Campaign finance report indicates campaign funds given day after runoff election to nonprofit she heads
Investigative Report by Ken Martin
Susana Almanza lost the District 3 City Council runoff election December 16 to her brother, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, and the next day she donated $10,000 of her campaign funds to the nonprofit she heads as director and board member.
Almanza reported the $10,000 donation to PODER on page 14 of her Campaign Finance Report filed January 15, 2015, listing PODER’s address as 4926-A E. Cesar Chavez.
Asked if she sought legal advice before donating the $10,000 to PODER, Almanza told The Austin Bulldog, “No, I was told that you could donate to any nonprofit.”
Almanza is one of three runoff candidates who each received checks for $27,988.58 from the Austin Fair Campaign Finance Fund. The Austin Bulldog’s investigative report published December 1 indicated that neither Almanza nor her District 3 opponent Renteria were entitled to the funds because they signed the Austin Fair Campaign Contract too late.
The Austin City Charter, Article III, Section 8(F)(3) requires that a candidate no later than 90 days after an election “shall distribute the balance of funds received from political contributions in excess of any remaining expenses for the election: (a) to the candidate’s or officeholder’s contributors on a reasonable basis, (b) to a charitable organization, or (c) to the Austin Fair Campaign Fund.
But, while leftover campaign funds may be donated to a charitable organization, state law prohibits conversion of political contributions to the personal use of the candidate.
As director and board member of PODER, Almanza might exercise some control over how the $10,000 she donated to the organization with campaign funds will be spent.
Almanza told The Austin Bulldog that PODER’s board of directors will decide how the $10,000 will be used when it meets in about a week and she will recommend the money be used to pay students who participate in PODER’s Young Scholars for Justice program, a summer program founded in 1995.
Almanza still maintains $3,455.78 in political contributions on hand and said she would decide later how those funds will be used.
Fair Campaign Funds key source
A review of Almanza’s Campaign Finance Reports indicates that the Fair Campaign Funds check she received made up nearly half the total of $57,660 she had for the November 4 campaign and December 16 runoff.
The Austin Fair Campaign Contract that Almanza signed and filed May 29, 2014, sets forth a candidate’s obligations under the contract. But the contract does address the issue of what may be done with unused funds—nor does the contract require that proceeds received from the Austin Fair Campaign Fund be used only for the candidate’s campaign.
Texas Election Code Section 251.001(3) defines a “campaign contribution” as “a contribution to a candidate or political committee that is offered or given with the intent that it be used in connection with a campaign for elective office or on a measure.”
While contributing campaign funds to a nonprofit is authorized, Texas Election Code Section 253.035 prohibits the conversion of political contributions to the personal use of the candidate of officeholder. The Code defines “personal use” as “a use that primarily furthers individual or family purposes not connected with the performance of duties or activities as a candidate for or holder of a public office”.
Briefed by The Austin Bulldog on Almanza’s contribution to a nonprofit she heads, Ian Steusloff, assistant general counsel for the Texas Ethics Commission, pointed to Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 149, issued June 24, 1993.
Opinion 149 ruled that political contributions left over from a campaign may be donated to a tax-exempt nonprofit organization that employed the officeholder and has a family member served by the organization. But a key part of the opinion noted that the amount in question was “a few hundred dollars” and, “Furthermore, the officeholder is not employed in an executive position in the organization and would not otherwise have any direct or indirect control over the disposition of the funds.”
PODER compensates only Almanza
PODER is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit registered with the IRS in Spanish as Pueblo Organizado en Defensa de la Tierra y sus Recurso but on its website uses the English translation People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources.
Annual returns PODER filed with the IRS as far back as 2001 and signed by Almanza as director shows that others have chaired the organization but Almanza is the only director or key employee directly compensated. Analysis of 11 returns for the years 2001 through 2013 (the years 2004 and 2007 could not be located) indicate Almanza’s compensation varied from year to year. The most she was paid was $40,500 in 2008, the least was zero in 2012.
In 2013 Almanza was paid $30,000 by PODER, which is 42 percent of the organization’s total income of $70,499, according to the return filed with the IRS.
At its peak funding, PODER had annual revenue of as much as $250,000, but since 2010 has subsisted on $41,000 to $70,000, due, Almanza said, to the loss of grants from foundations that cut back when the economy slowed down.
The returns indicate that most of the organization’s funding is used to conduct various workshops.
She said she and volunteers conduct these workshops and hold forums in the community and she is the only staff member. She is responsible for coordinating the work of volunteers and interns. She said PODER gets student volunteers from most of the local colleges and universities. “We depend a lot on students.”
Related Bulldog coverage:
PODER’s Salary, Revenue & Assets 2001-2013 (Excel spreadsheet)