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Confusion with city campaign finance laws

Friday, July 21, 2017 by Jo Clifton

When the Austin Monitor asked David Foster, treasurer of the Texas Vote Environment political action committee, why he did not file a campaign finance report with the Office of the City Clerk for the first six months of 2017 like other PACs did, he responded that it was not necessary because he filed a report with the Texas Ethics Commission. He explained that, unlike PACs that are set up for special purposes like those working for local City Council candidates or specific bond elections, the law did not require a general PAC to file with the city clerk except when it had local contributions and expenditures. That was on Wednesday, two days after reports were due to the city clerk. On Thursday, after checking with the clerk’s office, however, Foster reported the following via email: “The city is telling me I need to file a report, even though we did nothing in this reporting period on Austin elections.” However, he went on to cite § 2-2-23 B of city code, which states: “A general purpose committee that makes contributions or expenditures in connection with a City election must file with the city clerk a copy of each campaign finance report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. This requirement shall apply to all reporting periods in which the general purpose committee makes 50 percent or more of its expenditures in connection with a City election, or makes an expenditure of $2,500 or more in connection with a City election. The filing date for filing with the city clerk is the date established under the Texas Election Code for filing with the Texas Ethics Commission.” Foster said his group did not work on any Austin-related issues or elections between Jan. 1 and June 30, so the report will show zero contributions and expenditures. Even though it isn’t clear why he has to file the documents, Foster said he would do so. He added that he hoped the city would clear up the confusion when it works on the campaign finance regulations again.

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