Raising money, organizing troops, and pushing plans for geographic representation on Austin City Council
The proponents of Proposition 3—Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR)—got a huge head start in a grassroots campaign to win voter approval for geographic representation on the Austin City Council. They started meeting in February last year, waged a successful petition drive to get on the ballot, and have built a broad coalition of supporters, including 29 organizations and numerous community leaders. (For a list of endorsements, click here.)
The advocates for Proposition 4—Austin Community for Change (AC4C)—are pushing a different plan for geographic representation. They are running from behind and hoping to raise enough money to convince voters they have the best plan. They have rapidly built a list of 19 community organizations supporting their plan as well as individual community supporters. (For a list of endorsements, click here.)
Both AGR and AC4C have websites loaded with information touting their respective plans but there’s a striking visual difference.
The banner atop the AGR pages contains a montage of nine photos taken at various Austin events.
The AC4C page headers show a photo purchased from iStockphoto.com titled “Diverse group casually dressed people looking up.”
AGR, which is campaigning under the name “Trust Austin,” has what it hopes will be a huge rally planned for Saturday, October 6, 3-5pm, at Park Pavilion, 5908 Manor Road. (For details, click here.) At a meeting of some 30 volunteers Tuesday evening, organizers said they had purchased 100,000 door hangars that will be placed on door knobs all over town. (See both sides in the accompanying graphic.) They also have paper yard signs and fliers printed. All of these materials will be distributed at the rally and circulated by volunteers.
Aside from participating in debates on the two propositions, Austin Community for Change has nothing on its schedule right now, said the three key spokesman who have been participating in the debates: Attorney Richard Jung of Jung Ko PLLC (the website has not been updated to reflect the company’s new name); Julio Gonzales Altamirano, an Austin-based data-science and software consultant for UPD Consulting; and archaeologist Fred McGhee, PhD, of Fred L. McGhee and Associates Inc.
Show me the money
AGR has been raising money since August of last year. The group has held fundraising events in the homes of volunteers and solicited funding from major donors. Contributions reported in AGR’s January and July finance reports totaled $29,131. The major donors were commercial real estate investor Brian Rodgers of Rodgers & Reichle Inc. and Peoples Pharmacy, owned by Bill Swail, RPh. Rodgers co-founded ChangeAustin.org with Linda Curtis, who is AGR’s campaign coordinator.
AC4C didn’t appoint a campaign treasurer until June 1 and in July reported it had raised $1,907, all but $100 of which was donated by Richard Jung.
At AGR’s Tuesday night meeting, retired political consultant Peck Young, who is a volunteer advisor to the AGR campaign, announced that Proposition 4 supporters that have not been publicly announced are ready to put up big money and are offering high fees for a campaign manager.
Young named Attorney David Armbrust of Armbrust & Brown PLLC as someone likely to help round up significant funds for the Proposition 4 campaign.
Contacted by The Austin Bulldog, Armbrust said neither he nor his firm had any plans to raise money for the campaign. He said his firm had contributed money to help pass the bond propositions, “but neither the firm nor myself are involved in single-member districts.”
“I know Peck has a good imagination but that goes beyond imagination,” Armbrust said. “What he said about me is totally false.”
Young, informed of what Armbrust said, said that a political operative had contacted a professional consultant and wanted to hire him to run a campaign for Proposition 4.
“The point is, the 8-2-1 guys are offering positions and salaries for whatever it takes to hire them,” he said.
Young previously accused the Real Estate Council of Austin of planning to put $100,000 into the campaign for Proposition 4. But as The Austin Bulldog reported September 12, RECA denies that and said the organization has no plans to get involved.
“Our resolution (in support of the hybrid 8-2-1 Proposition 4 plan) was the beginning and end of our concern,” said Nancy McDonald, RECA’s director of regional outreach.
Longtime political consultant David Butts has been a strong advocate for the 8-2-1 plan offered by Proposition 4, both as a member of the council-appointed 2012 Charter Revision Committee and in speaking publicly to the City Council.
Butts said he talked to Armbrust last week and the subject of the Proposition 4 campaign never came up. Currently Butts is consulting for the Proposition 4 campaign as a “labor of love,” he told The Austin Bulldog. “I’m not being paid.”
“If someone’s planning to pour money into his campaign,” Butts said, “I wish they’d show up.”
Butts said, “I’m hoping we can raise $20,000 to $30,000. I would probably try to communicate as much as I’m allowed to why Proposition 4 is better than Proposition 3 without throwing up a ‘hail storm,’” by saying anything negative about Proposition 3.
“I expect to have some money coming in but how much and who’s going to give it (I don’t know) … but $100,000? I don’t think we’ll get anywhere near that.”
Peck Young responded by noting that the Austin City Council put 8-2-1 on the ballot shortly after RECA endorsed that plan, the same plan voters soundly defeated a decade ago. Proposition 3 on the May 4, 2002, ballot lost by a margin of 58-42 percent.
“The light on the road to November 6 is not Jesus, it’s RECA,” Young said. “Do you think after RECA shows them the light they won’t show them the money?”
The public will know a lot more about who’s pouring money into these campaigns when the respective political action committees file reports due 30 days before the election on October 9.
The last financial reports before the election are due October 29, eight days out, and no further financial reporting will be required until January 15, said Ann Franklin of the Austin City Clerk’s office. So it will be more than two months after the election before a full accounting of campaign expenditures will be made public.
Natalia Luna Ashley, special counsel to the Texas Ethics Commission, confirmed that financial reporting schedule. A new Specific Purpose Political Action Committee could form at any time to support or oppose one of the propositions on the November 6 ballot, Ashley said.
But it’s too late for a General Purpose PAC to form and spend money on the November 6 election, as there’s a 60-day waiting period that does not apply to Specific Purpose PACs. (For a complete list of pertinent rules, click here, and scroll down to “General Purpose and Specific-Purpose Political Committees.”)
How do the plans differ?
Voters have nixed various geographic representation plans six times between 1973 and 2002.
Proposition 3 would have the mayor elected at-large by all voters and 10 council members elected from geographic districts. A nonpartisan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission would draw the council districts and the City Council would have no choice but to adopt them. The method of selecting commission members and how it would operate are set forth in the ordinance putting the measure on the ballot.
Proposition 4 would have the mayor and two council members elected at-large and eight council members elected from geographic districts. Districts would be drawn as directed by a city ordinance with final approval at the council’s discretion.
To change from the current at-large system that’s been in place since 1953 will require majority voter approval. If both propositions net 50 percent plus one vote and pass, the one that garners the most votes would be implemented, subject to the U.S. Department of Justice approval under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
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.
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