Finance Fireworks Flare For Leffingwell, McCracken (Updated)

Leffingwell says McCracken grossly exceeds out-of-town contributions; McCracken's crew shoots back

Brewster's Thousands
Brewster's Thousands

In his latest campaign finance report, on first blush it appears Brewster McCracken exceeded the legal limit on out-of-town contributions by some $8,500. Lee Leffingwell's campaign says McCracken should know better, as together in 2006 they sponsored an ordinance raising the limit to what it is today. But McCracken's crew says they're still well within their rights.

It's the sharp veer into negativity we've all been waiting for!

In his 30-day-out campaign finance report, McCracken reported right under $33,000 – the limit – in out-of-town contributions. But McCracken's eight-day-out report tallies $8,525 in over-the-limit contributions from nearly 50 contributors. In lieu of the finding, the Leffingwell camp points out McCracken sponsored the 2006 ordinance – along with Leffingwell – that doubled the out-of-town limit to $30,000, and indexed future raises for inflation. More recently, after the 2008 municipal elections, council made finance violations "a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $500," and "each expenditure, contribution or other action in violation" of the law "a separate offense.” Are we witnessing a flagrant campaign foul?

"A regular campaign is allowed to raise $33,000 from out-of-town donors," counters McCracken spokesman Colin Rowan. "They're also allowed in a runoff to raise up to $22,000 from out-of-town donors. That's a total of $55,000 in a runoff election that can be raised in total from donors outside the city."

But is it kosher to raise funds for a run-off that has not – or may not – happen yet? "There isn't anything in the code, as far as it has been interpreted to me, that you cannot raise money during the regular election for the runoff." Rowan points to the campaign's healthy cash-on-hand reserves as proof McCracken hasn't spent the runoff money yet.

"There is a stipulation in the law each candidate is allowed to have an officeholder account of up to $20,000," he continues. (He knows McCracken has one, but didn't know its total off-hand.) Between the two allowances, he says, "In a runoff campaign, a candidate could raise a total of $75,000 from out-of-town donors. We raised in the neighborhood of $42,000."

"The Leffingwell campaign has a history if making very serious ethical, criminal, and legal accusations of opponents at the 11th hour," says Rowan, referring to Leffingwell's 2008 council re-election campaign, which questioned whether illegal campaign coordination was occurring between its detractors. "There's not any 'there' there. It's a clever press release, it alleges a lot of really serious things, and there's nothing to it. "

Keep watching up through Election Day for what will surely be further developments.

UPDATE: Leffingwell consultant Mark Nathan chimes in: "That's an eyebrow-raising interpretation of the City Charter, which clearly says candidates may only raise additional money 'in the case of a run-off.' There is no provision in the City Charter that allows you to raise money for the run-off before there even is a run-off. There is such a provision in federal law, but only if the donor specifically designates the contribution as being for a run-off. Under this self-serving interpretation of the City Charter, the McCracken campaign could be raising $700 per person right now, instead of the $350 maximum, but they aren't. I don't expect Brewster McCracken's newest interpretation of the City Charter will be found to be any more accurate than his last one."

Pasted below, a Leffingwell press release.

Latest McCracken Campaign Finance Report Includes 49 Illegal Contributions Totaling $8,525

McCracken Continued To Accept Out-Of-City Donations After Exceeding Legal Cap

McCracken Co-Sponsored 2006 Charter Amendment Establishing New Out-Of-City Cap

McCracken Voted in 2008 To Create Criminal Penalties for Campaign Finance Violations

Austin, Texas – In campaign finance reports filed on Friday, Austin mayoral candidate Brewster McCracken reported accepting 49 contributions from out-of-city donors in violation of the aggregate out-of-city cap of $33,000 contained in the Austin City Charter. McCracken’s campaign finance reports show that he has raised a total of $41,525 from out-of-city donors since he began fundraising on December 6, 2008 – $8,525 more than the legal cap.

Austin voters approved the out-of-city contribution cap, contained in Article III, Section 8 of the Austin City Charter, in May 2006 after McCracken sponsored an ordinance placing a proposed Charter amendment on the ballot to double the then-current cap of $15,000, and index the cap to inflation. Mayoral candidate Lee Leffingwell and former Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerly were co-sponsors of the initiative.

Leffingwell has complied with the cap, raising approximately $25,000 as of today from out-of-city donors. Leffingwell began fundraising on January 16, 2009, and both Leffingwell and McCracken have raised approximately $20,000 per week since entering the race. In the latest fundraising reports, Leffingwell reported raising $69,611; McCracken reported raising $74,049, including the $8,525 in illegal contributions.

According to McCracken’s reports, his out-of-city contributions totaled $32,625 on March 30th, the last reporting deadline. From March 31st through April 29th, McCracken accepted a total of 50 out-of-city contributions, 49 of which were in violation of the cap. McCracken also reported accepting $600 from one political action committee, Raba-Kistner PAC of San Antonio, in violation of the $350 limit on PAC contributions.

In September of 2008, the Austin City Council unanimously approved an ordinance establishing criminal penalties for violations of the campaign finance provisions contained in Article III, Section 8 of the Austin City Charter. The ordinance reads: “…a person who knowingly violates this chapter or a provision of City Charter Article III, Section 8 commits a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $500. Each expenditure, contribution or other action in violation of this chapter constitutes a separate offense.”

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Elections, Election 2009, Lee Leffingwell, Brewster McCracken, Mayor, Campaign Finance

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