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Taking Stock of Dollars in County Races

Money pours into judge race

By Christopher Hooks, Fri., Jan. 24, 2014

Sarah Eckhardt
Sarah Eckhardt
Photos by Jana Birchum

Along with resolutions and soon-forgotten gym memberships, the start of 2014 brings with it new campaign finance reports for the raft of candidates running for seats on the Travis County Commissioners Court. The new reports, covering the last six months of 2013, provide an opportunity to take stock of the races, which see Sarah Eckhardt and Andy Brown vying for the Democratic nomination for Travis County Judge; Brigid Shea, Richard Jung, and Garry Brown competing for their party's nod to represent Precinct 2 on the Com­missioners Court, and Pct. 4 Com­mis­sioner Margaret Gómez seeking reelection against newcomer Darla Wegner.

The latest round of reports finds money pouring into the county judge race, with Eckhardt behind but keeping pace with Andy Brown's haul. The increasingly tense contest has seen its share of twists and turns. As of mid-summer, the two candidates had pulled roughly even in the money game, though Brown had considerably outspent Eckhardt in the preceding six-month period, by some $105,000 to her $57,000. Now, though, Brown and Eckhardt's fortunes have started to diverge again. Brown has raised roughly $120,000 more in contributions than Eckhardt – $292,831 to $170,928 – and has spent $60,000 more, yet still has $151,594 in the bank, to Eckhardt's $100,840.

Eckhardt's big-money donors include more than $26,000 from her extended family and her husband, Kurt Sauer; $2,750 from former Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber; $2,000 from Alex Tan, the businessman behind north Austin's Chinatown Center; and $15,000 from country music legend Jerry Jeff Walker.

Andy Brown's major contributions include nearly $15,400 from the Travis County Sheriffs' Law Enforcement Association PAC; $5,000 from the DC-based PAC of the American Federation of State, Coun­ty, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); large donations from a wide array of local businessmen and CEOs, including $4,000 from local beverage magnate Clayton Christopher of Sweet Leaf Tea; $2,500 from Kirk Watson's campaign; an in-kind donation of office space valued at $30,000 from two local immigration lawyers; and $5,000 from the Real Estate Council of Austin PAC. The winner of the primary – the presumed successor to County Judge Sam Biscoe, who retires at the end of his term – will face Republican Mike McNamara in November. McNamara reported raising $4,564 and spending $10,193; he has $443 on hand and a $12,500 outstanding loan.

In the Precinct 2 race, Brigid Shea has grown a healthy lead over her competitors in the money department, with Richard Jung's haul second and Garry Brown's a distant third. In the six months since her July filing, Shea's campaign has spent nearly $100,000 – yet still has $86,225 in the bank. Contributions to her campaign during the period total more than $115,000, more than twice that of her closest competitor, Jung.

Andy Brown
Andy Brown

Shea's big-figure donations include $5,000 from AFSCME; another $5,000 from Stratus Properties CEO Beau Armstrong; and $5,000 from Hill+Knowlton's Jack Martin, husband of mooted mayoral candidate Patsy Woods Martin. One notable backer is Mark Littlefield, a former campaign consultant for Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who ran a hotly contested race against Shea in 2012. In an email blast, Shea prominently touted Littlefield's support. "Even though I opposed Brigid when she ran for Mayor," Littlefield wrote, "we have made peace." There's also $6,680 of in-kind contributions from Salt Lick owner Scott Roberts, who provided catering services (plus $1,000 in cash on the side.) Shea's biggest single donation to date came from Austinite Ellyn Yacktman, who contributed $20,000 in May, according to the candidate's mid-summer filings.

Jung, on the other hand, spent almost as much as Shea, but took in less than half as much in the reporting period. As of the mid-summer reporting deadline, the two had roughly similar levels of money in, money out, and almost identical cash on hand. The recent divergence between the two could indicate that Demo­cratic donors are moving to Shea. Jung's major donations include $5,000 from his law partner and current County Treasurer contender Ramey Ko, and $14,200 from Paul Kim, owner of ATX Envi­ron­ment­al Solutions.

Garry Brown, who says he's putting together a grassroots campaign that's leveraging his ties with county Democratic party activists, has long lagged in raising money and continues to do so. He took in $16,733 in contributions and spent over $19,000, leaving only $5,460 in the bank. His haul consisted of small donations – from $10 at one end to an outlier of $500 on the other.

The health of a candidate's bank account can be an overrated metric for determining the health of a candidacy, especially in a charged party primary like the one the candidates face on March 4. But relative fundraising success provides some information about who keyed-in Democratic donors think is likely to win – and with less than 10 weeks left to go, the time for candidates to dramatically rewrite their campaigns' chances is dwindling.

County Campaign Dollars

Campaign contributions and expenditures for the last six months of 2013. "On Hand" totals reflect overall campaign funds available as of Dec. 31. Fundraising continues.

County Judge Raised Spent On Hand
Andy Brown $292,831 $232,167 $151,594
Sarah Eckhardt* 170,928 173,981 100,840
Pct. 2 Commissioner
Brigid Shea $115,015 $97,871 $86,225
Richard Jung* 48,735 91,115 52,664
Garry Brown** 16,733 19,026 5,460
Pct. 4 Commissioner
Margaret Gómez (i) 34,589 11,578 50,912
Darla Wegner 33 1,437 0

* $10,000 outstanding loan

** $781 outstanding loan

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