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Anti-Shade effort looks to skirt campaign finance laws

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Activist John Bush has started an anonymous-contributor fundraising effort to finance political signs denigrating City Council Place 3 incumbent Randi Shade. Bush, who is executive director of Texans for Accountable Government, insists that, because members of the group behind the potential signs are acting as individuals they are not subject to Texas campaign finance laws that would require them to declare their involvement.  


“I think it’s just a bunch of Austin activists … not happy with Shade’s tenure on the City Council,” said Bush.


On Friday, The Austin Chronicle ran a picture of a poster mimicking Shade’s official campaign art, with a clown nose over her face and a party hat on top of her head. Underneath a large font “Randi,” it reads, “Austin City Clowncil.” In place of her campaign slogan – “Different. Just like Austin.” – the sign reads, “Clowning is just my day job.” 


Two versions of what looks to be a similarly derived poster appear in a Facebook note written by Bush. The first uses the same clown imagery and wording as the poster depicted in the Chronicle. It also replaces the “re-elect” in Shade’s sign with the term “un-elect” and changes the spot formerly occupied by “Randi” to “Shady.” The second changes the theme and colors, replacing the tag line with “Corrupt. Just like Washington.”


In the Facebook note, Bush forwards a document signed by Austin Gadfly – a term he claims that Shade has used in the past to describe him. (Shade says she has not used that term to describe Bush or any other specific person although she discussed such individuals with reporter Ken Martin.)Gadfly writes that he is looking to raise cash to print a run of the posters and tells would-be contributors to use an email that Bush has used in the past to raise funds.


It also emphasizes the group’s independence and anonymity. “(I)t is the intention of the organizers to keep contributors wholly anonymous (unless you request otherwise),” it reads. “This is an effort organized by Austin activists, not a PAC or (c)ampaign.”


“My understanding is that whenever you sign up to be a campaign or PAC, you bring yourself under a whole bunch of election laws,” Bush told In Fact Daily. Bush also said that, to his knowledge, no signs have been printed yet.


“I’m not a lawyer, and when it comes to the details, the activists that we surround ourselves with go with our guts,” he added.


Bush further suggested that any law that might find the actions of the group illegal would be a violation of the First Amendment. “Someone might see otherwise and that’s okay,” he said.


Bush criticizes Shade in part because of the city’s fourth water treatment plan and the Domain development. “I believe Randi Shade votes in line with the growth machine,” he said. Bush has also spoken out against the use of surveillance cameras downtown and against the planned use of body scanners at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The federal Transportation Security Administration has indicated that those devices will be used at ABIA.


Shade believes that part of Bush’s ire towards her is because of her strong support of the Austin Police Department. All three public safety unions have endorsed Shade, along with the other incumbents, Chris Riley and Laura Morrison.    


Texans for Accountable Government’s treasurer, Trey Reginelli, confirmed that the group had nothing to do with the signs. “We don’t have any official affiliation with that,” he said.

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