About the Author
Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Morrison issues formal response to campaign report ethics complaints
Council Member Laura Morrison appears to be the first from that body to respond formally to ethics complaints leveled against all of the members recently. In a copy of a signed affidavit dated July 15 obtained by In Fact Daily, Morrison admits to two minor infractions of campaign finance law.
As for the rest of it, she offers a scathing rebuttal of each unproven complaint. In so doing, she repeatedly uses the word “frivolous” a clear shot at her accuser, Thomas Curry. In it’s handling of any allegations against an elected official, the Texas Ethics Commission could require Curry to prove why his complaint isn’t frivolous.
Sanctions for filing a complaint ruled to be frivolous could include a civil penalty of up to $10,000.
This all comes as other questions have surfaced about some of the Houston-area residents who filed the ethics allegations. Curry is part of a group of 10 people who participated in a plan to influence an election in a tiny road utility district in The Woodlands, near Houston. That effort, which included the individuals who filed complaints against Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Members Randi Shade and Bill Spelman, is reported to have kicked off a criminal investigation into potential election fraud on the part of those individuals.
Morrison’s response is uncompromising. She kicks off the document with a general dismissal of Curry’s complaints. “Prior to responding to certain allegations,” she writes, “I wish to bring to the attention of the Commission several systematic mistakes or misrepresentations by Mr. Curry, who either does not understand the relevant law, is knowingly filing frivolous inaccurate complaints in an effort to harass me and to mislead the Commission, or both.”
Morrison then goes count by count in her refutation. Among the highlights are her accusation that Curry was “engaging in some type of arithmetic exercise of his own design” in his effort to question the balance of the contributions made to her campaign fund.
James Cousar, an attorney who is a noted local expert in campaign finance law, notarized Morrison’s affidavit. He told In Fact Daily that Curry and the other complainants in the City Hall ethics case “pretty much tipped over the frivolous end” in much of what they had complained about.
In Morrison’s case, that seems to preclude only two counts. The first is a $500 reimbursement that went to current aide Barbara Rush for phone expenditures. In her affidavit, Morrison writes that this “probably should have been reported differently” and that “(a) correction affidavit is being filed to address this.”
She also admits that she missed the due date of a semiannual report by two days.
Curry and a handful of residents of Montgomery County filed ethics complaints against all seven Austin City Council members in response to their resolution to boycott the State of Arizona over its immigration policies. They’ve taken similar but unrelated action against office holders across Texas.
Legal troubles for some in the group began when they changed their voter registration to an address for a Residence Inn in The Woodlands so they could participate in an election for The Woodlands Road Utility District Number 1. Though they prevailed in ushering their candidates into office on Election Day, three incumbents who had been ousted thanks to their efforts sued to question the legitimacy of the vote.
In June, Senior District Judge P.K. Reiter sided with the incumbents and local media reported that “the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office (was) collecting information for an election fraud investigation.”
No one at that office returned multiple calls for comment.
Other officials have also issued strongly-worded denials. Leffingwell’s Chief of Staff Mark Nathan told In Fact Daily via email that “(t)he mayor takes any complaint filed with the Texas Ethics Commission seriously, and will respond to this complaint as required law.” However, he noted that “I’m not a lawyer but based on my initial review, most of the alleged violations are based on an inaccurate reading of the mayor’s reports, and all of them appear to be without merit.”
Nathan took particular issue with the mayor’s complainant declaring in his affidavit that Leffingwell converted political campaign funds to personal use. “That’s obviously untrue, and frankly I think it’s unethical for someone to state it as a fact in an affidavit. It’s hard to miss the irony of someone filing ethics charges based on a sworn statement of fact that’s actually complete fiction.”
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