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Money flows into quiet races for Council

Wednesday, October 7, 2020 by Jo Clifton

All Austin City Council candidates are required to file a campaign finance report 30 days before the election. Most of the candidates for the Nov. 3 election filed their reports Monday or a few days before. Despite the pandemic, there is still a need to advertise, and Covid-19 has made it harder for candidates to get their message out without money. Here is a rundown of the money raised and who is contributing for the Nov. 3 election.

District 2

David Chincanchan, Vanessa Fuentes, Casey Ramos and Alex Strenger are all hoping to win the District 2 race for the only Council seat in which there is no incumbent running.

Chincanchan, who has City Hall experience as the top aide to Council Member Pio Renteria, reported raising more than $31,000 on his latest report, which was filed Monday. According to his report, he had about 180 contributors and ended the month of September with more than $63,000 in the bank. Contributors included George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy; Jonathan Coon of Impossible Ventures; developer Nelson Crow; Joe Green, digital strategist at Run the World; David Gregorcyk at Journeyman Construction; Jack Kirfman of AFSCME; former state Rep. Glen Maxey; Cathy McHorse of Success by 6; and landscape architect Marissa McKinney.

Fuentes reported raising nearly $22,000 and she had nearly $35,000 in her campaign account. She reported receiving contributions from more than 250 donors, including a number of Texas state representatives. Her contributors included Austin Rep. Celia Israel, chair of the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee. She also received contributions from state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint; state Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso; Laura Donnelly, founder and CEO of Latinitas; Lois Kim, executive director of the Texas Book Festival; and Rebecca Acuña, Biden for Texas state director.

Casey Ramos, who ran unsuccessfully against Council Member Delia Garza, is trying once again. He reported raising $3,255 and spending about $700. As of the last day of the reporting period, Sept. 24, he had a little more than $2,500 in the bank. Ramos reported receiving donations from about 20 contributors, including neighborhood activist Linda Bailey and Jim Duncan of the Zoning and Platting Commission, as well as former Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy.

Alex Strenger originally intended to raise and spend less than $500 on the race. As a result, he would have filed different forms from the other candidates. However, he ended up raising about $570 during the most recent collection period. His campaign treasurer, Matthew Moscatelli, had simply written a Stripe transfer number in the area of the form that requires listing of the full name and address of each contributor, as well as the amount of the contribution.

Initially, Moscatelli told the Austin Monitor that the donations of $380 and $189 were “anonymous.” However, after a conversation with a reporter, Moscatelli found the names and said they would appear on the next form he files. According to the treasurer, Susan Spataro donated $189.90 and Francoise Luca donated about $380. Spataro was Travis County auditor for many years but was not reappointed in 2012.

Attorney Fred Lewis, who has considerable experience in the campaign finance arena, told the Monitor it was certainly not legal to allow anonymous contributions. He pointed out, however, that very small donations may be collected and aggregated.

Moscatelli told the Monitor Tuesday he had been informed by the Office of the City Clerk that he had filed the wrong form. He said he would be filing a different form with the correct information about the donors.

Clarification: In a conversation following the publication of this article, Moscatelli explained that he had managed multiple campaigns and political action committees in the past and had quickly corrected the initial filing mistake. (That form can be found here.) This article has been corrected to reflect that fact and to note that the discussion with a reporter did not specifically address the legality of the initial filing.

District 4

In District 4, Council Member Greg Casar remained the fundraising leader. Over the last 30 days, his campaign raised $30,444.08 from about 350 donors, maintaining $67,264.64 in the campaign coffers.

Among his donors this period are Texas Rep. Rafael Anchia; Planning Commissioner Greg Anderson; Hill Country Conservancy CEO George Cofer; the IBEW PAC Voluntary Fund; developer David Kahn; former City Attorney Karen Kennard; the Sheryl Cole Campaign; City Hall regular Dave Sullivan; the VOTE PAC; Public Safety Commissioner Rebecca Webber; infill homebuilder David Whitworth; and affordable housing builder Sarah Andre.

Louis Herrin III, who is reprising his challenge to Casar, reported $26,345.00 in political contributions, with $11,885.49 maintained as of the filing.

Herrin’s contributions this period came from about 154 individuals including Austin Organic Tan owner Lara Chorn, Quality Seafood owner Carol Huntsberger and Jim Skaggs.

Ramesses II Setepenre did not file a 30-day report. In a forum hosted by the Austin Monitor and KUT News, he explained that his campaign was self-funded.

District 7

There are only two candidates in the District 7 race, Council Member Leslie Pool and bilingual education adviser Morgan Witt. Both candidates garnered support from a number of well-known names around City Hall.

Pool reported raising more than $34,000 from about 120 contributors between July 1 and Sept. 24. Her report indicates that she had more than $55,000 left in the bank on the final day of the report. Contributors to Pool’s campaign include Anthony Precourt and Andy Loughnane, who are, respectively, the CEO and president of Austin FC. Pool did not always want a soccer stadium in her district, but she has come around. She also received contributions from her friend, Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea and Shea’s husband John Umphress, as well as consultant Robin Rather and a number of attorneys. She also received a $400 contribution from James Russell, executive director of the Trail of Lights Foundation.

Witt works for LexisNexis Risk Solutions. She reported loaning her campaign $2,500 in September. There were about 155 contributors to her campaign, which raised about $15,500 over the last reporting period. She has less than $15,000 in the bank.

