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Activist questions DAA’s political donations

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 by Jo Clifton

At last week’s City Council meeting, activist Brian Rodgers complained about the Downtown Austin Alliance, which is supported by tax money through a special downtown property assessment. Rodgers said the DAA gave $440,000 to the political action committee supporting the recent failed bond election for urban rail. Rodgers said the job of the alliance is to promote downtown, not to spend public money for political purposes. He said such an expenditure “should be illegal, even if it is not.” Rodgers noted that he has requested information from the DAA about how it spends its money, and that request has been forwarded to the attorney general’s office for a ruling on whether the information should be public. Charlie Betts, executive director of the DAA, said he believes it is perfectly legal and appropriate for the alliance to spend money to help pass bonds. He noted that the DAA has helped fund campaigns to pass not only city bonds, but also school district bonds and the campaign to create the medical school. “We think it’s in the best interest of downtown,” Betts said. He noted that the group does not contribute to political candidates. “We thought for the past 15 years a good multimodal transportation system is what the community absolutely wants to have, and we thought that bond issue was a hugely important initial step and that the roadway improvements were as important as the beginnings of the first phase of urban rail,” Betts said. He added, “But now it’s time to look for the right Plan B.” It seems unlikely that Rodgers will be satisfied with that answer. City Attorney Karen Kennard opined that it was not the job of the city to make a decision about whether the DAA is spending its money appropriately. She said it is up to the State of Texas, specifically the Texas Ethics Commission, should anyone complain to that agency.


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