaign finance reports for the 2009 Mayoral race show that in addition to getting the most votes, Lee Leffingwell raised the most money of any of the candidates for the city’s top elected office. He spent $336,376 from January 1 through the election, which his campaign consultant Mark Nathan says is more than any other candidate since campaign finance limits were enacted in 1997. The figure includes a loan to his own campaign from Leffingwell of $100,000. Leffingwell was able to repay himself $40,000 of that.


Opponent Brewster McCracken raised around $312,500 according to his reports and Carole Keeton Strayhorn was not far behind in overall contributions.


One of Leffingwell’s biggest expenditures (as with the other top two mayoral candidates) was for TV advertising. The campaign paid Rindy Miller Media more than $26,000 for TV advertising and production. Leffingwell’s other major expense was for his campaign staff, which was larger and better-compensated than his competitors. Campaign strategist Nathan, now chief of staff for the Mayor, was paid $10,000 at the beginning of May and another $15,000 in the middle of the month.


Leffingwell’s fund-raising continued up to and past election day, with many Austin notables chipping in after May 9, when it appeared that Leffingwell would be in a runoff with Council Member Brewster McCracken. Leffingwell’s support came from a broad mix of business leaders, developers, environmentalists, and the city’s public safety employee unions.


The Austin Firefighters Association PAC, Austin Police Association PAC, and Austin-Travis County EMS Employees Association PAC all contributed to Leffingwell’s campaign in the days following the election, as did prominent business leaders Tim Taylor, Terry Mitchell, Gary Farmer, and Kirk Rudy. But Leffingwell also received support from environmental activists and park supporters such as Ted Siff and Janis Pinnelli, who had encouraged Leffingwell to join the mayoral race back in January.


Even Brian Rodgers, who criticized the members of the City Council during the campaign over the Stop Domain Subsidies charter amendment, contributed to Leffingwell’s campaign. His contribution came in on May 11, the last day a person could contribute or pledge to the Leffingwell campaign. Rodgers originally supported Carole Keeton Strayhorn.


Nathan said Leffingwell had collected about $40,000 of the $100,000 he loaned the campaign from people who made contributions or pledges on the last day he could collect money (which was also the day Brewster McCracken dropped out). Nathan also said that Leffingwell had returned about $4,000 to contributors who made donations too late.  He can’t raise the rest until he runs for re-election in 2012 or after he leaves office.


One issue that arose in the final days of the campaign was how much candidates could raise toward a runoff election, and when they could begin soliciting money for that purpose. In early May, the Leffingwell campaign accused the McCracken campaign of exceeding the limits for contributions from donors outside of Austin, while McCracken’s campaign contended those donations were to be used for a possible runoff election.


Leffingwell filed a Municipal Court complaint alleging that McCracken violated the city’s campaign finance law on 49 separate occasions by accepting contributions above the $33,000 cap for out of city candidates.


The McCracken campaign insisted that McCracken could collect an additional $22,000 in anticipation of a runoff, so long as he did not spend it before the first Election Day. McCracken had collected about $41,000 from non-City of Austin residents.


It appears Mccracken did not to return any of the money he collected for the run-off. McCracken could not be reached for comment.


For his part, McCracken showed strong fund-raising up through and beyond the election date, reporting just over $12,500 in donations for the final reporting period and campaign expenses of over $61,000. The campaign’s final report did not show any outstanding loans. McCracken spent $29,000 on TV advertising and production during the final reporting period, with his second largest expenditure going to I and O Communications.


Strayhorn, who placed third in the general election, also had a healthy fund-raising period. Her final report showed over $47,000 in contributions and nearly $61,000 in expenses. Strayhorn was her campaign’s largest single donor. She personally contributed $35,000 to her own election bid, and the donation is not classified as a loan on her paperwork. Her campaign finance report also includes a note to the City Clerk’s Office explaining why she gave more than $25,000 to her own campaign but failed to report that donation in a timely fashion. The memo describes it as an “unintentional error” and also complains about vagueness in the City Code covering those large personal contributions.


Despite her relatively poor showing at the polls, Strayhorn did show a wide range of contributions, ranging from $25 from individuals to the maximum of $700 from couples. There were numerous $25 and $50 donors, but also large contributions from Houston attorney Lance Lubel and Austin musician Jimmy Vaughn. Lubel normally gives money to Democratic candidates, but had supported Strayhorn during her unsuccessful campaign for Texas Governor. Vaughn played a benefit concert for the Austin Toll Party in 2005, and that group was also supportive of Strayhorn.


Strayhorn paid more than $40,000 to San Francisco-based Dresner Wickers Associates for “coordination of campaign services”, which likely included TV advertising. She also listed payments to her top three campaign staffers Emily Garrigan, Mark Sanders, and Christina Worrell of between $4,500 and $5,000 each for their salaries during the month of April.

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