Push for November Elections Raises $52,250

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Mike Martinez
Mike Martinez

RECA and Austin Board of Realtors PACs each kick in $26,000 to move council election dates

The Democracy Austin Political Action Committee reporting raising more than $52,000 in the latest reporting period and spent nearly all of it on television and ads in The Austin Chronicle to get voter approval for Propositions 1 and 2 on the November 6 ballot.

Both propositions would move the election of mayor and council members from May to be held during the November general elections. Prop 2 differs from Prop 1 by additionally lengthening terms from the current three years to four years; shortening the number of terms allowed from three terms to two terms; and requiring that staggered elections be held in even-numbered years.

Mike Martinez
Mike Martinez
Chris Riley
Chris Riley

Austin City Council Members Mike Martinez and Chris Riley were appointed to serve as treasurer and assistant treasurer, respectively, September 5. They were appointed by Austin Strategies political consultant Mark Nathan, who in July 2011 left his job as chief of staff for Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Nathan answered The Austin Bulldog’s questions about the campaign via e-mail this evening.

Q: Your firm was paid $2,000 to conduct a poll on Props 1 and 2. Did the poll indicate that Props 1 and 2 was in trouble, or is the advertising just a form of insurance?

A: “The poll showed support among most voters for both Props. 1 and 2, but more importantly it showed that the potential impacts of passing Props. 1 and 2 motivated almost all voters to very strongly support both,” Nathan wrote. “Specifically, that moving elections from May to even-numbered Novembers could triple or even quadruple voter turnout in all city elections, and would save money.”

Q: Why are these two business organizations so interested in moving mayoral and council elections from May to November?

A: “I suspect RECA and ABOR contributed to Props. 1 and 2 for the same reasons that the Travis County Democratic Party and Austin Progressive Coalition and Austin Chronicle and Burnt Orange Report and many others endorsed both. None of those groups contribute money to campaigns, however. As I’m sure you know after covering Austin politics for such a long time, larger contributions to local issue campaigns generally all come from either business or labor organizations, or else from a handful of wealthy individual donors, like Kirk Mitchell or Brian Rodgers.

Q: ls Democracy Action PAC pushing equally hard for both Props 1 and 2, or is one favored over the other?

A: “The PAC is promoting both Prop. 1 and Prop. 2 equally. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIBEWeTPscQ&feature=youtu.be

The Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) PAC donated $26,000 to the campaign, as did the Austin Board of Realtors PAC.

A message left late this afternoon for Emily Chenevert, director of government affairs for the Austin Board of Realtors, was not immediately returned.

Mancy McDonald
Mancy McDonald

Nancy McDonald, RECA’s director of regional outreach, said, “We firmly believe this will increase voter turnout, and that’s critical. May turnouts are so low it’s unconscionable. … It’s all about turnout for us.”

Other significant donations to the Democracy Austin PAC included the Austin Police Association, which gave $1,500, and Stratus Properties which gave $1,000. In addition the Austin Firefighters PAC and James Pledger, a partner in the Jackson Walker LLP law firm, each gave $500.

Austin Democracy PAC’s only previous report filed October 9 showed contributions of $4,150. Of that amount, RECA Business M/PAC gave $2,000 and Charlie Jones gave $1,000. No other donations exceeded $250 in that report, which showed that Democracy Action PAC paid $2,000 to Nathan’s Austin Strategies to conduct a poll.

Prop 1 and 2 details

Proposition 1—Shall the city charter be amended to move the City’s general election from May to November? Ordinance No. 20120426-068.

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates the City will realize a savings of $255,000 per election cycle. This estimate is based on the cost of holding a May election with no partner agencies to share election costs vs. a November election where the City would share the election costs with the County. The total projected five-year savings from FY 2013 through FY 2017 is $765,000.

Proposition 2—Shall the city charter be amended to move the City’s general election from May to November, to provide that council members serve four-year staggered terms, to provide that council elections occur in even-numbered years, and to limit the mayor and council members to two terms? Ordinance No. 20120807-B005.

Fiscal impact—Staff estimates the City will realize a savings of $255,000 per election cycle. This estimate is based on the cost of holding a May election with no partner agencies to share election costs vs. a November election where the City would share the election costs with the County. An additional savings of $1,145,000 is also projected due to Proposition 2 having one fewer election cycle during the five-year analysis period. The total projected five-year savings from FY 2013 through FY 2017 is $1,655,000.

Differentiation—Propositions 1 and 2 are not mutually exclusive. If both Propositions 1 and 2 pass, Prop 2 will take effect. If Proposition 1 passes and Proposition 2 does not, elections would be moved from May to November and council members would continue to serve three-year terms and be limited to three terms.

Caveat—Regardless of whether voters approve Proposition 2 to effect a change in term limits, the limitation may be overcome by submitting a petition to get on the ballot with the signatures of at least 5 percent of the qualified voters, per City Charter Article II, Section 3(C).

To access Austin Democracy PAC’s campaign reports, click on these links:

Democracy Austin PAC Treasurer Appointment September 25, 2012

Democracy Austin PAC Report October 9, 2012

Democracy Austin PAC Report October 29, 2012

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:

Your Guide to Proposed City Charter Amendments: What’s on the ballot, how much it will cost taxpayers, and details provided in the ordinance for each proposition, August 30, 2012