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Mayoral campaign bickering reveals Shea F1 connection

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 by Michael Kanin

With early voting about to close and Election Day less than a week away, two of the three City of Austin Mayoral candidates traded pointed accusations on Monday. Brigid Shea hit first, suggesting that incumbent Lee Leffingwell tried to hide an election fundraising bundling effort by proponents of the coming Formula 1 race.


Then Leffingwell’s campaign struck back with allegations that Shea solicited work from race organizers. The mayor’s campaign staff denied Shea’s bundling accusation and Shea denied Leffingwell’s allegation concerning her attempts to work for F1.


The barrage hid the fact that rumors about Shea’s attempted association with Formula 1 had been circulating for some time. Though In Fact Daily obtained a copy of a memo that included a list of ideas about sustainability from Shea to racetrack president Steve Sexton before Monday’s brouhaha, unconfirmed whispers about Shea and the race extend back to last summer. Verification of Shea’s pitch to the track was possible only after the Monday barrage.


The racetrack, called Circuit of the Americas, will host the United States Grand Prix this November. In a contentious debate, the City of Austin agreed to sign off on sponsorship of the race, though it offered no city money as an incentive. As part of the deal, Council Member Chris Riley sought to cement certain environmental goals for track and race organizers.


Shea has been critical of Leffingwell’s vote to sponsor the race both in person and in recent advertisements for her campaign.


In the July 13, 2011 memo called “Recommendations for (Circuit of the Americas) to be Legitimately Sustainable,” Shea attempts to outline a strategy for race organizers that would navigate the notoriously choppy waters of environmental activism. In it, Shea questions efforts by Riley to make the project a more environmentally friendly effort.


The fact that Riley’s contract grew out of negotiations with powerful and sophisticated environmental groups like Public Citizen…and that Public Citizen in the end opposed the deal as too weak, means (Circuit of the Americas) will have to take meaningful steps to avoid the stain of being labeled as ‘green washing,’” she wrote. Given what is already happening in the racing world, we are starting behind the curve.”


Shea herself is a veteran of Austin’s environmental movement. A co-founder of the Save Our Springs Alliance, Shea was eventually elected to an Austin City Council seat, where she engaged in well-remembered battles with the development community. Her involvement with the Formula 1 race peaked last summer, when she became associated with a green consulting bid that featured Sierra Club Senior Regional Organizing Manager Ian Davis.


Davis confirmed that he met with racetrack officials last summer to discuss joining their environmental sustainability team and that Shea also expressed interest in becoming a paid consultant for the track. Davis added that Shea drafted her own consulting memo outlining her green proposals.


This is the memo that found its way to the media on Monday afternoon. Davis, who was not the original source of the memo leak, was reluctant to speak about the issue. Indeed, when first contacted by In Fact Daily, Davis declined comment. He agreed to talk with us only after Shea’s afternoon press conference. Davis noted that he has taken leave from the Sierra Club. That action would leave him free to speak as a citizen, and not as a representative of the organization.


Brigid made this the centerpiece of her campaign, and I couldn’t sleep at night knowing the truth wasn’t being told,” he told In Fact Daily via email.


Shea points out that Davis is married to Leffingwell policy director Amy Everhart.


Though Shea admits that she wrote the memo, she adds that it wasn’t written to solicit work. “(Davis) was applying for the F1 green job. He assembled a group of environmentalists to ask our advice,” Shea told In Fact Daily.


However, Sexton told In Fact Daily that, in addition to the memo, he received a proposal from Shea “for her services with Circuit of the Americas for compensation.” Sexton said that he did not feel comfortable sharing the proposal with In Fact Daily, nor could he recall the exact amount of money Shea asked for.


Armbrust and Brown attorney Richard Suttle, who represents F1 at the city, also confirmed Monday that Shea “wanted to consult. She was interested in consulting on the sustainability piece for the track.” Suttle said Shea was going to put together a proposal and that he recalled her commenting “that it may take some money to put together a proposal.” He said the organization was not ready to move forward at that time.


Shea denies having made a consulting proposal to the track. Shea points to an email she says she sent to former Lone Star Sierra Club Chapter Director Ken Kramer and Austin Sierra Club vice chair Roy Waley in June 2011 that details Davis’ F1 efforts. It contained a string of emails from Davis, who was still trying to solicit supporters from the environmental community for the Riley greening effort.


“I…have very mixed feelings about F1 coming here, but if it is, I want it to be the greenest F1 on the planet,” she wrote. “But I do not want to be used in the process…I have no indication that they are serious about really greening it.” The Austin Sierra Club has endorsed Shea. 


The track eventually decided to hire in-house environmental staff in the person of LEED certified architect Edgar Farrera in January.


Shea’s allegations – which now represent something of a precipitating event — centered around more than $5,000 of donations that Leffingwell received from various parties with interest in the race track project. In a release, her campaign scolded Leffingwell. “City Council campaign finance reports filed just one week before the May 12 Election show that…Leffingwell took thousands of dollars from Formula One developers without disclosing who ‘bundled’ them as required by law.”


Leffingwell campaign manager J.D. Gins told In Fact Daily that Leffingwell had a “coffee with the Mayor” event at a downtown restaurant on May 2. Gins thinks most of the money may have come from that activity.


In the release, the Leffingwell campaign quotes noted election law attorney (and Leffingwell counsel) Jim Cousar. “The City Code addresses ‘bundling by intermediaries’ who ‘obtain’ contributions on behalf of a candidate,” it reads. “As I understand the facts in this situation, there was neither ‘an intermediary’ nor anyone ‘obtaining’ the checks that contributors gave to candidate Leffingwell. The checks were given directly to the candidate. That is not ‘bundling’ under the City Code and does not trigger the requirement that the campaign file a ‘Schedule V’ with the regular contribution and expenditure report.”

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