Unconventional Austin spent more than $131,000

HomeCity of AustinUnconventional Austin spent more than $131,000

Not a penny of dark money reported in July 15th contributions

Updated July 17, 2019, 9:27pm to delete incorrect information about Robert Kleinman

Unconventional Austin filed its first contribution and expenditure report Monday, reporting that $131,387 in contributions were made by a total of 34 donors.

As The Austin Bulldog reported July 12, 2019, Unconventional Austin last Friday filed a petition ordinance with the City Clerk’s office supported with what it claims are 30,000 signatures. If the petition is certified as valid it would put an item on the November 5 general election ballot to let voters decide whether to authorize expansion of the convention center at a reported cost of $1.2 billion.

Steve Adler

A press release Unconventional Austin issued today directly refutes the suspicions voiced by Mayor Steve Adler last Friday, which questioned where the petitioner’s money came from from. He asked, “Who is paying to mislead the public and oppose these priorities?”

“The Unconventional Austin SPAC campaign finance report shows that there is no outside ‘dark money’ supporting our petition,” the statement said. “All of our money comes from Austin residents, voters, and two organizations that have helped preserve what makes Austin exciting to visitors and residents alike.

Petition backers chipped in big bucks

Bill Bunch
Brian Rodgers

“The largest individual supporters of the Unconventional Austin petition drive are whistleblower, real estate investor, and current Tourism Commission member Brian Rodgers; and Save Our Springs Alliance attorney and Executive Director Bill Bunch.” Bunch also serves on the Tourism Commission with Rodgers.

Bunch personally contributed $12,720 to the specific-purpose committee, while Rodgers gave $6,000.

Retiree Jenny Clark, an environmentalist who Bunch said lives on a conservation easement on the Blanco River, gave $10,000.

Attorneys Fred Lewis and Millicent Lundberg each donated $5,000.

Five of the individual donors listed addresses in the Four Seasons Austin Residences at 98 San Jacinto Blvd., who together contributed $20,000.

They are retiree John Markham Green, $2,500; investors Frank and Mary Krasovec, $2,000; writers Ruth (“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”) and James (“Opening Up By Writing It Down”) Pennebaker, $1,000; retiree Kenneth Smith, $5,000; and writer Mary Wills, $10,000.

In addition, attorney Robert Kleinman, owner of Austin-based Planet K, listed at a downtown address at 400 W. 7th Street, has pledged $10,000. He is a board member of the Austin Popular Culture Center and a cofounder of the Austin Independent Business Alliance.

Bunch told The Austin Bulldog those downtown residents view the current convention center as a “dead zone” that would only be made worse by the planned on-the-ground expansion.

Biggest donor SOS Alliance lobby

The Save Our Springs Alliance itself contributed $51,343 to Unconventional Austin. The press release states that came from the Alliance’s “designated lobbying funds.”

The PAC also reported loans of $10,000 each from Bunch and Lewis, and $5,000 from Lundberg.

The Austin-based Foundation for Constitutional Protection, which also donated $5,000, was described in the press release as a “nonprofit dedicated to educating and preserving citizens’ constitutional rights.” However, records maintained by the Texas Secretary of State indicated there were grounds for forfeiture February 8, 2013, and lists the organization inactive as of that date.

(Disclosure: Rebecca Melançon, executive director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, contributed $50 to the PAC. She is my wife.)

More than 95 percent spent on petitioning

The vast bulk of the money spent by the PAC were disbursed in six payments to Texas Petition Strategies based in Buda. The payments totaled $125,400.

Texas Petition Strategies LLC was formed May 28, 2003, according to records maintained by the Texas Secretary of State’s office. Originally based in Arlington, Texas, the company relocated to Buda in 2016, according to Texas Franchise Tax Public Information Reports. The company’s officers are president John Hatch and vice president Rebecca Hatch.

The press release also states: “Now that we have filed our financial report, we look forward to a vigorous civic debate on the merits of how we should be spending our hotel tourism tax dollars and whether Austin voters should have a say in how those dollars are spent over the next 30 years,” said Bill Bunch.

Heavy opposition forming to do battle

The “vigorous debate” Bunch solicited is surely coming.

Jim Wick
Jim Wick

Jim Wick, who ran Mayor Adler’s reelection campaign, on July 12, 2019, appointed Cody Cowan as campaign treasurer for PHAM PAC, a specific-purpose committee to oppose Unconventional Austin’s initiative ordinance.

The Austin Monitor reported earlier today that PHAM is an acronym that Wick uses to describe what he views as the beneficiaries of an expanded convention center: Palm (School), Homeless services, Arts and Music preservation.


Foundation for Constitutional Protection, Secretary of State’s forfeiture and inactive status, February 8, 2013 (2 pages)

Texas Petition Strategies Texas Franchise Tax Public information Report, March 7, 2018 (1 page)

Unconventional Austin Specific-Purpose Committee Campaign Finance Report, July 15, 2019 (28 pages)

Unconventional Austin press release, July 15, 2019 (1 page)

Related Bulldog coverage:

Petition filed to force convention center vote, July 12, 2019

Trust indicators:

Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page.

Email [email protected].

Who funds this work? This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help support this independent coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.

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. 

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