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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2020 by Jo Clifton
Reports reveal party loyalties
Even though City Council elections are generally nonpartisan, Austin’s incumbent Council members, Alison Alter and Jimmy Flannigan, both Democrats, have made it clear that they, not their Republican opponents, represent the voice of the people. Their runoff opponents, Jennifer Virden in District 10 and Mackenzie Kelly in District 6, have spent their energy talking about public safety and generally avoiding the Republican label.
But campaign finance reports filed this week show that liberal and Democratic organizations have been contributing to Alter and Flannigan. At the same time, Republicans and political action committees opposing reductions in the Austin police force and repeal of the camping ban have supported Kelly and Virden.
Election day is Dec. 15. Campaigns were required to file reports on Monday, covering the time period between Oct. 25 and Dec. 5.
Flannigan reported raising nearly $112,000 and spending a little more than $109,000. He still had about $66,000 in his campaign fund on Dec. 5. Opponent Kelly reported collecting nearly $81,000 in contributions, spending more than $85,000 and retaining about $1,200 in the bank.
Alter reported raising $134,000 and spending more than $144,000. She still had nearly $116,000 in the bank, according to her campaign finance report. Her opponent, Virden, reported raising more than $149,000 and spending more than $168,000. Her report indicates that she still had nearly $43,000 left in her campaign account as of Dec. 5.
Kelly and Virden both agreed to abide by the voluntary contribution and expenditure limits set forth in city regulations. Flannigan and Alter did not agree to those limits. Once an opponent indicates that they will not be participating in that program, those who signed the Fair Campaign Contract are free to raise and spend money without worrying about the limits of the program. No candidate, however, is allowed to collect more than $400 from any individual donor, although the runoff is considered a separate election from the general election. So, many donors contributed $400 before Nov. 3 and have donated an additional $400 since then.
As a result of their agreement to participate, both Kelly and Virden received $26,443.45 from the city fund for that program without following the contract’s rules.
Alter and Flannigan each received contributions from Mayor Steve Adler and his wife, Diane Land. Both also received a contribution from Mark Yznaga, a political consultant who is married to Council Member Ann Kitchen.
Alter received contributions from Gerard Acuna, president of Tri-Recycling and Alter’s appointee to the Zero Waste Advisory Commission; Sam Kumar of JCI Residential; Lloyd Doggett for Congress, downtown developer Perry Lorenz and his wife, Sheridan Lorenz; Kirk Mitchell; Terry Mitchell; and Fred Lewis, attorney and outspoken opponent of the new Land Development Code. Alter also received contributions from Liberal Austin Democrats and Austinites for Equity, a political action committee run by longtime AFSCME leader Jack Kirfman.
Austinites for Equity also documented expenditures in support of Flannigan. In addition, Flannigan received contributions from the Austin/Travis County EMS Employee PAC, Asian American Democrats of Texas, Austin Environmental Democrats, and Liberal Austin Democrats. The Home Builders Association of Greater Austin corporate PAC reported spending $4,689.35 on a text message campaign supporting Flannigan. And Perry Lorenz and Sam and Hema Kumar also contributed to Flannigan.
The Austin Police Association PAC donated both to Virden and to Kelly, with Northwest Austin Republican Women supporting Virden, but not Kelly. Both conservative candidates received donations from John and Scarlett Lewis and from James and Betty Skaggs. Virden received contributions from numerous real estate professionals and from Supercuts franchisee Alan Sager.
The PAC called Had Enough Austin? also reported spending $136,987.87 between Nov. 17 and Dec. 7 to support Kelly and Virden, mostly for advertising.
Kelly and Virden both reported receiving notice that Fight for Austin PAC might be spending money to help them get elected. In addition, Virden received a notice from SafeTX Political Action Committee that it might be spending funds on her behalf. Retired executive Paul Bury is listed as the treasurer of that PAC.
Former Council Member Don Zimmerman, who lost his seat to Flannigan four years ago, is listed as a bundler on Kelly’s report. According to that report, Zimmerman raised $400 each from eight contributors. None of the other candidates reported having help from a bundler.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.