Over the last few city election cycles, Libertarian activists Wes Benedict and Arthur DiBianca have made minor careers as political gadflies by churning out campaign-finance complaints against opposing candidates and organizations of all stripes. So last week, when Benedict and his Libertarian Party of Texas got a taste of what they dish out every election season, even he had to laugh. "I'm sure your readers will enjoy the irony of the situation I'm in as much as I have," the LPT executive director and ex-City Council candidate said of the complaint brought by former Travis County Judge (and political gadfly emeritus) Bill Aleshire.
The Texas Ethics Commission has agreed (perhaps a little gleefully) to investigate Aleshire's allegations and has set a mid-July deadline for Benedict, as well as LPT treasurer Geoffrey Neale of Austin, and past treasurer Anthony Garcia of Houston, to respond to the charges.
"Gander sauce," Aleshire said with a chuckle. "What's good for the goose is good for the gander. They were taking delight, even advertising on their Web site and in their newsletter, about everybody they were attacking under the campaign-finance law, and they didn't have the decency to admit they were in violation themselves." Aleshire, now an attorney in private practice, credited some unnamed sources with piquing his interest in the organization's financial records on file at the Ethics Commission. After poring over reams of the LPT's handiwork, Aleshire drew up a list of about 216 things he found wrong with the group's reports from August 2004 through February 2006.
Aleshire's 52-page complaint alleges many of the same types of infractions that Benedict and company have accused others of committing. "I admit and understand that campaign finance laws are tricky, but that's not my point," Aleshire said. "I think they've got more persistent violations than what they've pointed out [in other complaints]." Aleshire notes, for example, that the LPT in 2004 accepted a $25,000 loan and hired Benedict before the organization appointed its campaign treasurer, as state law requires. The complaint also suggests that more than half of the $80,878 the group has received in contributions since 2004 has gone into Benedict's pockets, in excess of his reported monthly salary of $1,670, plus 20% commission on party revenues. "There's something funky going on there," Aleshire said.
Benedict, for his part, denies there's any funky business in play, explaining that much of the money he received covered reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses he made on such items as office supplies or postage. He also allowed that LPT has had a run of bad luck with treasurers since the state party hung out its shingle almost two years ago. "Obviously there were challenges if the LPT is on its fourth treasurer," Benedict said, adding that he's confident in the current treasurer's ability to get the job done properly. While declining to comment further on specific allegations outlined in the complaint, Benedict went on to explain that the reason he files so many ethics complaints "is to demonstrate that almost nobody follows all of the rules, because they are so complicated," he said. "I have never claimed that Libertarians are better at filling out campaign-finance forms than others."
In any event, Benedict and his research partner DiBianca are not likely to let one complaint against the LPT albeit for 216 alleged infractions disrupt their filing streak. Last week, the Ethics Commission agreed to accept DiBianca's complaint against Advanced Micro Devices, for failing to identify the names of "employees and consultants" the company paid $10,000 to help defeat Props. 1 and 2 in the May city election. And two days before Aleshire filed a complaint against the LPT, Benedict decided to take on the influential political action committees of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Austin and the Austin Apartment Association.
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