Clay Dafoe, third-place finisher in 2012 mayoral election, first to act
Corrected Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 9:45pm
Clay Dafoe has followed through on his previously stated intent to take legal action against Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.
This afternoon, Austin attorney Bill Aleshire of Riggs Aleshire and Ray PC told The Austin Bulldog, “Our law firm has been retained by Clay Dafoe to hold Lee Leffingwell accountable for violating the state campaign finance laws in the mayoral campaign of 2012.”
In a phone interview this evening Aleshire added, “We will let the facts take us where they go and we will not take any action that’s not in good faith.”
“That’s all we have to say at this point,” Aleshire said, “but there will be more later.”
(Disclosure: Aleshire is The Austin Bulldog’s attorney in a Texas Public Information Act lawsuit that is still pending.)
Attempts to reach Mayor Leffingwell this evening for a comment were unsuccessful. A listed home number has been disconnected. A phone call to his chief of staff, Andy Mormon, was not answered. A text message sent to Mormon’s cell phone requesting a comment from the mayor was not promptly answered.
Two phone messages left for Dafoe were not returned. Aleshire later informed The Austin Bulldog that, “Mr. Dafoe will not be commenting directly.”
Grounds for lawsuit
The Austin Bulldog’s investigative report of March 5 exposed the fact that a total of more than $72,000 in campaign funds were not properly accounted for in Leffingwell’s mayoral campaigns of 2009 and 2012. These defects were discovered in The Austin Bulldog’s analysis of more than a thousand pages of Campaign Finance Reports filed by Leffingwell, along with related public records.
Our report also questioned whether a $30,000 loan the mayor reported making to his campaign in 2012 did, in fact, come from his own personal funds. Because the lender’s address reported for that loan was not the mayor’s residence but that of Thomas Coopwood, who Leffingwell personally nominated for reappointment to the Central Health Board of Managers.
Leffingwell’s campaign consultant Susan Harry said, in a March 12 e-mail, that the mayor would request a copy for The Austin Bulldog of the canceled check for the $30,000 loan he made to the 2012 campaign. The Austin Bulldog has not yet been provided with a copy of that canceled check. Calls to Harry’s home and office today and this evening were not promptly returned. An e-mail Harry sent as 8:23pm last night stated, “I will check on the 2012 canceled check copy. However, I am going out of town tomorrow morning and will not be back until Monday.” (The last two sentences were added at 9:45pm after receiving Harry’s e-mail.)
In response to our investigative report Leffingwell filed two Correction/Amendment Affidavits March 6. The Austin Bulldog’s report on these affidavits, and our analysis of their impact, was published March 12.
A key point is that attorneys experienced in election law cases said that the filing of Correction/Amendment Affidavits has no bearing on the ability of candidates who ran against Leffingwell in 2009 and 2012 to sue him for damages.
Such lawsuits are authorized by Election Code Section 254.231 and are based on the defendant’s failure to timely report—by deadlines established by the Election Code—the contributions or expenditures that were required to be reported.
The Election Code states that those opposing candidates may collect damages of twice the amount or contributions or expenditures that are required to be reported and were not reported, plus reasonable attorney’s fees. The Election Code also provides for reasonable attorney’s fees in the suit to be awarded to the defendant if judgment is rendered in the defendant’s favor.
Former City Council Member Brigid Shea, who ran a strong campaign for mayor in 2012, also has grounds to sue Leffingwell over the mayor’s campaign finance reporting in that campaign. She did not immediately return a call for comment this evening.
This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help to sustain The Austin Bulldog’s coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.
Related Bulldog coverage:
Mayor’s Campaign Reports Raise Red Flags: Problems could subject mayor to double damages in civil lawsuits and triple damages to the state: Odd address entry on one report also raises possibility of criminal violation, March 5, 2013