The Austin Chronicle

Then There's This: Campaign Cash

Austin's real estate community fared well on their election investments, but affordable housing got dropped in the grease

By Amy Smith, November 23, 2012, News

Austin entered a new dimension this month as it passed a slew of charter amendments and bond propositions that will, among other things, create a full-fledged medical school, expand the City Council to 11 members, move council elections to November (the next one is in 2014), and enact two-year term limits on the mayor and council members.

Except for the narrow defeat of the affordable housing bonds, the ballot proposals proved successful, thanks in large measure to sizeable contributions from Austin's usual go-to financial backers and other high-rollers. Interestingly, the real estate and development community saw the greatest returns on their investments, which primarily centered on a new 10-1 governance structure and shifting council elections to November, signaling the even bigger role they'll play in local political and policy decisions. Fun times ahead, to be sure.

It bears repeating over and over again, though, that the city still faces a critical affordable housing problem (the homebuilders' political action committee and the Real Estate Council of Austin were curiously absent from the housing bond campaign's list of donors). And Austin is still the most expensive city in Texas, so where are folks making minimum wage supposed to live? Something to chew on over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Here's an all-in-one view of the campaign finance filings for each of the ballot proposals.

City Charter Amendment Campaigns

Democracy Austin (Props. 1 & 2: Move City Council races from May to November; extend council terms to four years, with two-term limits)
Total Raised: $60,400
Notable Donors: RECA Business M/PAC, $28,000; Stratus Properties, $1,000; Austin Police Assn., $1,500

Austinites for Geographic Representation (Prop. 3: 10-1 district representation on City Council)
Total Raised: $94,719
Notable Donors: Home PAC Corporate, $30,000; environmental financier Kirk Mitchell, $40,000; Texas Association of Builders, $5,000

Austin Community for Change (Prop. 4: 8-2-1 district representation on City Council; the proposal passed but was outvoted by the 10-1 district campaign)
Total Raised: $17,285
Notable Donors: Capital Area Asian Democrats, $1,000; Amy Wong Mok, $700; Richard Jung, $3,000; Stratus Properties, $4,000

Austin Travis County EMS Employee Association (Prop. 11: Extend civil service agreements to EMS personnel)
Spent: $10,278
Notable Donor: The EMS employees' association, a standing committee, dipped into its till to pay for campaign signs and a campaign website.

Travis County Central Health Prop. 1 Medical School

Keep Austin Healthy Political Action Committee
Total Raised: $619,344
Notable Donors: Seton Healthcare, $25,000; Texas EZPawn, $25,000; Balfour Beatty Construc­tion, $25,000; Greater Austin Economic Development Corp., $31,000; Sen. Kirk Watson campaign, $24,434 (for campaign materials)

Travis County Taxpayers Union PAC (opposition group)
Total Raised: $19,640
Notable Donor: Private business-school owner Jeff Sandefer, $10,000

City Bond Proposition Campaigns

Unity PAC (Props. 12-18: Provide for open space acquisition and improvements for projects for transportation and mobility, parks and open space, housing, public safety, health and human services, and libraries and cultural arts facilities. Only the affordable housing bond proposition failed.)
Total Raised: $125,280
Notable Donors: Hill Country Conservancy, $6,750; RECA Business M/PAC, $15,000; Downtown Austin Alliance, $10,000

HousingWorks Action PAC (Prop. 15: affordable housing)
Total Raised: $70,786
Notable Donors: Stratus Properties, $10,000; Spring Austin Partners, $10,000; Habitat for Humanity, $1,000; Meals on Wheels and More, $1,000

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