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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2020 by Jo Clifton
Commission reprimands PAC that opposed Prop A
The city’s Ethics Review Commission voted unanimously last week to send a letter of reprimand to one of the political action committees that opposed Proposition A on the Nov. 3 ballot. Local Democratic consultant Mark Littlefield filed 12 separate complaints against Our Mobility Our Future PAC, alleging violations of the city’s campaign finance ordinance. Jo Baylor was named in the complaints in her capacity as treasurer of the committee.
The PAC was put together by people opposed to raising tax money in order to fund Project Connect, including the planned Capital Metro train. Littlefield named consultant Tori Moreland and Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty as individuals who may have been involved in the conduct in his complaint. Moreland’s name appears numerous times throughout contribution and expenditure reports showing payments to her as a consultant. However, it is impossible to determine from the filings whether she or Daugherty were involved with campaign finance reporting.
Roger Borgelt, attorney for the committee, told commissioners that Our Mobility Our Future was not contesting Littlefield’s allegations. “We had a misunderstanding of the applicability of these provisions,” he said. “The person who was doing all of this work had more experience with candidate campaign issues” than with issue campaigns, he said. The PAC raised and spent an estimated $600,000 through mid-October.
Borgelt admitted that the committee had committed multiple violations of the law, but said, “There was nothing intentional here. It was a misunderstanding of the provisions” of the law related to political action committees. Littlefield pointed out that Moreland had previous experience with issue campaigns, including the committee that attempted to gather enough signatures to recall Council Member Ann Kitchen in 2016.
Among the complaints Littlefield filed against the PAC was one related to an automated phone call to voters, which he said failed to identify who was paying for the call. In addition, Littlefield complained that Our Mobility Our Future paid both the Austin American-Statesman and Community Impact for advertising in September but failed to report those expenditures. In addition, the PAC failed to report money it paid to advertising professionals and to a polling company.
Borgelt told the commission after Littlefield filed his complaints and they had studied the matter, the PAC did file the necessary paperwork with the Austin city clerk’s office. He said there was no point in holding a hearing on the matter, because his client was admitting their errors. He asked that they simply move forward with whatever they wanted to do about the violations. Littlefield said that was fine with him.
Borgelt asked for the lowest penalty, but Littlefield said, “This was not an amateur effort. They raised nearly $600,000.”
The commission voted for a reprimand, which does not require action by the person receiving it, but the commission’s powers are extremely limited.
Littlefield and Borgelt will be back again at one of the commission’s December meetings because Littlefield has filed a complaint against the nonprofit Voices of Austin, alleging that the group violated the city’s campaign finance law and failed to make appropriate disclosures. Voices of Austin received at least one $5,000 contribution from Our Mobility Our Future.
Editor’s Note: Tori Moreland is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, which is the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.
Photo by M.Fitzsimmons, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
City of Austin Ethics Review Commission: The Ethics Review Commission is charged with review of, among other issues, ethics complaints leveled against City of Austin boards and commission members. They meet quarterly.
Political Action Committees: An organization that raises money privately to influence elections and/or legislation.
Project Connect: This project brought together a series of Central Texas transportation agencies looking to build high-capacity transit options in the region in the wake of CAMPO's 2035 regional transportation plan. The City of Austin's much-discussed 2014 Urban Rail plan was part of Project Connect's efforts.