PACs to Flack

The city PACs work the background of the campaigns

An increasingly common factor in Austin elections are the political action committees – PACs. While they've always had an informal political presence, in recent years they've become more important because of Austin's strict limits on direct campaign financing; independent PACs have much more flexibility in accepting and spending contributions. Arriving in both general- and specific-purpose form, they can provide great outside help, focus attention on neglected issues, or tar an opposing candidate without directly implicating their own candidate's campaign.

Here's a list of the most prominent PACs working this election cycle:

• Carole for Austin The most financially successful of the filed PACs, Carole for Austin is the arm under which mayoral candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn has done all her fundraising, having collected $41,162 by the first reporting deadline. It names the same campaign treasurer, former Council Member Louise Epstein, as Strayhorn's individual candidate filing.

• Draft Lee Leffingwell for Mayor Established by parks advocate Ted Siff, who also serves as treasurer, this PAC was created to increase Leffingwell's visibility when he couldn't yet officially declare his candidacy without initiating a special election. Now that Leffingwell's formally in the race, expect the "draft" to recede.

• Austin Police Association PAC, Austin Firefighters PAC, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Employee PAC Perennial players in municipal elections, the public-safety PACs don't steer financial contributions to candidates as much as they lend their prestige and ranks of voters, as well as do some independent advertising. The police and fire PACs have already endorsed Lef­fing­well, which the Brewster McCracken campaign countered by reminding voters of mounting public-safety costs. Due to his years of advocacy, Mike Levy could be considered a contender for the EMS union endorsement – if he enters the race.

ChangeAustin.org Hoping to harness the momentum they presumably built with the Stop Domain Subsidies campaign, ChangeAustin.org is the new PAC from SDS principals Brian Rodgers and Linda Curtis. While still kvetching about retail subsidies and the narrow loss of the SDS proposition – blaming faulty voting machines and the Chronicle for its defeat – this incarnation tackles more general boondoggles, questioning expensive city projects such as Water Treat­ment Plant No. 4 and Austin Energy's investment in a $2.3 billion biomass plant.

• Better Austin Today PAC This more or less lefty consortium arrived on the scene last election, with mixed results at the polls (one win with Laura Morrison, one loss with Jason Meeker). Its Jan. 15 finance report lists no contributions and no funds on hand, but PAC principal Debbie Russell says the group is planning fundraisers, a candidate forum, and endorsements.

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