Those who have contributed to Witt include Jeb Boyt, who ran against Pool in 2014, and Greg Anderson, who works for Habitat for Humanity and serves on the Planning Commission. Others supporting Witt include former Council members Randi Shade and Chris Riley.

District 6

District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan has considerable experience running for his seat on the Council. He narrowly lost to Don Zimmerman in 2014 and then defeated Zimmerman in 2016. Zimmerman has not forgotten; he is helping one of Flannigan’s opponents, Mackenzie Kelly, to raise money.

Flannigan is facing three female opponents in this race: Kelly, Jennifer Mushtaler and Deedra Harrison. Kelly and Mushtaler have had much more success fundraising than Harrison. However, Flannigan has raised more money – nearly $50,000 over the latest reporting period – and still has more than $53,000 in the bank.

Flannigan reports that he has about 250 contributors. Those include Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Williamson County Commissioner Terry Cook, Council Member Delia Garza, the Hill Country Conservancy’s George Cofer, Frank Fuentes and Alice Yi, as well as attorney Jeb Boyt and Jeremiah Bentley of Texas Mutual Insurance Company.

Kelly reported bringing in more than $30,000 from about 340 contributors during the last reporting period and she still had about $40,000 in the bank as of Sept. 24. Zimmerman helped Kelly by bringing in $400 from real estate investor John Lewis and $400 each from Scott Ingraham of Zuma, engineer Steve Lowry and Mayfield Dairy Queen owner Robert Mayfield. He also brought in smaller contributions from two other people and contributed $400 with his wife, Jennifer Zimmerman. Kelly also received a $400 contribution from Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and $100 from his wife, Charlyn Daugherty.

Mushtaler, a doctor, reported receiving contributions from about 120 people, including a number of well-known Austinites. Over the last reporting period, she raised about $32,000, spent nearly $18,000 and had about $9,000 in the bank on Sept. 24. Contributors to her campaign include Bill Bunch of the Save Our Springs Alliance and neighborhood activists Bryan King and David King, Joyce Basciano, Linda Bailey and Mary Ingle. She also received a contribution from architect William Burkhardt, restaurant owner Ronald Cheng and Jim Duncan, a planner who sits on the Zoning and Platting Commission.

Harrison reported that she had raised $1,400 during the reporting period, spent about $3,300 and still had about $1,400 in the bank. She loaned her campaign $200 and had four contributors.

District 10

In District 10, incumbent Alison Alter reported $36,480 in contributions for this fundraising period, maintaining an impressive $150,216.11. Alter’s funds raised during this period come from about 252 donors.

Those donors include the Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services Employee PAC, Vote PAC, the Lloyd Doggett for U. S. Congress Campaign, Farmshare Austin Executive Director Andrea Abel, Save Our Springs managing Director Pat Brodnax, Hill Country Conservancy CEO George Cofer, former Mayor Frank Cooksey, former Zoning and Platting Commissioner Betsy Greenberg, Asian American Cultural Center CEO Amy Mok, public relations consultant Paul Saldaña, former Council Member Randi Shade, United Way for Greater Austin CEO David Smith, a number of UT professors, and Mark Yznaga, who is married to Council Member Ann Kitchen.

However, challenger Robert Thomas raised more than twice Alter’s total during this fundraising period, reporting $79,706.00 from about 283 donors. Of that, Thomas has spent just over $7,100, leaving $72,401.78 on hand. Thomas also ran for City Council during the crowded 2014 election that Sheri Gallo ultimately won.

Thomas also had a number of donors employed by the University of Texas, including Nancy Brazzil, UT deputy to the president. Thomas also received donations from former Mayor Lee Cooke, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Frost Bank regional President Tim Crowley, homebuilder Wes Peoples, and attorneys from Winstead LLC, Locke Lord, Jackson Walker, General Land Office, Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, and Raptor Resources Inc. owner Russell Douglass.

Pooja Sethi, who was the earliest District 10 challenger to enter the race, reported raising $26,505 over the past 30 days, from about 249 individuals, maintaining $67,544 in cash on hand. Her donors include Girls Empowerment Network CEO Julia Cuba Lewis, Latinitas CEO Laura Donnelly, Texas Appleseed Director Chris Harris, former Planning Commissioner Conor Kenny, and a number of land use professionals.

Jennifer Virden raised $56,271 and loaned her campaign $50,000, for a total of $106,271.76. The campaign has spent $24,300.59, leaving $83,177.12 in cash on hand. Though these figures are slightly off in the filed report, Virden told the Austin Monitor she would be filing a corrected report with the correct totals.

Update: The amended report can be found here.

A look through Virden’s report shows a number of donors who are real estate professionals like Virden, including Chinatown Restaurant owner Ronald Cheng, Austin Aqua-Dome owner Gary Coffman, Ellis & Salazar owner John Nash, and Jim Skaggs.

Belinda Greene, who is also among the field of candidates running in opposition to Alter, reported contributions of $3,084.35 from 28 donors, with $1,206.92 cash left on hand.

Challenger Bennett “Ben” Easton filed his first campaign finance report with the city, reporting $330 in total political expenditures and no money raised.

Noel Tristan, who is also on the ballot in District 10, had not filed any finance reports as of Oct. 6.

This story has been changed since publication to clarify that Susan Spataro was not dismissed from her position as county auditor and to correct the limit on Alex Stegner’s form, which is $500, not $2500.

Commons Photo Credit: Source.

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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