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Complaints filed against District 1 candidates

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Complaints filed with the Texas Ethics Commission charge City Council District 1 candidates Natasha Harper-Madison and Vincent Harding with filing erroneous campaign finance reports in violation of the Texas Election Code.

Both campaigns denied any violations when contacted Monday, but the campaigns acknowledged receiving copies of the complaints. The commission is prohibited from releasing copies of complaints to the public, according to Angela Goodwin, director of enforcement.

Attorney Matt Tynan, a District 1 resident, filed a complaint against Harper-Madison on Friday and against Harding on Monday. With so many candidates in the race, it is difficult to determine who the ultimate winner will be, but Harding and Harper-Madison probably have a good shot at facing each other in a December runoff.

Tynan said he first heard allegations about money missing from Harper-Madison’s campaign finance reports and decided to look at her reports himself to see if there was a problem.

Tynan told the Austin Monitor via email, Harper-Madison’s “report submitted in July reports a balance of contribution funds maintained at the end of the reporting period $3,786.99 less than what should be held in campaign accounts. The candidate’s subsequent report fails to remedy this shortage – only reducing the missing amount to $2,682.99. There is no documentation as to the location (or use) of these missing funds.”

As reported to the ethics commission, Tynan wrote, “These errors are significant and represent violations of the Election Code Sections 254.031(a)(1)-(3) and 254.031(a)(8). The finance reports provide credible evidence of violation and a formal complaint was filed with the Ethics Commission on October 26.”

Harper-Madison’s campaign treasurer, Marcus Hobbs, a CPA, told the Austin Monitor that Tynan simply does not understand the state’s regulations for campaign finance reports, and that he and his candidate had reported the correct information.

Mykle Tomlinson, Harding’s campaign manager, said much the same thing.

Tynan said via email, “Harding has submitted documents for two (2) separate reporting periods. Both of these reports exhibit significant errors and apparent violations of the Election Code. Harding’s first report contains clerical errors in the calculation of contributions received. While those errors seem to have innocent explanations, much more serious misreporting arises from the candidate’s disclosure of contributions maintained at the end of the period.”

Tynan alleged in his complaint about Harding, “The candidate’s disclosure reflects an amount $13,907.90 less than the amount that should have been reported in Box 5. Harding’s next report is equally concerning. In the subsequent submission the campaign reverses their previous error in the category of contributions maintained and now over-reports the amount that should be on hand by $8,448.67. There is no attribution for the source of these political contributions.”

Tynan alleged that he had found serious errors in Harding’s reporting, leading him to file a formal complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission on Monday similar to the one he filed against Harper-Madison.

Susan Harry, a well-known Austin political fundraiser, handles Harding’s campaign finance reports. However, Monday was also a deadline for candidates to file their eight-day-out reports, not only for City Council but for every race in the state, so it was not surprising that she did not return our phone call.

Tomlinson said, “The complaint officially says our math doesn’t add up and they’re trying to say that we’re concealing money, which is absolutely not the case and they are misreading the instructions of the ethics commission.

“The ethics commission requires that you report the amount of cash that was in your bank at midnight at the end of the reporting cycle, but not money received online that has not yet made its way into the bank account, or money in checks that do not show up in the account.”

Tomlinson cited this ethics commission rule to show that he was correct and that Tynan was misinterpreting the regulations about what should be reported in the cash on hand category.

Goodwin said the commission’s attorneys have five business days after a complaint is filed to look at it and decide whether the commission will accept it. “If we do, we let both parties know … and then the respondent would have 10 business days to respond.” The respondent then has a chance to fix any problems with the report, unless they reject the idea that the report is erroneous. Ultimately, if the respondent decides to fight the complaint, the matter can end up with the commissioners. In that case, the matter might take six to nine months, she said.

Tynan also looked at campaign finance reports filed by Mariana Salazar and Lewis Conway, two other District 1 candidates. He said he found some errors in those too, but took into account the fact that each of them are serving as their own treasurer. The three remaining candidates in the race, Mitrah Avini, Misael Ramos and Reedy Spigner “have only been subject to reporting requirements for a single reporting period,” Tynan wrote. “This limited amount of data, derived from singular reports, would fail to provide the level of detail necessary to evaluate compliance or violation with the election code,” he concluded.

Photo by John Flynn.

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