Lawsuit filed over Houston campaign blackout rules

From the inbox:

Trebor Gordon

Trebor Gordon

Late Tuesday afternoon, Houston City Council candidate Trebor Gordon filed a First Amendment lawsuit challenging a discriminatory Houston ordinance that prevents city candidates from fundraising until February.

Gordon is a conservative candidate for Houston City Council at large. “Houston is a great city because of the entrepreneurial culture of its citizens, among other things,” Gordon said. “But our current leadership has been chipping away at that spirit, overregulating and fleecing the taxpayers with a runaway budget. I’m running to restore responsible leadership and let Houstonians run their own lives.”

“I’m also compelled to address the deeply offensive posture Mayor Parker has taken towards people of faith in this city, harassing pastors with abusive subpoenas,” Gordon continued. “I have to address these issues now, because they are happening now. I can’t wait until February to start my campaign.”

Gordon will be on the ballot in the city’s next general election in November 2015. Currently, section 18-35(a) of the Houston code of ordinances states that candidates may only solicit or receive contributions beginning in February of the election year and ending on March 4 of the year after the election. This provision prohibits fundraising for a full ten months of every two-year cycle, and candidates have only nine months to raise funds before Election Day.

Gordon is represented by political law attorney Jerad Najvar. “There is no blackout period banning bad decisions by city officials for a part of every election cycle,” Najvar said, “and the government has no authority to tell Gordon—or any other candidate—to wait until February to start campaigning. City officials have access to free media all day long, and my client certainly has the right to fund his campaign and speak to the public. This waiting period serves only to insulate the city from organized opposition.”

Najvar continued: “The blackout period is facially unconstitutional. But it gets even worse, because people who currently hold non-city office are raising money right now, and everybody knows it will be transferred to their city campaign in February. This whole system is an absurd charade encouraging candidates to act like they’re running for something they’re not. While these shadow campaigns are proceeding aggressively, nonincumbents like Gordon have to sit on their hands. The First Amendment does not permit such nonsense.”

The case is Gordon v. City of Houston, No. 14-CV-3146, currently pending in federal court in the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. Gordon has asked for an immediate injunction, and is awaiting a hearing date from the court.

Gordon’s complaint is available here; the legal memorandum is here.

Gordon was a candidate for At Large #2 last year; he finished fourth out of four with 6.20% of the vote. His July finance report showed about $1000 raised. I doubt this lawsuit will matter much for his 2015 candidacy, but I think he raises a valid point. I’m not exactly sure what the city fundraising blackout period accomplishes. It makes sense to have one for the Legislature while it’s in session, but Council is technically in session year-round, during the blackout period and outside of it. It doesn’t prevent a sitting officeholder from being solicited while an ordinance that affects the donor in question.

According to the Chronicle, Gordon’s lawsuit is the second one to have been filed over this matter.

Gordon’s suit comes a month after Chris Bell, a likely mayoral candidate, filed his own suit asking a state court to disallow Sylvester Turner, considered a frontrunner in the race for mayor, and other competitors from conducting this type of end-around.

Turner has raised money throughout the fall and hauled in more than $400,000 at a recent fundraiser for his state representative campaign despite the fact that he does not have an opponent. Bell is asking for an injunction to be issued prior to Feb. 1.

The city attorney, David Feldman, has signed off on Turner’s plan, despite Bell’s and some campaign finance experts’ view that the Turner plan violates at least the spirit of the ordinance.

I know that Bell’s law partner sent a letter to Feldman questioning his decision about this, but if a lawsuit followed I couldn’t find any news stories about it, either in the Chronicle or via Google. A search of the District Clerk’s records found this action from October 17, so I guess Team Bell did indeed follow up on that letter. One way or another it looks like the preseason to the 2015 elections will be at least as interesting as the main event. Texpatriate has more.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on Bell’s lawsuit filing, which Teddy Schliefer emailed to me. My search did not find this for whatever the reason.

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One Response to Lawsuit filed over Houston campaign blackout rules

  1. joshua ben bullard says:

    unfortunatley for trebor gordon i have had first hand meeting with him and i find his attitude sucks,at the current moment i would say that he is not right for houston as an elected official ,if the election was tommorrow i would ask voters to vote for anyone other than him.

    for now, trebor gordon is not for houston

    joshua ben bullard

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