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First city campaign finance lawsuit action this week

As you may recall, City Council candidate Trebor Gordon filed a lawsuit last month alleging that the city of Houston’s campaign fundraising blackout period was illegal. This week, a federal judge is expected to rule on a request for a temporary injunction that would suspend that ordinance.

Trebor Gordon

Trebor Gordon

In court filings, Gordon argues that the abridged timeline makes it impossible for a political challenger to amass the financial wherewithal to unseat an incumbent with a war chest. The city counters that the blackout period is essential to preventing corruption and that nothing stops Gordon from working the stump before asking for checks.

“Campaigning is a larger universe than simply soliciting and accepting donations,” the city attorneys argued in court filings. “Gordon is not prohibited right now from spreading his ideas and seeking support. He simply chooses not to.”


Gordon and his attorney, campaign finance lawyer Jerad Najvar, sharply disagree, charging that any campaign is feeble and futile until the candidate has the money to execute it.

“A candidate may decide that it would be counterproductive to make sporadic statements via social media before he has amassed enough resources to properly roll out a campaign,” Najvar said in court papers. “This is the kind of tactical decisions that candidates can make with their advisers, without the need for spitballing by government lawyers.”

The current blackout period, they say, is merely a “paternalistic” way for the powerful to insulate themselves from challengers and does little to prevent quid-pro-quo corruption by city officials. In Gordon’s eyes, a contribution is political expression, and Gordon has a constitutional right to serve as the vehicle for his donors’ opinions.

Plaintiffs also note that the fundraising window is unfair. Candidates who currently hold non-city office – such as likely mayoral contenders Rep. Sylvester Turner and Harris County Sherriff Adrian Garcia – can raise money while others cannot and then potentially transfer the money to their city campaign accounts after Feb. 1.

That raise-and-transfer strategy, conducted openly by Turner and approved by City Hall, is the subject of a second lawsuit to be heard in mid-January.

I’ve said before, I think Gordon’s case has merit. Other cities don’t have a similar blackout period, and the Legislature’s blackout is for when they are in session, five months every two years, while Council is in session year-round. One can certainly argue that the 14-month prohibition on fundraising for Council is arbitrary and far too broad. In John Roberts’ America, it’s hard to see how that argument loses.

[Lobbyist Robert] Miller said that if the blackout period is declared unconstitutional, it would make irrelevant when Turner, considered the favorite in the field, raised the donations. He also disagreed with Najvar that allowing donations year round would disadvantage incumbents.

“With term limits, they know that once they win their first election, they only got two more so they’ll be focused,” he said. “There are no incumbents that you’re going to be sneaking up on.”

Here I agree with Miller. Who else has a reason to fundraise during the first few months of even-numbered years? Sure, there are some candidates who know right after one election that they’re in for the next one, but that’s true for every single non-term-limited incumbent. I guarantee you, while a few select non-incumbents may benefit from this if the blackout period is struck down, the main effect you’ll see is greater cash on hand totals for current electeds each January.

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One Comment

  1. joshua ben bullard says:

    i have found alot of concerns with trebor gordon,he seems as if the reality of what it takes to win a race just doesnt sink in with him,if the election were held today, i would note vote for him and would advise others not to as well, trebor gordon really concerns me at this point.

    warmly joshua ben bullard