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July 21st, 2015:

Mayoral finance reports: PACs and consultants

Let’s take a deeper dive into Mayoral candidate fundraising by examining one of the main categories of raised funds, and one of the main categories of spent funds. I speak of PAC money for the former, and consultant fees/staff salaries for the other. Here’s how much each candidate raised in PAC funds in their July report:

Candidate PAC $ Total $ PAC % ========================================= Turner 127,650 747,793 17.1% Costello 124,500 1,276,281 9.8% Garcia 87,150 1,441,792 6.0% King 41,000 721,250 5.7% Bell 5,500 366,770 1.5% McVey 3,000 43,927 6.8% Hall 0 69,025 0.0%

As a reminder, you can see all the finance reports that have been submitted on my Election 2015 page. I considered any contributor identified as a PAC or a business of some kind to be a “PAC” for these purposes. If you want to be technical, I’m adding up the contributions that didn’t come from individuals or couples. I also did not include in kind contributions in these totals. For most candidates, I found the value represented in the “Total $” column on the new Subtotals page, which is the modification to the forms that caused all of the trouble this cycle. Ben Hall, of course, didn’t bother with that page, and also included the $850,000 he loaned himself in his “Total Political Contributions” entry. His form was pretty short and it was easy enough to sort it out. Steve Costello’s total above is lower than what you’ll find on his report. This is because he contributed $175K to his campaign – it was reported as a contribution, not a loan – and his PAC donated an additional $10K. For the purposes of this post, I excluded them from his total amount, and didn’t add the PAC contribution to the “PAC $” figure. Sylvester Turner definitely gets the benefit of being a long-term office holder. We’ll see other effects of that in subsequent reports. I expect Adrian Garcia will pull in more PAC money for the 30 day report. As impressive as his haul is, he’s still catching up in some ways.

Now let’s look at the other side of the ledger:

Candidate Salary $ Consult $ Sum $ Raised Pct ========================================================== King 67,289 306,400 373,689 721,250 51.8% Turner 131,192 224,000 355,192 747,793 47.5% Costello 120,932 181,800 302,732 1,276,281 23.7% Bell 102,226 30,350 132,576 366,770 36.1% Garcia 52,427 31,300 83,727 1,441,792 5.8% McVey 60,500 9,000 69,500 43,927 158.2% Hall 0 24,200 24,200 69,025 35.1%

There are two basic categories of paying for people to do stuff – “Salaries/Wages/Contract Labor” and “Consulting”. I added all of the former to “Salary $”, and I also included anything classified as health insurance for staffers and payroll taxes. I did not include fees paid to payroll management services like ADI, because I’m just obstreperous like that. Here you can see the advantage of Adrian Garcia’s late entry into the race – unlike several of his competitors, he hasn’t been paying for staffers and consultants since January. Bill King raised a decent amount of money, but man that’s a big burn rate. If he’s going to hire all those people and run an air campaign, he’s going to have to keep writing checks to himself. Turner’s burn rate is almost as high, but he started out with (and still has) a lot of cash, and his strategy seems to be more targeted, and thus less likely to run into five- and six-figure media buys. Costello spent almost as much as those two did on people, but his much bigger haul gives him a lot of cushion. Bell is going to need to figure out how to run a lean and cost-effective campaign, because he’s not living in the same ZIP code as those four. While multiple candidates are doing at least some self-financing, Marty McVey shows what the edge case for that looks like. He literally wouldn’t have a campaign without his own money, and he still has plenty of it to spend. It will be interesting to see what he does with it. As for Ben Hall, all I will say is that he paid $12,500 to the Hall Law Firm for legal expenses. Hey, if you want something done right, you do it yourself, amirite?

In the next entry in this series, I’ll take another look at where all this money is coming from. You’re not at all wrong to think we’re swimming in it in a way that we weren’t in 2009 or 2003.

Sandra Bland’s death being investigated as a homicide

Doesn’t mean that’s how it will be ruled, but it’s at least a sign that it’s being taken with appropriate seriousness.

Sandra Bland

The probe into Sandra Bland’s hanging death inside a Texas jail — which a medical examiner ruled a suicide last week — now includes the possibility of murder.

