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Race to the Board: Fundraising

Some 80% of Mary Ellen Pietruszynski's contributions came from three donors in the tech community

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Oct. 19, 2012

Mary Ellen Pietruszynski
Mary Ellen Pietruszynski
Photo by Jana Birchum

In the race to replace Annette LoVoi on the AISD board of trustees, when it comes to fundraising, Sooch Foundation Executive Director Mary Ellen Pietruszynski is outdistancing civil rights attorney Gina Hinojosa. But over 80% of Pietruszynski's contributions came from just three individual donors in the tech community.

AISD released the latest campaign finance filings by trustee candidates on Oct. 11, covering the three months from July 1 to Sept. 27. In the hotly contested at-large place 8 race, Pietruszynski raised $50,753 to Hinojosa's $36,813. The largest single slab of cash in Pietruszynski's war chest comes from her boss at the Sooch Foundation, Nav Sooch ($6,500), and his business partner David Welland ($25,000); the co-founders of Silicon Labs have provided over 62% of her total fundraising. The third big IT donor is Neil Webber, co-founder of dot-com success story Vignette, who gave $9,550.

To put those figures into context, the maximum contribution in a city of Austin election is $350. In a federal election, it's only $2,500. However, as in statewide and legislative elected offices in Texas, there is no limit on campaign contributions in an AISD election. Normally, there's been no need to talk about limits because the campaigns are so low-profile that cash has rarely been a factor.

However, the second-biggest player this year – after Welland – is the Education Aus­tin PAC, which is linked to the teachers union, and divided $25,000 between the four candidates it endorsed: $10,000 for Hino­josa, $5,000 each for Jayme Mathias, Charlie Jackson, and Ann Teich.

Teich may not need that money after all: The District 3 candidate is now effectively unopposed after incumbent Christine Bris­ter announced on Oct. 10 that she is suspending her campaign for medical reasons. Brister remains on the ballot as she missed the deadline to withdraw, but it seems unlikely she'll serve even if she wins. With a $16,915 three-month haul, Mathias leads incumbent Sam Guzmán, who only pulled in $4,405. However, Jackson trails in District 5 behind former AISD Council of PTA's president Amber Elenz: She raised $13,570 – including $1,000 from Lance Armstrong – while Jackson's late-starting campaign collected only $6,166, mostly from that one-off Education Austin donation.

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