Lawsuit Against Austin's Campaign Rules Could Succeed

Don Zimmerman, a conservative, is a minority voice in Austin’s city council, which is partly why he’s suing the city for its campaign finance rules.

Those rules, the District 6 representative says, limit what candidates can do to defend themselves against attacks in the media while they’re in office. And once the campaign period kicks off, they also make it much harder for candidates who can’t self-fund their campaigns, limiting how much they can raise from individuals and where they can raise money from.

“If you don’t have your own money, then your hands are completely tied,” said Jerad Najvar, Zimmerman’s lawyer. “I think it really distorts the political process. It keeps new and fresh ideas out of the system, and that’s bad for everybody.” 

The lawsuit, filed in federal court Monday, comes as the U.S. Supreme Court has loosened campaign finance regulations in recent years, setting precedents that observers say could help Zimmerman’s case.

“I wouldn’t be sure of what the outcome would be, but I would think some of those provisions might be pretty vulnerable,” said Joseph Fishkin, a University of Texas at Austin professor who studies election law.

Najvar isn’t a newcomer to this fight. He was co-counsel in last year’s McCutcheon case, in which the Supreme Court struck down aggregate contribution limits for individuals, and also defeated a blackout period for fundraising in Houston. Now, Najvar is helping Zimmerman invalidate a similar blackout period in Austin that prohibits candidates from raising money until six months before an election.

Zimmerman’s lawsuit also targets three other city campaign finance rules. That includes the city’s $350 contribution limit for individuals, which Zimmerman says is too low, and a restriction limiting the total amount of money candidates can raise outside of Austin, as Zimmerman wants to raise money from “like-minded individuals” across the state.

The lawsuit also hopes to eliminate a requirement that candidates give any leftover money after a campaign back to “government-preferred recipients,” although incumbents can keep up to $20,000 in an officeholder account. That provision, Najvar says, is “maybe the strangest campaign finance requirement I’ve ever seen.”

A spokesman for the city of Austin said they’re aware of the lawsuit and don’t have anything to add, noting that only voters can amend the city charter. Zimmerman, who talked with the city attorney before filing the lawsuit, says it would take too long to get voters to approve changes to the charter — and even if he can get a proposal on the ballot, the outcome would be uncertain.

The city's contribution limits, most observers agreed, is the rule that's most likely to stay in place. But the provision most at risk of being struck down, they said, is one allowing candidates to raise a total of $36,000 from those who can’t vote in Austin. Buck Wood, an Austin election law attorney, says that rule “may not survive.”

Also in danger is Austin’s blackout period, which Peck Young, a longtime Austin political consultant who wrote the city’s first ethics ordinances, says doesn’t prevent corruption from happening.

“When you’re going to take a contribution is not the issue,” Young said. “The issue is whether or not you have the integrity to say you will vote [a certain way] for a campaign contribution.”

But Austin attorney Fred Lewis said that before the blackout period was in place, there was “a tremendous appearance” that candidates were backing projects from interest groups that supported their campaigns. Lewis likened the blackout period to the fundraising freeze for state officials, as it’s “unseemly for legislators to be raising money from people … and voting on their bills.”

Lewis called the lawsuit part of a longstanding “right-wing assault” to dismantle campaign finance laws — this time striking at the municipal level.

“I think it is misguided, and it is, frankly, a profound misunderstanding of our democratic institutions,” Lewis said.

But the lawsuit argues the city's current rules work against those who aren't wealthy and those with lower name recognition. And, Najvar added, the "arbitrary" limits Zimmerman is challenging "just don't address corruption."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Lt. Gov. Patrick Will Appear at Hughes Senate Fundraisers

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during a June 4, 2015 Tribune Conversation
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during a June 4, 2015 Tribune Conversation

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick plans to attend a pair of fundraisers for Senate District 1 candidate Bryan Hughes, a major get for the Mineola Republican who is squaring off against House colleague David Simpson for the nomination for the open seat.
His attendance, though, at the events, scheduled for Tyler and Austin, is not an endorsement of Hughes’ candidacy, according to Patrick political consultant Allen Blakemore.
Rather, Blakemore told Texas Weekly late last week that Patrick was responding to an invitation from a friend to attend an event. The Hughes campaign said that Patrick will be a “special guest” at the events.