“This is being treated like a murder investigation,” Elton Mathis, Waller County’s district attorney, said at a press conference Monday.

Mathis said he made the determination after talking to Bland’s family and to those who saw her last, including the bail bondsman, who was among the last to hear from her alive.

[…]

While the Harris County medical examiner ruled her death consistent with a suicide, Mathis said it is now being treated as a murder.

“There are too many questions that need to be resolved. Ms. Bland’s family does make valid points. She did have a lot of things going on in her life for good,” Mathis said.

The district attorney also said the dashboard video of the traffic stop in Prairie View that was retrieved from Encinia’s patrol car would be released on Tuesday.

After viewing the video, Mathis said Bland was not “compliant” with the officer’s directions.

“Sandra Bland was very combative. It was not a model traffic stop. It was not a model person that was stopped,” Mathis said.

See here for some background. I am sure that dashcam video will be all over social media later today. The Chron story provides a different assessment of its contents.

Mathis said he has requested scientific testing from the jail, including touch DNA evidence on the plastic trash bag that medical examiners in Harris County said Bland used to kill herself.

Mathis outlined some of the details of his investigation at a news conference Monday afternoon, hours after a separate news conference, where advocates for Bland raised questions into her death.

Advocates representing Bland’s relatives also said dash cam footage of her traffic stop in Prairie View contradicted information provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The family also called for the Department of Justice to investigate the circumstances of her arrest on July 10 and death three days later in the Waller County Jail, which officials have ruled a suicide.

“We know we’re standing at a crime scene,” said Jamal Bryant, an advocate for Bland’s relatives, outside the jail.

At a news conference, Bryant, a pastor at the Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, said the footage, which had been shown to Bland’s relatives and their lawyer, but which has not yet been released publicly, showed the DPS trooper stopping her, walking to her car, and then speaking to her while she smoked a cigarette.

The trooper, 30-year-old Brian Encinia, told her to put it out, and she refused, Bryant said.

Bland began videotaping the stop with her cell phone, which enraged the trooper, Bryant said.

“You can’t see at any point where Bland attacks the officer,” Bryant said.

DPS officials have said that during the stop, Bland became “uncooperative” and kicked the officer. She was arrested and charged with assault of a public servant.

Cannon Lambert, a Chicago-based attorney representing the family, said Sunday on a Washington D.C. radio show that Encinia tried to pull Bland from the car when she reached for her cell phone. When that didn’t work, he pulled out a TASER and pointed it at her, and she voluntarily got out of the car, he said.

The dash cam did not record the entire encounter between the trooper and Bland.

I hope it’s enough to settle the arguments, but I suspect it will intensify them instead. We’ll see what it has to tell us.

Controller philosophies

Here’s a Chron story from a candidate forum for Controller candidates at which the main subject was the relationship that Controllers have with Mayors.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

“It’s the second-highest elected official in city government, and it needs to be independent to provide a check and balance on the office in power,” said former City Councilman Jew Don Boney, who went on to say the controller must not be an ally or lapdog to the mayor.

The city’s chief financial officer is tasked with performing audits, preparing financial statements and managing Houston’s investments and debt, though the office holder has no vote on City Council.

Still, Boney stressed the controller ought not approach the role bureaucratically.

“This is not an election for the chief bookkeeper of Houston,” Boney said. “We hire CPAs.”

Bill Frazer, 2013 controller runner-up, who touts himself as the only certified public accountant in the race, was not in attendance. Former Houston Community College board member Carroll Robinson also missed the bulk of the forum, walking in during closing remarks.

Meanwhile, deputy controller Chris Brown edged closer to the idea of a controller at odds with the mayor, albeit more gingerly.

Brown said the relationship between mayor and controller should depend on the state of the city’s fiscal affairs.

“In times of great surplus, where there’s a lot of money, I think the mayor and the controller should be adversaries, because that’s the time when the mayor’s gonna say, ‘Hey, we’ve got tons of money. Let’s just go spend it,’ ” Brown said.

