Adler Campaign Cries Foul

Labor-funded oppo calls hitting Austin voters

Over the last couple of days, local voters have been receiving calls originating from the “South Forward” IE PAC – a national labor political action committee devoted to “revitalizing and growing the Democratic South.” The phone message? “Don’t vote for Steve Adler.”

Steve Adler and Mike Martinez

Newsdesk spoke to a couple of folks who had received the (live) phone calls, and they recounted slight variations on the same message, roughly: “Don’t vote for Steve Adler” for mayor of Austin. He’s a “millionaire” only interested in helping his “millionaire friends,” or he’s a “developers’ friend” only interested in helping developers. The callers – who sound to be reading from a prepared script, in a call center – do not mention any other candidate, and when asked, they have identified their client as the South Forward IE PAC (i.e., a federal “independent expenditure” PAC, based in South Carolina). South Forward, according to its website, is a nonprofit with an ultimate goal of “winning elections,” but currently its “early focus will be on ‘building the bench’ and building capacity for state parties and others.”

Newsdesk has a call in to South Forward, and we’ll update as we get more information (see below). The money trail appears to lead to South Forward from the Tulsa-based Southwest Laborers District Council PAC, which recently contributed at least $10,000 to SF. The local affiliate of the SLDC is Laborers International Union of North American Local 753. Both the SLDC and Local 753 have endorsed Mike Martinez for mayor. (Calls to SLDC and Jeremy Hendricks, Local 753 business manager, have not yet been returned.)

When they learned of the oppo calls from several supporters, the Adler campaign issued a statement denouncing the tactic and calling on opponents to disavow it. Said Adler, “Austin deserves better than old style dirty politics and an out-of-state super PAC meddling in Austin’s affairs. Who are these people? I call on my fellow mayoral candidates to disavow this activity and to demand that it cease.”

No other candidate is mentioned by name in the calls, but the overall message does mimic major themes of the Martinez campaign: that Adler is wealthy and out-of-touch with ordinary Austinites and that his policy proposals (e.g., a 20% homestead property tax exemption) disproportionately favor wealthy homeowners.

Newsdesk asked the Martinez campaign for a response, and spokesman Bo Delp said that they have no knowledge of the calls or who is responsible for them. “Mike and his campaign have been focused on one thing … which candidate is going to be the best candidate to fight for middle-class families at City Hall. … Mike has a track record of doing that, and that is what he’s focused on in this campaign.” Delp reiterated that no one in the Martinez campaign has any knowledge of the calls, other than what they've heard from the Adler campaign.

Newsdesk is continuing to investigate the source of the calls and whether they comply with relevant campaign laws. An out-of-state PAC is allowed to make independent expenditures in Texas – within certain limits and reporting requirements – and it’s not yet confirmed whether the South Forward PAC has complied with those requirements. Caller ID reports the calls as originating from a local (512) number, but calls to that number do not connect – that may be a violation of Federal Communication Commission regulations.

South Forward Executive Director Jay Parmley answered a few questions about the PAC’s operations via email. He wrote: “South Forward focuses most of our efforts on down-ballot races throughout the South with a concentration on municipal and legislative elections. Many of the races in which we get involved are recommended to us by activists. … We also engage in conversations with individuals on the ground in each state about which campaigns/candidates we should be engaged.’

”This year we are active in races in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,Texas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.’

”While we understand that some people may disagree we believe Austin has better choices for mayor than Steve Adler.”

In the campaign’s press release concerning the calls, Adler campaign manager Jim Wick concluded, “We are surprised and disappointed that this kind of politics has now reached Austin and we now also expect out-of-state mail pieces to arrive in Austin. Steve is confident voters can’t be fooled by outside super PACs ads. …”

How effective such calls may be is another question. According to one person on the receiving end, the script-reader repeatedly referred to the candidate as "Steve Alder." Maybe that's a different guy.

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November 2014 Election, Mayoral & City Council, Steve Adler, Mike Martinez, LIUNA Local 753, South Forward IE PAC

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