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July 28th, 2015:

A closer look at Controller finance reports

Last week I took a closer look at the campaign finance reports for Mayoral candidates. Let’s do the same for the Controller candidates.

Candidate Raised In Kind Spent Loans On Hand ========================================================== Robinson 46,170 3,908 33,908 0 5,033 Brown 267,750 3,547 20,818 0 222,858 Frazer 128,097 1,009 120,956 32,500 53,973 Jefferson 8,653 2,943 9,255 1,860 5,521 Boney 8,390 0 5,487 0 2,902 Candidate PAC Max Non-Hou PAC % Max % Non-Hou % ================================================================== Robinson 8,500 10,000 17,000 18.4% 21.7% 36.8% Brown 2,500 140,000 42,450 0.9% 52.3% 15.6% Frazer 10,350 15,000 7,400 8.1% 11.7% 5.8% Jefferson 1,000 0 2,100 11.6% 0.0% 24.3% Boney 1,500 0 3,795 17.9% 0.0% 45.2% Candidate Overhead Outreach =============================== Robinson 1,750 28,889 Brown 10,535 1,923 Frazer 86,040 7,028 Jefferson 5,910 1,682 Boney 1,200 254

BagOfMoney

As always, all reports can be seen here. To review, PAC money is anything given by a PAC or business – basically, donations not from individuals – “Max” is the sum of donations from people who gave $5K and PACs who gave $10K (I didn’t see any of the latter on these reports), and “Non-Hou” sums up the contributions given from people who don’t have a “Houston TX” address. That was a bit more challenging in the case of Carroll Robinson, since he annoyingly only listed the state and ZIP code for his donors, but I managed. On the spending side, “Overhead” was initially intended to be the sum of money paid for items listed as “Consulting”, “Salaries/Wages/Contract labor” and payroll taxes, but as is often the case with these reports things got a little messy. Frazer had a bunch of payments to Mammoth Marketing Group that including things like Consulting Expense, Solicitation/Fundraising Expense, and Office Overhead/Rental Expense, which was for website design and maintenance. I included all of that, but listed expenses for Printing under Outreach, which is intended for advertising, mailers, yard signs, and the like. Frazer was also the only candidate to list rent for office space as an expense, so I included that under Overhead as well. Like I said, it got a bit messy.

The topline dollar figures speak for themselves. The spending is of more interest to me. Here’s a look at some of the items that caught my eye for each candidate.

Carroll Robinson – $29,200 of the money he spent went to Patriot Strategies Group, for the following items:

$1,000 for consulting fees
$8,500 for Auto Calls
$2,200 for Internet or Online Ads
$4,500 for Mailing
$9,500 for Auto Calls & Mail
$2,000 for Video Production & E-Blast
$1,000 for Social Media & Video Production
$500 for Social Media

Everything above is listed as Outreach except for the first charge. I don’t know why Auto Calls and Mail are lumped together on one item when they are separate on others, but like I said, this can get messy. $8,500 plus sounds a lot to me for robocalls, especially this early in a campaign.

Chris Brown didn’t actually spent that much – I expect that will come later – but one of his larger expenditures was $4,489 to Piryx for “online donation fees”. Piryx handles a lot of this sort of transaction = you’ll see their name on a lot of finance reports – but usually you see charges in the one to two dollar range. I have no explanation for this, unless maybe they take a cut of each donation and a bunch of those max contributions were made online.

Bill Frazer spent $22,825 from personal funds, with $6,077 in “unpaid incurred obligations”. As with Bill King, I think that burn rate could come back to haunt him.

Dwight Jefferson – All $2,963 in kind was from Coats Rose PAC for an Event Expense. On a somewhat odd note, the Andrews & Kurth PAC gave $1,500 to every candidate in this race except Jefferson, who got $1,000. I think if I were Dwight Jefferson, I’d ask them to make it up to me.

Jew Don Boney had a lot of food-related expenses listed as Solicitation/Fundraising Expense. There’s not much more of interest than that.

So that’s the Controller reports. I’ll try to see about doing the same with the Council reports.