On Thursday, the Hughes campaign announced the Austin fundraiser would be held the afternoon of Sept. 1 at the Austin Club, a couple of blocks from the Capitol.
Patrick told the Tribune’s Evan Smith in early June that he would not be endorsing in competitive primaries for open Senate seats.
The SD-1 seat is being vacated by Kevin Eltife. Also, the SD-24 seat is open as well as a result of the decision by Troy Fraser not to seek re-election. That seat has attracted interest from a number of would-be candidates.
Simpson consultant Luke Macias said that his campaign does not have any appearances with Patrick lined up, adding that the Simpson campaign has received recent assurances that Patrick intends to stay neutral in the race.
“We are very confident that the lieutenant governor would honor both the spirit and the letter of his commitment to stay out of Senate primaries,” Macias said late last week.  “And because of that, we have done everything we can to not place the lieutenant governor in any sticky situation regarding Senate District 1.”


Ophthalmologist Dawn Buckingham officially announced on Wednesday her entry in the race to replace outgoing state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay.
Buckingham made the announcement at an event in Bee Cave. She has already raised roughly $48,000 in her effort and loaned herself $500,000 — and she faces a handful of other announced and potential candidates in the GOP SD-24 primary.


Business owner Glenn Rex has jumped into the race to replace outgoing state Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring. Rex, a Harris County Republican Party precinct chair, joins businessman Kevin Roberts in the HD-126 GOP primary. The committee backing Roberts, who announced last month, reported raising about $155,000 in June.


A super PAC backing the presidential candidacy of Rand Paul disclosed raising $3.1 million in an FEC filing posted late last week, including Texans like Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who gave $50,000, as well as state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, and his brother Phillip who each gave $25,000.

Houston Texans owner Robert McNair gave $500,000 to the Security is Strength PAC, a group backing U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The amount, which McNair donated June 6, is among the larger contributions publicized so far by a super PAC supporting a White House hopeful. McNair, who also gave to Graham's campaign, is expected to also be a major donor to a group of super PACs backing U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

200-Plus Lawyers File Grievance With State Bar Against Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to media in June 2015.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to media in June 2015.

More than 200 Texas lawyers have added their names to a complaint against Attorney General Ken Paxton for his response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.
The nearly 50-page grievance filed with the State Bar of Texas on Monday night says Paxton “violated his own official oath of office” by telling Texas clerks they did not have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if it violated their religious beliefs. However, Paxton’s direction to clerks, issued in the wake of theU.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, warned clerks that they could face litigation if they chose not to issue licenses.

In response, Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer reiterated Tuesday that the attorney general's legal opinion was "a nonbinding interpretation of the law," one that "emphasizes the importance of protecting religious liberty while enforcing the Supreme Court's expanded definition of marriage."
The State Bar of Texas now has 30 days to determine whether the complaint alleges professional misconduct. If so, it may launch an investigation into the claims.


Former Comptroller Susan Combs has found a way to salvage one of her favored education programs, which is set to be scrapped soon. Now, a political action committee funded by her campaign account will help pay for the program to operate out of the Bush School of Government and Public Services at Texas A&M University.
The program, the Financial Allocation Study for Texas, used test scores and school spending to rate schools on a five-star scale based on how efficiently they were spending money. It was created in 2009 and managed by Combs' office. Its funding was cut during the 2015 session.


Former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill has announced an eight-city speaking tour featuring a number of prominent conservative organizers.
The speakers, Woodfill writes, will talk about “key issues threatening Christian values and on the nuts and bolts of politics, so that we can take back our government.” The tour starts Aug. 13 in Houston and finishes up with an Oct. 1 event in Waco.

