Independent Expenditures

Part 2: The $6.3 Million Election

 Part 2: The $6.3 Million Election

Winners took office carrying almost $600,000 in debt,
while 34 defeated must raise or lose nearly $500,000

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2015
Part 2 in a Series
Posted Monday April 6, 2015 9:39am
Updated Tuesday April 7, 2015 8:56am

“Many people are in the dark when it comes to money,
and I’m going to turn on the lights. — Suze Orman

Who could have imagined that the scramble for 11 spanking new political posts to oversee a new form of governance for the City of Austin would unleash a torrent of political spending, the likes of which Austin had never seen?

Or—perhaps even more startling—that 43 of the competing candidates collectively would pour $1.3 million of their own money into the quest?

These staggering totals captured The Austin Bulldog’s attention and prompted an extensive examination. This entailed reviewing campaign finance reports filed by all 78 candidates, covering all five reporting cycles, from July 2014 through January 2015. Our examination also sorted out the full particulars for the $1.3 million that the candidates loaned to their campaigns or spent outright in hopes of reimbursement.

For you who wonder who spent how much to win or lose a place on the council dais, this one’s for you. You’re invited to follow me, the guy with the flashlight, as we jump down the rabbit hole of campaign finance as it was utilized in the one-off election of 2014.

Steve AdlerYou already know Steve Adler won election in 2014 and buried chief opponent Mike Martinez with a landslide mayoral runoff margin of 67-33 percent. Adler also set all-time records by spending more than $1.5 million on his campaign, of which more than $387,000 came out of his own deep, deep pockets.

In round figures the 78 candidates, including Adler, spent $5.6 million campaigning. Political action committees (PACs) dished out $726,000 in direct expenditures to bring total spending to an astronomical, for Austin, $6.3 million. (PAC spending was detailed in Part 1 of this series published March 27.)

While money is an important tool for an otherwise viable candidate who spends it effectively, the best funded candidates did not win all the council districts. Did they misspend? Did they flub it on the campaign trail? Only the voters know for sure. But, money be damned, the fact is, four of the 10 winning district candidates were outspent by their opponents—some only by little, some by huge amounts.

These results seem to bear out an essential truth about political contests: you don’t absolutely need more money than your opponent, but you do need enough to run a viable campaign.

For those who like to swim through deeply detailed spreadsheets, take a deep breath and dive into the Campaign Finance Analiysis for 2014 Election of Mayor and Council Candidates. This compilation lays out the contributions, expenditures, loans, and cash on hand for each of the 78 candidates, through all five reporting cycles, and provides totals for each race. And for good measure the analysis delves into the loans, loans recouped, and PAC spending.

If you’re not doing the deep dive that’s fine. Just hang on, read the rest, and check out the handy charts that capture important highlights.

Campaign savvy beats cash, sometimes

10-1 Elections Cost $6.3 Million

 10-1 Elections Cost $6.3 Million

Political action committees laid out $726,000
for independent expenditures to influence voters

by Ken Martin
© 2015 The Austin Bulldog
Part 1 in a Series
Posted Friday March 27, 2015 1:59pm

“Money doesn't talk, it swears.” — Bob Dylan

The chief poet of rock ’n’ roll might have been talking about the use of money in politics when at age 24 he sang these words in one of the songs on his 1965 album, ”Bringing It All Back Home”

Twenty-three local political action committees (PACs) certainly believed, or at least hoped, that spending $726,210 would influence Austin voters to elect—or not elect—certain candidates for mayor and City Council.

When the money spent by these independent PACs is combined with funds spent by the candidates themselves it all adds up to an eye-popping grand total of $6,298,059.

Independent expenditures in Texas law are known as “direct campaign expenditures” made without the prior consent or approval of the candidate who benefited. They are not counted as contributions to the candidate.

The Austin Bulldog reviewed the direct expenditures in every report the 23 PACs filed and recorded them in a spreadsheet. The direct expenditures funded by PACs paid for a wide variety of goods and services including consultants, advertisements, printed mail pieces and the postage to send them, for door hangers, campaign signs, canvassers, phone banks, and block walkers.

The big picture

Postcard Wars Down to the Wire

In the waning days of the mayoral runoff campaigns to decide who will lead the first 10-1 Austin City Council with nine brand-new members, the main benefactor may be the printers and the U.S. Postal Service.

Firefighters Back Martinez With $170,000

Bob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, raised eyebrows in late October when he said that his political action committees had a $200,000 campaign budget for the mayor and council elections.