Woodfill is still pursuing his anti-same-sex benefits lawsuit

From the inbox and the febrile mind of Jared Woodfill:

RedEquality

Last year Houston Judge Lisa Millard granted a temporary injunction and ordered Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston to immediately stop recognizing same-sex ‘marriages’ and stop providing benefits to the same-sex couples married in other states. Judge Millard stated, “This court does not legislate from the bench” and ordered the injunction to stay in place until a trial date of December 2015. I filed the lawsuit on behalf of Larry Hicks and Pastor Jack Pidgeon. The City of Houston has appealed Judge Millard’s opinion. Mayor Parker is arguing that the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding same-sex marriage justifies her unilateral decision to use your tax dollars to fund same-sex benefits. I believe the City of Houston and Mayor Parker are wrong. The recent marriage decisions addressed a new right for same-sex marriage, but did not establish an entitlement for financial support at taxpayer expense. Consistent with the same dichotomy that resulted in the abortion decisions, which established an individual right to abortion but an equally strong right by the States to deny public funding for abortion. Accordingly, we have responded to Mayor Parker’s unlawful use of your tax dollars and filed a responsive brief. The brief can be accessed by clicking here. I am hopeful that the Houston Fourteenth Court of Appeals, like Judge Millard, will once again make it clear that Mayor Parker’s executive actions to force the funding of same-sex benefits on the people of Houston are illegal. It is time for Mayor Parker to stop wasting tax dollars on issues that have already been resolved by Texas voters and Texas state courts. I will keep you posted on the progress of this litigation.

Read Judge Millard’s order here.

To review the situation: In November of 2013, after SCOTUS knocked down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Mayor Parker issued an executive order declaring that spousal benefits for city employees extended to legally married (i.e., in other states) same-sex spouses. This was both in response to the deletion of DOMA and in recognition of the fact that the 2001 charter amendment limited benefits to “employees, their legal spouses and dependent children”. Pidgeon and Hicks, abetted by Woodfill, then filed a lawsuit challenging this, and got an initial injunction against it from Family Court Judge Lisa Millard. A second lawsuit was then filed by three City employees who would have benefited from Mayor Parker’s order, to force the action that she took. Both suits were then moved to federal court in December, where Judge Lee Rosenthal dropped the injunction against the city. The second plaintiffs, represented by Lambda Legal, moved to combine the two suits, which were eventually moved back to state court last August. Woodfill and pals filed another lawsuit in state court in November; I have no idea what happened to that one.

As far as I know, that was the last update until after the Obergfell decision, at which time the Lambda Legal lawsuit was formally dismissed for being moot. I would have assumed the same would have happened to the Pidgeon/Hicks lawsuit, but I have not seen anything to confirm or deny that. As for this current action, I have no idea what legal basis Woodfill thinks he has to draw a distinction between same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage – silly me, I thought the SCOTUS ruling was pretty clear on that point – but after what we’ve seen in the past few weeks, who knows what a Texas court might do. Any legal types out there who can explain any or all of this better than I can, by all means please do. I’ll keep my eyes open for any further developments.

We wouldn’t be having these problems if we had just expanded Medicaid

The chickens, they are roosting.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Hospitals that serve large uninsured populations in Texas stand to lose critical funding if the state can’t convince the federal government to continue helping with the cost, doctors and health advocates told the state health department Thursday.

With the expiration date of a five-year, $29 billion program approaching, the Health and Human Services Commission will attempt to negotiate a renewal of federal funds to help reimburse hospitals caring for the uninsured.

Rural Texas hospitals serve large uninsured populations and rely on the money to keep from closing, Grace Chimene, a pediatric nurse practitioner, told a panel of HHSC administrators taking public testimony on the need for an extension.

“When a rural hospital closes, lives are lost due to the lack of emergency services,” the Austin resident said. “If you have an emergency like a heart attack in rural Texas, you better hope that local community has enough insured population to support a community hospital.”

The money was originally intended to help Texas transition over five years to an expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. But Texas officials decided not to expand Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for the poor and disabled, leaving uninsured nearly one million residents who would have been eligible for coverage under the expanded program.

That was a rebuke of the Obama administration, which is now considering whether — or to what extent — it will renew the matching funds. Federal officials told HHSC in April they would consider Texas’ refusal to expand Medicaid when determining whether to renew the federal matching funds that supplement local dollars.

[…]

The month-long public comment period for HHSC’s proposal to have the funding extended another five years will end August 5. The deadline to reach a deal with the federal government is September 30.

However, many who testified said Medicaid coverage expansion itself is more important than extending the five-year program, and urged the HHSC to pressure the government to expand coverage.

