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Council to consider campaign ordinance changes

Thursday, April 26, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Council members Laura Morrison, Kathie Tovo, and Mike Martinez will offer a series of ordinances at today’s Council meeting that, if passed, would implement a host of changes suggested by the 2012 City of Austin Charter Revision Committee. The new rules would address a wide spectrum of issues, including a new cap on the amount of fundraising allowed for campaign bundlers who are also lobbyists and the firms that employ them.

 

The action will apparently come without a formal public hearing. City legal staff have indicated that no such hearing is needed in this case, despite the contentiousness of recent charter revision history, because it is not required for this type of ordinance change. Observers further point out that the concepts involved, which were each pulled from rules suggested by the Charter Revision Committee, got a hearing when that body conducted its deliberations.

 

Other proposed changes would allow the city’s Ethics Review Commission jurisdiction over campaign finance violations, mandate reports for any contributions over $2,500 received within 9 days of a vote, the creation of a database that would hold all campaign finance reports, and a provision that would “enhance reporting” of independent campaign expenditures.

 

Council members could have acted to make the changes part of the coming November charter election. Morrison didn’t want to wait. “Right now, the law restricts a lobbyist to a $25 contribution, but they can turn around and hand a candidate thousands of dollars of bundled money,” she told In Fact Daily via email. “The Charter Review Committee recommended we change that, it’s within council’s authority to do so, and we should do that sooner than later. If it fails at council, I’ll sponsor a resolution to put it on the November ballot.”

 

The resolution from Morrison, Tovo, and Martinez would restrict bundlers (independent fundraisers who solicit donations on behalf of a campaign) who are also lobbyists to a total of no more than $1,750 per individual for each candidate. Firms which employ lobbyists are further restricted to a grand total of no more than $3,500 of bundling per firm for each election candidate during an election period.

 

In addition to those restrictions, the ordinance also establishes tougher reporting standards for all bundlers. The Charter Revision Committee approved similar changes to allowable bundling by a 12-1 vote in January.

 

Council members convened the Charter Revision Committee to look at a wide swath of questions. At the outset, these featured a potential move of the city’s election date from May to November as well as the division of Austin into several geographically-based Council member districts (See In Fact Daily, August 4, 2011). The committee issued a split verdict that a great deal of teeth-gnashing in March (See In Fact Daily, March 9, 2012).

 

The action to bring forward this set of election ordinance changes marks another move by what is shaping up to be a three-member voting bloc formed by Morrison, Tovo, and Martinez. The trio has also made a series of collaborative moves with regard to Austin Energy’s proposed rate increase although it is not yet clear how they will vote when final decisions are made, presumably in late May.

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