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Pool proposes campaign finance rule changes

Tuesday, May 16, 2017 by Jo Clifton

City Council Member Leslie Pool will be bringing forward an amendment to the city’s campaign finance law in June. Pool’s proposal is an attempt to remedy the city’s First Amendment problem with part of the old law, which federal Judge Lee Yeakel ruled was unconstitutional last July.

Former Council Member Don Zimmerman sued the city last year, claiming that the local regulation that allowed campaign fundraising only during the 180 days before an election was unconstitutional.

Pool’s proposal would allow candidates, including incumbent Council members who are up for reelection, to begin raising contributions 365 days prior to an election.

Fred Lewis, an attorney who helped Pool write the new regulations, told the Austin Monitor, “I and others did research and I think that this will pass constitutional muster.”

If Council adopts the proposal, candidates who win in a general election will be able to continue to gather contributions to pay off their campaign debt and raise up to $20,000 for an officeholder account for up to 180 days after their election.

For candidates who win a runoff election, the special election campaign period ends after they pay off their campaign debt and fund their officeholder account up to $20,000, but no longer than 180 days after the election.

Losing candidates in either a general election or a runoff election may collect funds to pay off their campaign debt until the debt is paid off.

Pool said it was important to note that Council members whose next election is more than one year in the future would not be able to raise campaign funds until then. Council members Ellen Troxclair and Jimmy Flannigan have been raising money for several months.

If she decides to run, Troxclair will be up for reelection in November 2018, and Flannigan, who was just elected last November, will not be on the ballot again until November 2020.

Pool said Flannigan, along with Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Greg Casar and Ann Kitchen, had indicated that they would cosponsor the resolution.

Yeakel also struck down another city rule, which requires that candidates dissolve funds from a campaign no later than 90 days after the election. He ruled the city failed to prove that remaining funds create a “war chest” of interests, fueling corruption.

Pool also said that she has asked the Office of the City Clerk to recommend an additional change to the campaign finance regulations. That change would require candidates and Council members to file an additional report between December and July.

Pool said she wanted to thank City Clerk Jannette Goodall and Records and Information Management Officer Bob Guz for their work on the campaign finance portal on the city’s website. The portal offers an insight into campaign contributions not previously available.

Zimmerman has not given up in his quest to overturn the city’s regulations limiting each contributor to $350 per candidate per election and the aggregate limit on the amount a candidate may accept from outside Austin’s ZIP code area. After the judge ruled in the city’s favor on these regulations, Zimmerman appealed the ruling to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, where the case is still pending. The court has not yet announced whether they wish to hear oral arguments from the parties.

Photo by M.Fitzsimmons made available through a Creative Commons license.

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