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Bundlers play big role in City Council campaign fundraising efforts

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 by Josh Rosenblatt

Campaign finance reports filed Tuesday by candidates and prospective candidates in the upcoming City Council elections reports show a considerable disparity between the campaign war chests of the four incumbents in the race and their actual and prospective challengers.

Much of that difference can be traced to the contributions obtained by so-called “bundlers,” several of whom show up as contributors in no fewer than three of the incumbents’ reports.

Bundlers, people who solicits or obtain contributions from others on behalf of a campaign, are generally well-placed attorneys or others with a keen interest in city government. Under city regulations, candidates must declare bundlers who have put together contributions of $200 per person from five or more individuals during the reporting period. Austin election law limits the amount any individual contributor can give to a campaign to $350.

The names of three influential political figures – developer Andy Pastor (Endeavor), real estate lawyer David Armbrust (Armbrust & Brown), and attorney Michael Whellan (Graves, Daugherty)—appear on the bundler lists of Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, and Council Member Mike Martinez. Armbrust is listed as the only bundler for the re-election campaign of Council Member Bill Spelman.

Leffingwell’s campaign lists nine bundlers in its report, Cole’s lists seven, and Martinez’s lists four.

At the top of the current campaign money heap stands Leffingwell, whose campaign took in $87,624 before Dec. 31, 2011. Subtract $7,912 in campaign expenditures of the same period, and Leffingwell’s candidacy currently has a balance of about $80,000.

“I’m excited and encouraged by the strong early support for our campaign,” said Leffingwell in a statement released by his campaign. “While we don’t yet have an opponent, we are campaigning as if we do.”

Leffingwell’s one rumored prospective opponent, former Council Member Brigid Shea, only took in $4,200 before Dec. 31, minus $1,000 used to pay for a poll. Shea filed preliminary paperwork with the city in December but is still in an exploratory phase and doesn’t expect to make a decision for at least another several weeks.

Leffingwell’s colleagues up for re-election took in tens of thousands of dollars themselves during the last two months of 2011. Cole’s campaign reported donations totaling $54,425, with $36,000 on hand. Martinez’s campaign took in $70,460 and had $64,654 after expenditures, and Spelman’s campaign pulled in $31,460. Spelman, who kicked off his campaign last night, had $25,521 as of Dec. 31.

By way of comparison, Laura Pressley, who has declared her candidacy to run against one of the three sitting Council members (though she has yet to announce which one) filed a finance report yesterday featuring much smaller figures. The campaign of the Fluoride Free Austin member and owner of the Pure Rain Purified Rain Water Company, reported $3,100 in total contributions. Minus a few hundred dollars in advertising and event costs, and her campaign is sitting on a little over $2,000.

According to their respective campaign reports, Pressley and Shea claim no bundlers.

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