“Coverage expansion must be part of the solution,” said Laura Guerra-Cardus, an Austin doctor who serves as associate director of the Children’s Defense Fund in Texas. “Without coverage, individuals do not have adequate access to preventative, chronic and ongoing care that makes the concept of health care meaningful.”

HHSC must submit its request for extending the waiver by the end of September. If it fails, the money would run out in September 2016.

See here and here for the background. I’ll say again, I hope the feds stand firm and make it clear to Texas that this money is contingent on Medicaid expansion, no ifs ands or buts about it. Ideology is the only reason for the opposition to expanding Medicaid. Let’s make it perfectly clear to the hospitals and the communities they serve that stand to get screwed by this who and why it is happening. As they say, elections have consequences.

TOP/SEIU Mayoral forum report

From David Ortez:

After the dust settled, the forum commenced with the hosts explaining the four pillars of their platform. It boiled down to: 1) Good Jobs; 2) Neighborhoods of Opportunity; 3) Infrastructure; and 4) Immigrant Rights. At the end of the forum, all the candidates would be asked to endorse this platform by signing a large four by five foot petition. Every candidate expect Bill King would end up signing and supporting the platform.

The first question was regarding the first 100 days as mayor. Garcia and Turner employed their well-rehearsed and appropriate non responsive answers explaining that each candidate would meet with TOP and SEIU Texas to set an agenda. Garcia stated that he would welcome and support immigrants. Turner also welcomes immigrants to our city but added that he would want to help out areas that been ignored. King, on the other hand, noted that he would address the redistribution of wealth in neighborhoods, citing the current Houston decision to spend millions on Post Oak to create a dedicated bus lane in the Galleria area. McVey stated that he would implement an Identification Card program for undocumented residents and supports a $15 minimum wage in the city. It was not clear if this minimum wage would only apply to municipal employees or all employees within the city.

The next sets of questions were addressed to each candidate individually. Garcia was hit hard for not standing up against the controversial 287(g) program as Harris County Sheriff. 287(g) allows trained local law enforcement officials to conduct immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions. In Harris County, this usually takes place when a suspect is booked after being arrested regardless of culpability. Some defendants then have an immigration hold placed, which results in deportation. Garcia began his response by reminding folks, “First and foremost, I worked as sheriff to keep people safe. I worked to get criminals off the streets.” Then, he attempted to spin the question by claiming that it only applies to criminals in jail. This is a false statement. He concluded his response by claiming to have fought against the program. How? I am not really sure.

King was asked which program he would cut first as mayor. He did not hesitate to throw the Houston Crime Lab under the bus and vowed to eliminate programs that provided duplicate services. McVey was asked to share his strategy for success as an unknown candidate; he began by explaining that he was unknown because he was not a career politician, then he cited his resume as someone that comes from the private sector that knows how to create jobs. Turner had the softer question of the group when he was asked to explain how he would improve the quality of jobs for employees. Turner took the opportunity to support a $15 minimum wage. He would also like to provide Houstonians with skills to obtain new trade jobs. He noted that not everyone is destined for college.

There’s more, including a few pull quotes from candidates that aren’t in the main body of the post, so go check it out. I couldn’t find any mainstream news coverage of this event, which focused on some issues that don’t get as much attention as others. Here’s the TOP/SEIU platform, called “Houston 4 All”, from their press release:

  • Good Jobs: A strong mayor can incentivize good jobs with living wages and benefits that enable working parents to sustain a family.
  • Neighborhoods of Opportunity: A strong mayor can lead a city-wide effort to help all of our neighborhoods not just survive, but thrive. That means focusing on areas with greatest need first, supporting minority homeownership, cleaning abandoned properties and lots, and prioritizing development projects in the most neglected neighborhoods.
  • Immigrant Rights: A strong mayor can create a municipal ID program to increase public safety and symbolically welcome, engage and include vulnerable populations who face barriers in obtaining IDs accepted by Houston authorities like the police, independent school districts and city departments.
  • Sound Infrastructure: A strong mayor can invest infrastructure dollars for drainage, street, and sidewalk improvements in areas where they are needed most.

I’m not exactly sure how some of these would translate to specific policy proposals, but David’s report gives some clues from the questions that were asked. I’ve been wondering when a higher minimum wage would come up in the conversation. How far that might get with Council I couldn’t say, but I’m glad to see it get discussed.