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Lawsuit challenging city decision on Fair Campaign money fails

Tuesday, November 22, 2022 by Nina Hernandez

A Travis County judge has denied a temporary restraining order request from two City Council candidates who claim they were wrongly disqualified from receiving public campaign funds.

District 3 candidate José Velásquez and District 5 candidate Ryan Alter filed the request in the 455th Civil District Court on Monday morning. The suit claimed they were unfairly barred from receiving funds from the city’s Fair Campaign Finance Fund, which is dispersed to runoff candidates who sign a campaign contract limiting spending.

Alter confirmed to the Austin Monitor that he would not appeal the ruling.

Alter and Velásquez each signed the contract in August when they formally applied for a spot on the ballot. Attorney Bill Aleshire, representing District 9 candidate Linda Guerrero, argued they missed the 30-day window because they had technically become candidates in the spring when they appointed campaign treasurers.

Austin City Code requires candidates to sign the campaign contract either 30 days after becoming a candidate as per the Texas Election Code, or the date the candidate files for a place on the ballot – whichever is earlier. Election code defines a candidate as someone who has filed a campaign treasurer appointment or an application for a place on the ballot.

Last week, the city’s Law Department agreed, ruling that Alter and Velásquez hadn’t signed the contract within 30 days of becoming a candidate and therefore only Guerrero and District 3 candidate Daniela Silva would qualify to split the more than $66,000 account.

Aleshire told the Monitor the court made the right decision. “There is no contract if you don’t sign it – until you sign it,” he said. “And if you miss the deadline, there is no contract possible because you missed the deadline. And that’s what the code says. You’ve got to sign it by the deadline or there is no contract and therefore you’re not entitled to the benefits.”

Alter and Velásquez argued that they relied on the city clerk’s initial interpretation of the deadline, which was 30 days after applying for a place on the ballot.

“I’m in this fight for the people of District 3,” Velásquez said in a statement. “Regardless of the outcome, I am going to continue working day and night for the next 22 days to earn the trust and support of voters across the district, so we can win this election and get to work for our community.”

In his statement, Alter called out opponent Stephanie Bazan, who did not sign the campaign pledge but was also represented by Aleshire in the matter.

“As the only candidate in the runoff who signed the Fair Campaign Contract, it’s a shame my opponent and the city are trying to prevent the change we’re ready to bring to City Hall by attempting to change the rules at the last minute,” Alter said.

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