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Shade stays in the race, files ethics complaint against Tovo

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 by Jo Clifton

Council Member Randi Shade has filed an ethics complaint against her Place 3 challenger Kathie Tovo, alleging that Tovo violated the city’s Fair Campaign Ordinance. The city’s Ethics Review Commission has called a special meeting for Friday afternoon to consider the complaint.


Shade also issued a statement Tuesday that she has decided to run in the June 18 runoff election against Tovo. On Saturday, voters gave Tovo more that 46 percent of the votes, compared to Shade’s nearly 33 percent.


Mark Yznaga, Tovo’s campaign manager, told In Fact Daily Tuesday that they had been informed about the Shade campaign’s complaint. “I just think it’s kind of an act of desperation by a losing candidate who is just trying to divert attention from her ethical lapses….the timing of the complaint says it all,” Yznaga said.


Shade filed the complaint last Friday, the day before the election.


In her complaint, Shade says the Tovo campaign violated the city’s Fair Campaign Ordinance when it distributed an email from Tom Cooke with the subject line “Friends of Lady Bird Lake,” endorsing Tovo. (See In Fact Daily, May 10, 2011). The email did not include a disclaimer from the campaign or any reference to the Fair Campaign Ordinance. She says the Tovo campaign “purposely omitted” the disclosure “in order to disguise the true source of the communication.”


Yznaga said the campaign did not intend to omit the disclosure, but that may prove to be irrelevant since the rules of the Texas Ethics Commission state explicitly that political advertising does not include email communications. State law trumps city ordinances when the two are in conflict.


Shade also alleges that the Tovo’s acceptance of the email list from Cooke, former president of the non-profit Save Town Lake was unlawful because the list is worth more than any individual is allowed to give—$350. Further, Shade says that violation is a breach of the contract between Tovo and the city.


But Shade is not a party to the contract, so she may lack standing to ask for such a determination.   


When the commission meets, its first job will be to decide whether they have jurisdiction. They could decide they do not and that will be the end of that.


If they decide they do have jurisdiction, they could have an interesting discussion about what may or may not constitute a violation of the city charter and city ordinances. If they decide Tovo has violated some law, they will have to decide what they are authorized to do about that. That too would be an interesting discussion.


Shade’s camp is clearly seeking to keep Tovo from collecting the $64,000 she would receive from the city as her reward for signing the Fair Campaign pledge. Tovo was not obligated to stick with expenditure limits set forth in that pledge because other candidates in the race, including Shade, did not sign it.


Shade’s campaign has previously accused Tovo of taking advantage of loopholes in the law by waiting until the last minute to sign up as a candidate—so at the time she signed the pledge she knew she would not have to stick to many of its provisions. Tovo has replied that she followed the letter of the law.


In her statement on Tuesday, Shade sent an email to supporters saying that after Saturday’s results, many of them had expressed both support and concern that she might not stay in the race.


“Despite the view of some political pundits, I am confident that we can compete effectively and win the run-off election,” Shade said.  “The turnout on May 14th was just 7 percent — the lowest turnout in decades. The final margin between myself and my opponent on Election Day was just over 4,000 votes — less than 1/2 of 1 percent of Austin’s population. That margin is too small, and the differences between myself and my opponent are too big, for me and my supporters to quit this race.”


Shade said the comments about cost of the runoff election did not concern her. “I believe that my opponent’s positions on the issues would put millions of public dollars at risk.  I cannot in good conscience quit this race when the stakes, and the potential costs, are so high,” she said.


Shade said she plans to say more at a news conference on Thursday.

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