Woodfill was one of the candidates seeking earlier this year to succeed Steve Munisteri as chair of the Republican Party of Texas. When asked if he will run again for chairman at next year’s state convention, Woodfill told Texas Weekly that he’s “focused on getting conservatives organized and mobilized for the upcoming City of Houston elections.”

Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Inside Intelligence: About Those GOP Debate Invites...

For this week’s nonscientific survey of insiders in government and politics, we ask how likely it is that the two Texas presidential hopefuls score invites to the first GOP presidential debate in Cleveland in early August.

The most popular choice? That both Ted Cruz and Rick Perry make the stage. That option is preferred by 44 percent of the insiders. Another 39 percent think Cruz alone is invited.

Just 5 percent think Perry is the only one of the two to make it the debate stage while 10 percent say neither is allowed to take part in the debate.

We then ask if Perry would have the criminal case that's been pending against him for about a year finally concluded before the Iowa caucus next year. He received a boost recently with one of two pending counts dismissed by an appeals court.

More than half the insiders, though, don't think the case is finally done by the time of the Iowa caucus. Nearly 40 percent believe Perry will be clear of it by then.

The next question attempts to gauge expectations on turnout in next year's GOP primary. In some quarters, the thought is that a potentially still competitive presidential nomination fight could spur a bump in turnout similar to what Democrats experienced in 2008 when supporters of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton flocked to the polling places.

On this, 70 percent of the insiders expect turnout higher than the 1.4 million votes cast four years ago but not a record turnout. Another 14 percent forecast a record number of votes cast while 13 percent believe about as many votes will be cast next year as in 2012.

On the final question, 83 percent think Cruz runs for re-election to the Senate should he fall short in in his bid for the GOP nomination for president.

We collected comments along the way, and a full set of those is attached. Here’s a sampling:


Who makes the cut for that first GOP presidential debate on Aug. 6 in Cleveland?

• "A presidential debate without a Texan is no debate at all."

• "It's the Oprah of GOP presidential debates: You get a slot and YOU get a slot and YOU get a slot... everybody gets a slot on stage!"

• "Cruz is a better debater, but Perry is 'prettier.' If there is Texas fatigue, they will dump Perry and go with Cruz."

• "Cruz is in easily. Perry got some publicity by attacking Trump, but not enough."

• "Rick Perry is the only voice of reason, which means that the networks will likely leave him out!"


With one of two indictments now gone, does the court case against Rick Perry conclude before the Iowa caucus?

• "What court case?"

• "But it won't matter because Perry will have shuttered his presidential hopes."

• "Gone? You forgot about the appeal of the appeal, followed by the appeal of the appeal of the appeal. No way this is all done before the 2016 general election, much less the primaries."

• "Is the glass half empty or half full — did the panel of Republican judges dismiss one or see merit in another?"

• "It does not really matter. The special prosecutor has already been discredited with the dismissal of the one charge."


More than 1.4 million voters cast ballots in the 2012 GOP presidential primary. What are your turnout expectations for the primary next year?

• "After enduring the Obama presidency, Texas GOP voters are ravenous for a red president. They will turn out."

• "The angst among the grassroots will bring out new voters who're afraid of the status quo."

• "It has to be a record turnout because for the first time in modern history Texas will be critical in the delegate count."

• "2012 was an odd election because of the redistricting battle. It should be higher on a uniform election day."

• "As long as Trump staying in GOP primary, lots of folks will come out to vote."


If he does not win the presidential nomination next year, does Ted Cruz run for re-election?

• "He will retire to Goldman Sachs and write a book about the moral decay of America and restoration of the Gold Standard."

• "Well, of course he will — he is a U.S. Senator! Otherwise no one will talk to him!"

• "He might also get a VP nomination. Look at how many VP candidates have gotten the presidential nomination afterward. Truman, Nixon, LBJ, G. H. W. Bush, Mondale, Humphrey, Gore..."

• "He's brilliant, young and full of energy."