New PAC’s Postcard Slams Martinez

 New PAC’s Postcard Slams Martinez

Progress for Austin hits Martinez for
Open Meetings Act violations, legal fees

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog
Posted Thursday December 4, 2014 9:42pm
updated Friday December 5, 2014 3:16pm

Mike MartinezA postcard funded by a new general-purpose political action committee (PAC) hit mailboxes today, aimed to undercut support for mayoral candidate Mike Martinez by pointing out he was part of the City Council investigated for violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The Progress for Austin PAC’s postcard—which cost nearly $20,000—also attacks Council Member Martinez for getting taxpayers to pay the private lawyer who defended him in the ensuing investigation of the violations by the Travis County attorney and for his rash statements in e-mails, for which he apologized when the e-mails became public.

The Austin Bulldog broke the story of the Open Meetings violations on January 25, 2011; filed public information requests for e-mails exchanged by the mayor and council members; and sued when these elected officials refused to turn over e-mails about city business they exchanged on private accounts, resulting in the release of those communications. The Bulldog also broke the story that the City spent $157,636 to defend the elected officials during the 21-month criminal investigation, including $24,657.50 for attorney Joseph Turner, who defended Martinez.

The postcard features a large photo of Martinez being quoted in the Austin American-Statesman of March 11, 2011, based on his letter to the community, in which he apologized for the derogatory statements he had made in the e-mails: “I have eroded public trust and confidence in my ability to be a leader in this community.”

Bo Delp, deputy campaign manager for Martinez, commented on the mailer. He told The Austin Bulldog, “This demonstrates that Steve Adler and his allies are out of ideas for how to address the issues that are most important to middle-class families in Austin and quite frankly this distortion of Mike's unimpeachable career as a public servant and firefighter is disappointing.”

Referring to the Open Meetings Act violations, Delp said, “My understanding is that Mayor (Lee) Leffingwell was also associated with this particular process, and if Steve Adler thinks it’s such a terrible thing, I assume he will be refusing Leffingwell’s endorsement.”

New PAC in town

PACs Indy Spending Tops $262,000

PACs Indy Spending Tops $262,000

Another $68,000 dumped into campaigns
in last three days to back favored candidates

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Monday November 3, 2014 1:40pm

Local political action committees (PACs) have already spent more than a quarter-million dollars trying to influence the outcome of the mayor and City Council elections set for Tuesday November 4.

Robert ThomasFor the pick of the big-money PACs look no further than District 10 candidate Robert Thomas. He has garnered nearly $60,000 in independent expenditures, so far, including a whopping $50,000 from the Austin Board of Realtors—a sum that far exceeds the total amount of independent expenditures made on behalf of any other candidate. The rest of support for Thomas came from the Austin Firefighters Association, Austin Police Association, and some free billboards courtesy of Reagan National Advertising.

Total independent expenditures jumped almost $68,000 in just the last three days of reporting as PACs chipped in to push last-minute ads, mailers, phone banks and block walkers aimed at getting preferred candidates elected. Of if not elected outright, at least getting them into a runoff where independent expenditures may be even more effective in influencing who serves as the new mayor and fills 10 council seats.

While amounts already spent are significant and might make a difference in the outcome of the general election, these PACs are sitting on more than $800,000 that can be deployed to influence voters in the seven weeks of campaigning to come, after the November 4 general election and before the December 16 runoffs.

Independent expenditures are monies spent for electioneering communication or express advocacy to support or oppose a candidate without consulting with a candidate’s campaign.

Peck YoungPolitical consultant Peck Young is advising a number of council candidates in this election, some of which have gotten support through independent expenditures.

“As long as you have ridiculously low limits on campaign contributions you need some mechanism to support candidates and that's what these independent expenditures are for,” Young said. “Until we get rational contribution levels these independent expenditures are it.”

Indy Spending Big Election Factor

Indy Spending Big Election Factor

Fifteen political action committees trying
to influence mayor and council elections

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Wednesday October 29, 2014 5:14pm

While mayor and City Council candidates are scratching to raise every dollar they can for their campaigns, political action committees (PACs) are sitting on a pile of campaign cash and have already spent more than $194,000 on so-called independent expenditures to help selected candidates win outright on November 4—or at least get into a runoff.

Independent expenditures are monies spent for electioneering communication or express advocacy to support or oppose a candidate without consulting with a candidate’s campaign.

These PACs still had a combined total of more than $856,000 in contributions on hand as of their latest contribution and expenditure reports and may spend a hunk of that money in the last days of the campaign and then weigh in again for the inevitable runoffs to be decided December 16.

Click on this image to download the spreadsheet.The independent expenditures and funds on hand are detailed in the attached spreadsheet, Independent Expenditures for 2014 Austin Mayor and City Council Elections through October 27, 2014.

Not every PAC reported independent expenditures and many have not disclosed their top donors in advertising or other electioneering communication, as required by the Austin City Code. The requirement to report independent expenditures and include the names of top donors in communications took effect for the first time in this election.