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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Levy’s PAC for Chavez runs afoul of campaign finance rules
Thursday, April 26, 2012 by Michael Kanin
A Political Action Committee funded by outspoken former Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy has failed to file required campaign expenditure documents with the office of Austin City Clerk Shirley Gentry. The organization, a specific-purpose committee called Dominic Chavez for Austin City Council, paid between $10,000 and $15,000 for a series of large signs that promote Chavez’ campaign for the Place 5 City Council seat.
By failing to file the documents, the committee did not inform either the city or any of Chavez’ opponents – including Place 5 incumbent Bill Spelman – of the expenditure. City election code stipulates that independent committees such as Levy’s must file expenditure reports with the City Clerk and send copies to all of the candidates running for the seat affected within seven days if they exceed $1,000 in expenses. In the 10 days before an election, that window narrows to 48 hours.
According to a campaign treasurer declaration posted on the city clerk’s web site, Levy is the committee’s treasurer. Levy, who also serves on the city’s Public Safety Commission, told In Fact Daily that the group is really just him. Both Levy and his assistant, Pam Keller, contributed the legal maximum $350 directly to Chavez’ campaign.
Levy said that Keller is responsible for submitting the appropriate filings for the committee. Keller confirmed that fact. “Mike isn’t trying to go around the system,” she told In Fact Daily. “(It’s) my fault, it’s not his.”
Levy is no stranger to the world of political action committees. Last year, he served as treasurer and the only contributor for The Committee for Even Minimally Sane and Rational Government, which spent upwards of $17,000 on letters that were deeply critical of candidate Kathie Tovo before the runoff election in which she beat incumbent Randi Shade. Levy signed the letters personally.
There, Levy’s committee filed 8th day before the election and July 15 campaign finance reports. It also filed a dissolution report. Each of these documents was signed by Keller.
Still, Keller told In Fact Daily on Wednesday that she did not know about the requirements to file expenditure reports within seven days of the committee’s having spent in excess of $1,000. Keller added that she called the Texas Ethics Commission and the City Clerk‘s office, neither of whom could tell her about what she needed to file. Both of those institutions are barred from giving advice that would stretch into legal territory, such as campaign filing requirements.
According to Keller, Levy’s pro-Chavez PAC went over the $1,000 mark on April 4. That would have put the committee’s filing deadline on April 11.
Wednesday evening, Keller informed In Fact Daily via email that she had tried to file the documents before the City Clerk’s office closed for the day. Keller got there late. She added that she intends to file the documents Thursday morning.
Keller further noted that Levy’s committee spent $9,000 from April 4 through April 11.
Respected elections attorney Jim Cousar told In Fact Daily that “in general…if a committee has accepted contributions or made expenditures, then they should be filing (reports).”
Chavez is one of seven candidates running for the Place 5 seat. Though the sheer number of would-be office holders could complicate the race, Chavez may represent the toughest single challenge for Spelman.
Chavez said that he “knew nothing” about Levy’s signs. Levy confirmed that the committee was operating independently of Chavez’ campaign.
Spelman campaign manager Jim Wick told In Fact Daily that his organization had not yet received notice of the Chavez committee’s expenditures. As of Wednesday afternoon, the city also had no record of an expenditure filing.
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