• "For someone who rails against government, he needs to continue his streak of government jobs."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Brandon Alderete, Clyde Alexander, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Dave Beckwith, Andrew Biar, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Raif Calvert, Marc Campos, Snapper Carr, Corbin Casteel, Elna Christopher, Kevin Cooper, Randy Cubriel, Beth Cubriel, Curtis Culwell, Denise Davis, June Deadrick, Nora Del Bosque, Holly DeShields, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, John Esparza, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Eric Glenn, John Greytok, Clint Hackney, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Ken Hodges, Steve Holzheauser, Kathy Hutto, Shanna Igo, Deborah Ingersoll, Mark Jones, Bill Jones, Walt Jordan, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Dale Laine, Pete Laney, James LeBas, Luke Legate, Ruben Longoria, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, Jason McElvaney, Steve Minick, Mike Moses, Nelson Nease, Todd Olsen, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Robert Peeler, Jerry Philips, Wayne Pierce, Allen Place, Gary Polland, David Reynolds, A.J. Rodriguez, Grant Ruckel, Tyler Ruud, Jason Sabo, Jim Sartwelle, Barbara Schlief, Stan Schlueter, Christopher Shields, Ed Small, Martha Smiley, Mark Smith, Larry Soward, Leonard Spearman, Dennis Speight, Colin Strother, Sherry Sylvester, Sara Tays, Trey Trainor, Corbin Van Arsdale, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Seth Winick, Angelo Zottarelli.

The Calendar

Monday, Aug. 3

  • National Conference of State Legislatures 2015 Legislative Summit; 800 Convention Pl., Seattle, Wash. (Aug. 3-6)

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

*Texas Weekly is going on vacation for the summer. We will not publish on the following two Fridays but we will return Aug. 21. Thanks for reading!*

A state appeals court threw out one of two counts in the indictment against former Gov. Rick Perry. It threw out the count alleging that Perry coerced a public servant when he threatened to veto state funding for a unit of the Travis County district attorney's office. But the court left intact the indictment's other count, which accuses Perry of abusing his power.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said on the Senate floor Sunday that his colleague and fellow Texan, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, “is mistaken” in saying Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a “flat-out lie” over legislative strategy. Cruz’s statement last week got him a scolding from Cornyn and other GOP leaders in the Sunday session.

The General Land Office’s contracting procedures are riddled with “significant weaknesses” that threaten the agency’s ability to ensure it is wisely spending its dollars, State Auditor John Keel said in a report made public Tuesday. The GLO agreed with the auditor’s many recommended fixes and said it was already making changes. But former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who led the agency for 12 years, jabbed his successor, fellow Republican George P. Bush, for failing to push back against the audit’s findings.

In a Wednesday speech, Perry launched an offensive against banks that are too big to fail and tied the 2008 financial crisis to Hillary Clinton. Warning that the "next crash is on the horizon," Perry positioned himself as the only candidate with the economic record to to reverse an era of Wall Street run amok, enabled by complicit politicians.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton confirmed on Wednesday that a video filmed in Texas, which his office obtained as part of its investigation into Planned Parenthood practices, is “consistent” with other undercover videos released by an anti-abortion group. Paxton spoke at a Senate committee hearing on Planned Parenthood fetal tissue donations.

A House committee Thursday heard from state and county officials on trooper training and jail standards following the death of Sandra Bland. Also this week, Waller County officials released Bland’s booking video to dispel rumors that they covered up the real circumstances of Bland’s death, and the prosecutor said he appointed an outside group of lawyers to review the evidence in the case to ensure that Waller County remains "an open book."

Texas’ Republican leaders and environmentalists both claimed victory Tuesday following an appeals court ruling that requires the federal government to ease limits on certain emissions for Texas and a dozen other states. Texas was among 13 states, joined by industry and labor groups, that sued over the so-called Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in 2011, challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s framework and complaining states weren't given enough time to comply.

Uber added Austin to a small list of cities in which it will add wheelchair-accessible vehicles to its transportation offerings. The Austin ordinance that allowed companies like Uber and Lyft to legally co-exist with traditional cab companies also required the vehicle-for-hire companies to make it easier for users to request a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. Similar programs are already in place in New York, Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia and Portland, according to company officials.

