This story was updated at 12:15pm February 11, 2020, to include reference to the statement that Garza signed when appointing a campaign treasurer.
Delia Garza may have committed a felony by accepting a corporate contribution to her campaign to be the next Travis County attorney
Austin attorney Bill Aleshire this afternoon submitted what he believes to be evidence of a potentially unlawful corporate contribution that was made to Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza’s campaign for Travis County attorney.
Aleshire’s 53-page letter to Mindy Montford, First Assistant District Attorney, states that Garza, one of four candidates running for Travis County Attorney in the March 3 Democratic Primary, accepted a contribution of $5,263.47 from Black Swan Yoga.
“In reviewing Texas law, it appears to me that despite the infamous Citizens United decision, it is still a third-degree felony under Texas law for a person to knowingly make or accept a contribution in violation of Texas Election Code, Subchapter B.”
The Austin Bulldog provided a copy of Aleshire’s information to Garza and her campaign consultant, Mykle Tomlinson, president of Y Strategy, and requested a comment.
“We have contacted an attorney about the allegations,” Tomlinson said in a text message this evening. “While we rigorously screen every contribution, if the contribution was inadvertently reported, we will be returning it immediately.”
Contribution source traced in corporate records
Black Swan Yoga is a limited liability company, according to online records maintained by the Texas Secretary of State. Limited liability companies are allowed to make contributions to a candidate’s campaign. However, Black Swan Yoga LLC is owned by Onnit Labs LLC, which was converted to a Delaware corporation named Onnit Labs Inc. effective March 31, 2018, according to the Secretary of State’s records.
“While some LLC’s can make a campaign contribution to a candidate, according to Texas Ethics Advisory Opinion 383, issued in 1997, “a limited liability company owned by a corporation is subject to the corporate contribution restrictions…” Aleshire wrote in his letter to the district attorney’s office.
“Texas law does not allow a corporate contribution to be hidden under layers of business structures,” Aleshire’s letter states. “In this case the evidence suggests that the contribution was made both knowingly and accepted knowingly because Delia Garza’s husband, as the corporation’s accounting supervisor, would surely be aware of the business structure and its corporate ownership. Delia Garza, even as an attorney of limited actual legal experience, but as an experienced candidate, would be expected to know that corporate contributions are illegal in Texas.”
Garza’s husband, Ramiro Martinez Jr., was an accounting supervisor of Onnit in 2017, according to a Personal Financial Statement that Garza filed with the City Clerk’s Office April 30, 2018. That statement covered her financial activity in calendar year 2017.
The next year, her husband’s job title changed to production coordinator for Onnit, according to a Personal Financial Statement Garza filed with the City Clerk’s Office April 30, 2019, covering calendar year 2018.
Aleshire drove his point home even harder on Tuesday morning but sending a copy of the form that Garza used to appoint her campaign treasurer on December 9, the day she filed to run for county attorney.
Immediately above where she signed the form, it states, “I am aware of the restrictions in Title 15 of the Election Code on contributions from corporations and labor organizations.”
Aleshire asks district attorney to investigate
“I am providing this evidence to the District Attorney’s Office so that a more thorough investigation can be done and appropriate resolution of this matter can be obtained,” Aleshire stated in his letter.
Garza is in a hotly contested race to succeed Travis County Attorney David Escamilla when his term ends December 31, 2020. The other candidates are former Judge Mike Denton, Assistant County Attorney Laurie Eiserloh, and criminal defense attorney Dominic Selvera.
The Republican Party did not field a candidate for this office so by default the winner of the Democratic Primary will succeed Escamilla in the job.
The Travis County attorney’s office consists of some 230 employees and is responsible for advising elected officials, defending Travis County in civil lawsuits, as well as prosecuting misdemeanor crimes.
(Disclosure: Aleshire has represented the Bulldog in winning two lawsuits against the City of Austin and Austin City Council members in 2011 over failures to comply with the Texas Public Information Act. He also filed the Bulldog’s civil complaint with the county attorney over the same issues and today continues to support the Bulldog’s public information requests.)
Links to related documents:
Bill Aleshire’s letter to First Assistant District Attorney Mindy Montford, re: Evidence regarding potential unlawful corporate contribution to Delia Garza campaign for Travis County attorney, February 10, 2020 (53 pages)
Related Bulldog coverage:
Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page.
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An alphabetic list of donors who have contributed to The Austin Bulldog since the organization was formed in 2009 and the cumulative amount each person has given through December 31, 2018, are listed on the Contribute page. Work is underway to update that information through December 31, 2019.