Posted Sunday, January 22, 2012 9:30pm
Updated Friday, January 27, 2012 3:20pm
Lobbyists Can Only Give Candidates $25 But
Can Collect Unlimited Contributions for Them
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2012
Why would city regulations prohibit a registered city lobbyist from contributing more than $25 to an officeholder or candidate for mayor or city council, but allow a lobbyist to solicit and bundle unlimited contributions on behalf of officeholders and candidates?
That was a question the 2012 Charter Revision Committee dealt with in its meeting last Thursday.
Based on the case presented by its five-member working group, the Committee voted 12-1 (with David Butts and Kathleen Vale absent) to approve a recommended change that would limit the amount of bundled contributions by registered city lobbyists to a maximum of $1,750 per candidate per election cycle for individual bundlers and $3,500 per candidate per election cycle for firms that bundle. This restriction would not apply to anyone who is not a registered city lobbyist.
This restriction would put a severe crimp in the kind of fundraising that some registered city lobbyists are doing for current officeholders.
The Austin Bulldog’s analysis of the most recent contribution reports filed by the four members of the City Council running for re-election—Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, and Council Members Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole—indicates that two registered city lobbyists bundled a total of $33,500 $44,470 in single reporting period for Leffingwell, Martinez, and Spelman. (Added Spelman’s bundled contributions to previous total January 27, 2012.)
In reality they bundled even more than that, but the contribution reports report filed by Cole and Spelman list lists only the names of bundlers and do does not identify the specific contributions these lobbyists solicited on their her behalf.
Lawyer-lobbyist David Armbrust of Armbrust & Brown PLLC bundled 24 contributions totaling $8,400 for Leffingwell, and 29 contributions totaling $10,150 for Martinez, and 36 contributions totaling $11,200 for Spelman. According to the lobbyist registration information posted on the city’s website, Armbrust has 17 clients involved in building, real estate and real estate development, financial services, hotels, property management, energy, and waste disposal.
Lawyer-lobbyist Michael Whellan of Graves Dougherty Hearon and Moody bundled 26 contributions totaling $8,050 for Leffingwell and 20 contributions totaling $6,900 for Martinez. City lobbyist registration records indicate Whellan has 13 clients, including property owners, real estate developers, taxi cabs, healthcare provider, and music.
The ambiguity of the current City Code regarding how to report bundled contributions was also addressed by the Charter Revision Committee. Members present voted unanimously to recommend more stringent and accessible disclosure of all bundled contributions.
With no discussion, the Charter Revision Committee also voted unanimously to recommend that Article X, Section 2 of the City Charter be clarified to indicate that ex-officio members of the Planning Commission are non-voting members whose attendance does not affect quorum requirements. Both the City Council and the Planning Commission had referred this matter to the Committee for consideration.
These recommendations will be forwarded to the Austin City Council, along with all the recommendations previously approved by the committee, for possible action.
What City Code requires
Charter Revision Committee’s Next Job:
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2011
The council-appointed 2012 Charter Revision Committee has now formulated a baker’s dozen recommendations that will be forwarded to the Austin City Council for the planned November 2012 charter amendment election.
The most important task assigned to the committee—recommendingwer whether council members should be elected from geographic districts and if so under what plan—will be taken up at a meeting scheduled for January 5.
That’s when the committee will discuss the pros and cons of the current all-at-large system vis-à-vis hybrid (some geographic districts plus some council members at-large) and single-member systems (in which all but the mayor would represent geographic districts).
At that same meeting the committee will discuss the pros and cons of several different plans under consideration (a 6-2-1 plan proposed by Mayor Lee Leffingwell, an 8-4-1 plan advocated by two citizens, and a 10-1 plan advocated by Austinites for Geographic Representation, a broad coalition of organizations and individuals that is petitioning to get this plan on the ballot).
The committee will not vote on these matters until a later meeting, scheduled for January 19.
In its September 29 meeting the committee approved seven recommendations for charter changes (more about that later).
At the December 8 meeting the committee considered nine proposals and voted to recommend that the City Council put six of these on the ballot for voters to decide, as follows:
• To permit fundraising by election winners to retire campaign debt.
• To raise the maximum funds that may be held in an officeholder’s account to $40,000.
• To give the city’s Ethics Review Commission more power to address campaign finance and campaign disclosure violations.
• To require reporting of last-minute campaign contributions.
• To require electronic filing of campaign finance and lobbying reports.
• To require voter approval before issuing revenue bonds of more than $50 million.
These decisions were based on the recommendations formulated by the committee’s five-member working group. The committee discussions and recommendations are detailed below.
Responses to City Council resolutions