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Despite PAC reports, some campaign facts unclear

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 by Jo Clifton

The political action committee that funded an attack ad against consultant David Butts has filed a campaign finance report showing contributions from former Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy and Bryan Hardeman, owner of Continental Automotive Group. Levy and Hardeman contributed $4,800 and $5,000 respectively to the Coalition of Austin Neighborhoods, according to a report the group filed Jan. 15.

When asked about the ad when it ran Nov. 30, Levy seemed pleased with it, but then on Dec. 1 he told the Monitor, “I’m just telling you I can’t say anything.”

The PAC, which paid for a double-page ad in the American-Statesman urging voters to reject candidates whom Butts was working for or supporting, also collected $500 from Michael (or Micheal) Reynolds (this name may be misspelled in the report). The report does not include addresses for those making contributions, in apparent violation of city campaign finance regulations.

The group paid an Austin graphic design company, Hixo Inc., $10,300 for advertising expenses, according to the report. That money was presumably for design of the ad, because the PAC apparently did not have any other activities.

In an earlier filing, the PAC reported contributions totaling $20,500 from Ian Marcotte, the political consultant who served as the committee’s treasurer. That report showed an expenditure of $20,288.45 to the Statesman. The candidates attacked by the ad were winners Leslie Pool in District 7 and Greg Casar in District 4, and losers Ed Scruggs in District 8 and Mandy Dealey in District 10.

Those curious about expenditures and contributions from and to the South Forward independent expenditure PAC will have to wait a little longer. This is the South Carolina-based labor group that attacked Steve Adler as he was running for mayor, claiming that he was seeking office just to help his rich friends. On Oct. 21, South Forward’s treasurer, Marc Posner, notified the Texas Ethics Commission that the group had begun doing Independent expenditures in Texas and would be filing information on that with the Federal Election Commission.

The Federal Election Commission website includes information about South Forward PAC through Nov. 24, 2014, but the Monitor could not find specific information on Adler’s race against his runoff opponent, then-City Council Member Mike Martinez. The group did report total disbursements of $162,771 for Oct. 16 to Nov. 24, 2014.

Bob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, estimated that his political action committees spent between $250,000 and $300,000 on last year’s elections. The latest report shows that the Austin Firefighters Public Safety Fund spent $47,186 between Nov. 26 and Dec. 25, in addition to what it spent during the rest of 2014.

The firefighters were hoping to elect a City Council that would be more sympathetic to their concerns about hiring practices than the last Council. Notably, they supported former firefighter Martinez and Council Member Chris Riley, the only members of the Council to vote to reject a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department related to alleged discrimination in hiring practices.

They also supported new Council Members Ora Houston, Delia Garza, Greg Casar, Ann Kitchen, Leslie Pool, Ellen Troxclair and eventually Pio Renteria. Nicks said the firefighters quietly supported District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman as well, but thought it would not help him to have the firefighters’ public endorsement.

The Justice Department settlement may not be a settled issue, because the new Council is scheduled to have an executive session briefing on the matter Thursday. It is unclear, however, why this briefing is not in public, considering the city has already settled the case.

Austinites for Equity, the political action committee of the local AFSCME government employees union, did not file a Jan. 15 report. The group’s treasurer, Jack Kirfman, said he did not file a report last week because the PAC did not spend any money after the Dec. 16 runoff election, and it had reported all the money it had raised and spent. However, Kirfman said he would check if the group needed to file such a report and would do so if necessary.

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