“But,” he added, “I think in the times when we have difficult financial problems, there needs to be more of a concerted effort to work together to solve the financial problems in the city.”

Controller is kind of a strange office, as it has no authority to set agenda items or vote on Council. One can certainly argue that it should have more authority, as a counterbalance to the Mayor – this is a question I have asked before in interviews with Controller candidates, and will ask again – but as the story suggests, the Controller can always be a semi-official pain in the rear to the Mayor as needed. I personally think the Controller should focus more energy on audits and thinking up creative ways to save money. Beyond that, we’ll see what they have to say for themselves when I talk to them. For what is the second-most important office in the city, it sure doesn’t get a lot of attention.

More allegations against Kelly Siegler

Here they come.

Kelly Siegler

Howard Guidry was 18 years old when he was charged being the triggerman in a 1994 murder-for-hire case that involved a Missouri City police officer and his estranged wife. Twice he was convicted and sent to death row, and both times the prosecutor who sent him there was Kelly Siegler, the legendary Houston attorney who has been accused of withholding evidence in another high-profile murder case.

Now Guidry’s attorneys are saying she used the same tactics when she prosecuted their client, both in the original trial, which was overturned on appeal, and again when he was retried.

“Here it is – the same patterns and practices,” said Gwendolyn Payton, a lawyer at Lane Powell PC, a Seattle law firm that took on Guidry’s case pro bono. “And how many more are out there? It’s just really troubling.”

In the wake of District Judge Larry Gist’s ruling earlier this month, which said Siegler withheld evidence in the trial of David Temple and recommended a new trial for the Katy man, lawyers for Guidry are preparing to file amendments to a 2013 appeal explaining how her behavior in Guidry’s case is similar to what she did in the Temple case.

“We are alleging the same acts, independent of the Temple case,” Payton said. “We didn’t even know about the Temple case until that ruling.”

[…]

There are several striking resemblances between the Brady material that was not released in Temple’s 2007 trial and Guidry’s two death penalty trials, including evidence of other suspects and exculpatory evidence about the murder weapon.

In what may be the most damning example, Guidry’s lawyers were never told that crime scene investigators found fingerprints that were not Guidry’s on Farah Fratta’s car door and front fender where the shooter would have stood. The fingerprints were from another man who resembled Guidry and was friends with one of the suspects in the case.

The fingerprints that were found next to the body of the estranged wife were never disclosed to Guidry’s defense lawyers. The man resembling Guidry, who was part of the ring of suspects in the case, was never charged. Police investigating the slaying found human blood in the car he owned, which matched the description of the getaway car that witnesses saw, including having only one headlight.

In an appeal with hundreds of pages of arguments and sworn affidavits, Guidry’s lawyers allege numerous instances of misconduct. They contend Siegler hid the identity of the suspect resembling Guidry, his fingerprints and the fact that there was blood on the seat of his car.

In the Temple ruling, Gist took Siegler to task after she testified that Brady material did not need to be disclosed if she didn’t believe it.

“Of enormous significance was the prosecutor’s testimony at the habeas hearing that apparently favorable evidence did not need to be disclosed if the state did not believe it was true,” Gist wrote.

Lawyers for Guidry say the investigation of the man whose fingerprints were found is just one of the many pieces of evidence that was withheld.

“The trial counsel for sure never got that evidence,” Payton said. “It should have been disclosed under Brady, I don’t think anyone can argue unless you’re using the ‘Kelly Siegler rule’ that she didn’t find it credible.”

See here for some background. I vaguely remember this case, though I don’t recall any details or that there was a controversy about how the trial was conducted. As such, I have no insight as to the merit of these allegations. I do think the so-called “Kelly Siegler rule” is wrong and cannot be allowed to serve as a standard for what qualifies as Brady material. I don’t know what the standard should be, but it needs to be more inclusive than what the prosecution thinks the defense might need. I hope the generally prosecution-friendly Court of Criminal Appeals can provide some better guidance, because I strongly suspect Kelly Siegler isn’t the only prosecutor, and David Temple and Howard Guidry aren’t the only defendants, to whom this would need to apply. Hair Balls has more.