Disclosure: The Texas General Land Office has been a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. Uber Technologies and Lyft are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Political People and their Moves

Steve Gilman of Houston, Beckie Stockstill Cobb of Deer Park and Yusuf Farran of El Paso have been named by Gov. Greg Abbott to the Credit Union Commission for terms set to expire on Feb. 1, 2021.

Ruth Ruggero Hughs of Austin was named by Abbott to the Texas Workforce Commission for a term set to expire on Feb. 1, 2021. A lawyer in private practice, she is also the owner of a film production company. She was previously the director of defense litigation in the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Abbott has made five appointments to the Texas Council on Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and Stroke. Kyle Sheets was appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2017, while Sherron Meeks, Shilpa Shamapant and Marcie Gonzalez Wilson were appointed for terms to expire Feb. 1, 2021. Melbert “Bob” Hillert, Jr. was reappointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2021.

T. Dan Friedkin of Houston was named chairman of the Parks and Wildlife Commission for a term to expire at the pleasure of the governor. He is CEO of Gulf States Toyota, which operates dealerships in five states, and a holding company, Friedkin Companies Inc., which invests primarily in the automotive industry.

Jay Steven Herrington of Palestine was named by Abbott to the Upper Neches River Municipal Water Authority Board of Directors for a term set to expire on Feb. 1, 2021.

Jeff Judson, a former president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, announced Friday he is launching a challenge to unseat House Speaker Joe Straus. In addition to his time at TPPF, Judson worked in President George H. W. Bush's administration and on Capitol Hill for the late Sen. John Tower as well as Reps. Tom Loeffler and Tom DeLay. Straus represents House District 121 in Bexar County.

Former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is backing businessman Bill King in his bid for Houston mayor, King’s campaign announced Wednesday. Dewhurst and his wife, Tricia, joined a handful of area conservative leaders in a letter sent to Houston residents encouraging them to get involved in King’s campaign.

State Rep. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman, announced Wednesday that he'll seek re-election to represent House District 4. Spitzer is in his first term representing the district, which takes in Kaufman County and most of Henderson County.

Ted Cruz's presidential campaign announced Tuesday that it has hired two field directors in Iowa and South Carolina. In Iowa, the campaign brought on board Jake Dagel, who most recently worked for the Iowa branch of Turning Point USA, which organizes young conservatives. In the Palmetto State, the campaign tapped Steven Wright, a former volunteer for Mark Sanford's congressional bid.

Beth Cubriel is stepping down as the executive director of the Republican Party of Texas, she announced Monday. In an email to the State Republican Executive Committee, Cubriel said she was leaving the party to work for a law firm in Austin. She began working for the party as its organizational director in February 2011 and became executive director in June 2012. Her last day is Sept. 8.

Ken Cearley, stewardship manager for the Texas Agricultural Land Trust, received the prestigious Sam Beasom Conservation Leader Award from the Texas Wildlife Association (TWA). He was honored in a ceremony earlier this month in San Antonio.

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas Wildlife Association are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Quotes of the Week

You learn that in kindergarten: You learn to work well together and play by the rules. Another thing you learn in kindergarten is to respect one another.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., critical of colleague Ted Cruz for accusing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of telling a "flat-out lie" to the members

It’s kind of like what our moms all told us: Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. And I think that’s very clear. I think that most people understand that.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, saying that "tone matters" in answering a question on whether Donald Trump's rhetoric is damaging the party

Let's get a pull-up bar out here and see who can do the most pull-ups.

Rick Perry, after being asked Wednesday by reporters about the insults sent his way by GOP presidential rival Donald Trump

This is no different than what happened in Nazi Germany. No different than doing the experiments on the old men and old women and now doing them on the babies.

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, speaking a day ahead of Wednesday's legislative hearing on Planned Parenthood practices

I can’t speak to the motive of the current commissioner for apparently endeavoring to drop his predecessor in the grease, but I would suggest he put more focus on doing his job and less on covering his derrière.

Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, reacting to a state auditor's report identifying "significant weaknesses" in contracts made under his tenure