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PAC spending plays role in City Council races

Thursday, October 9, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Although political action committees play a big role in the financing of campaigns nationwide and in Texas, they have not been very important recently in electing Austin’s mayor and City Council. While there is no evidence that that will change this year, some of the players who have an interest in the fate of their issues have decided to get in on the action.

The Homebuilders Association of Greater Austin has endorsed seven candidates for Council, avoiding the mayor’s race and two others in which it could not choose a candidate.

Harry Savio, HBA vice president for public policy, said the group has endorsed Ora Houston in District 1, Delia Garza in District 2, Katrina Daniel in District 4, Mike Rodriguez in District 5, Jay Wiley and Pete Phillips in District 6, Jimmy Paver in District 7, Becky Bray in District 8 and Robert Thomas in District 10. The group did not make an endorsement in either District 3 or District 9.

Savio said his organization has not been happy with some of the policies of the current Council and believes that they have led to less affordability, not more. As one example, he cited the visitability ordinance, which requires new housing to be accessible to people with disabilities.

According to Savio, that ordinance has cost considerably more than the $2,000 per home he had estimated before its passage. He said, “When you ask people, ‘Will you be able to afford to live here in 10 years?’ you’d be amazed at the number who say ‘I don’t know.'”

Savio said the Homebuilders PAC has sent out mail pieces in certain neighborhoods asking voters to think about affordability as they go to the polls. It intends to do more of that. In addition, the PAC will be contributing the maximum of $350 directly to each of its endorsed candidates. This particular PAC, which receives contributions from individuals as opposed to corporations, reported about $59,000 cash on hand.

The Austin Police Association political action committee reported spending about $26,000 in September. Its endorsed candidates include Ora Houston, Delia Garza, Katrina Daniel and Robert Thomas. The PAC reported a $10,000 payment to the Harkrider Group, LLC for consulting services related to these candidates. In addition, it reported spending a little more than $9,000 for endorsement mailers and postage for those candidates. The group reported that it had about $67,000 on hand at the end of September.

The police PAC also endorsed incumbent Kathie Tovo in District 9 and Melissa Zone in District 7. It spent about $6,800 on endorsement mailers and postage for those two candidates this week, according to the city clerk’s records.

Although police and firefighters have endorsed some of the same candidates, they have not seen eye to eye on others, including the race for mayor. The police PAC endorsed Steve Adler, while the Austin Firefighters PAC endorsed the firefighters’ former leader, Mike Martinez. Adler declined PAC contributions, but his campaign manager said they were so proud of the check from the APA PAC that they would have it framed.

In addition, while the police endorsed Tovo, the firefighters endorsed her opponent, Chris Riley.

The firefighters PAC reported this week spending more than $2,200 on signs to support Martinez. In addition, it reported independent expenditures of about $2,100 for door hangers in support of the candidacies of Martinez, Riley and Garza.

According to the monthly report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, the firefighters PAC collected about $6,000 last month and has more than $122,000 in the bank. It reported donating $350 each to José Valera, who is a candidate for District 3, and Jay Wiley, who is running in District 6.

The firefighters have a second political action committee, called the Austin Firefighters Public Safety Fund. That PAC reported collecting $15,354, with the same amount in the bank. This is the same PAC that Austin Firefighters President Bob Nicks said would raise and spend more than $200,000.

 

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