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Tovo campaign complains about PAC spending

Thursday, November 8, 2018 by Jo Clifton

District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo’s re-election campaign filed an ethics complaint Monday against the Center for Austin’s Future Political Action Committee, a group supporting Danielle Skidmore, Tovo’s most significant opponent.

The complaint alleges that the committee, which calls itself CAFPAC, violated a section of city code requiring such committees to file their treasurer designation 60 days before spending money on an election, or limiting such expenses to $2,500. However, as the Austin Monitor reported last week, that section of city code, 2-2-23 (c), appears to be unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable.

Michael Gaudini, Tovo’s campaign manager, wrote in his complaint that “During the days immediately before and after 10/30/18, CAFPAC mailed a total of 4 print political pieces to District 9 households. Although CAFPAC has not reported this expenditure, it will exceed the $2500 limit.”

That statement raised questions about why the PAC had not reported the expenditures. Even though it filed two special reports called ATX-7 PAC filings on Oct. 31, there is no mention of advertising expenditures. In fact, the only expenditures mentioned are bank fees.

In trying to determine exactly what the PAC was doing, the Monitor discovered that it had failed to file a report 30 days before the election or eight days before the election. City code requires that such reports be filed.

Jeff Hahn, the PAC’s treasurer, could not be reached for comment.

Ward Tisdale, executive director of the Center for Austin’s Future, said he had filed a pre-election report of direct expenditures with the Texas Ethics Commission and that report shows the specific expenditures for advertising that the Tovo campaign is complaining about. Tisdale provided those reports to the Austin Monitor and said that the expenses noted are “unpaid incurred obligations.” Once those payments are made, he said, the PAC would file a report with the city.

Those reports show that the PAC spent more than $52,000 for “District 9 mailers” with Neumann Limited Partnership of Bellaire, Texas, and $15,000 for “Banner advertising” with a group called The American People LLC of Gainesville, Florida. Both expenses were incurred on Nov. 1, according to the report.

Fred Lewis, an attorney with considerable experience in this area, said he believes the PAC should have filed both the eight-day and the 30-day reports with the city.

Jeff Hahn is a donor to the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent company of the Austin Monitor.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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