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Jim Turner

More leftover campaign cash

The Chron writes about a subject I’ve covered before.


Former Rep. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs of Houston used leftover campaign funds to buy a life membership in the National Rifle Association. Former Rep. Martin Frost of Dallas paid a $6,000 Federal Election Commission fine. Former Rep. Tom DeLay of Sugar Land hired a media consultant. And former Rep. Henry Bonilla of San Antonio, a Republican lawmaker-turned-lobbyist, showered 35 candidates – including two prominent Democrats – with campaign donations.

Over the past two decades, retired members of the Texas congressional delegation have spent more than a million dollars they had raised for their House and Senate campaigns on expenses incurred after they left office, a Houston Chronicle review of Federal Election Commission records has found. For some of the ex-lawmakers, the expenses continued for years after they last held office in Washington.

The post-congressional spending ranged from small thank-you trinkets for supporters to large expenditures on mailing lists, computer equipment, political consultant fees and donations to other politicians that have allowed some ex-lawmakers to maintain perpetual political operations. Two former lawmakers made payments to family members.

All of the retirement spending was made possible by donors who contributed to the Texas lawmakers’ campaigns while they were holding office. A review of FEC reports indicates that none of the former legislators refunded any funds to their former donors after leaving office.

The existence of these accounts – used by 71 percent of Texas lawmakers who left office over the past two decades – may come as a surprise to many of their constituents. But it’s all perfectly legal – as long as the former officeholders use the money for political or charitable causes.

“You can use campaign funds for any lawful purpose – except they can’t be converted to personal use,” said Michael Toner, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.


Campaign watchdogs say the current law allows former officeholders too much latitude in deciding how to use leftover money.

“There’s actually quite a lot of room for lawmakers to finagle their own campaign budgets,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen.

Holman said the FEC definition of prohibited “personal use” is too narrow and allows former members to indirectly use their funds to benefit family members or themselves by funneling money into organizations they manage or control.

While the Chron story is about former federal officeholders, this is an issue at the state level, too. I thought there was a state law that required all funds to be disbursed within a set period off time, but if that is the case I’ve never seen it enforced. If it were up to me, I’d mandate that any funds left unspent four years after the person’s last day in office would be put into a fund that helps the relevant enforcement agency do its thing. Seems only fitting to me.

[Jim] Turner has the longest-lasting campaign account. The former state legislator and congressman had amassed more than $1 million in campaign funds when he retired rather than face off against veteran Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis in a heavily Republican district. Eight years later, Turner has $990,000 remaining.

Turner said he has kept his campaign account active because he might run for office if “Texas becomes Democratic again.”

“I have always wanted to keep the option open and may want to run for a statewide office,” he said. “I was sidelined by redistricting, but I’ve always enjoyed public service.”

Turner’s last election was in 2002. I don’t care for his strategy of waiting till Texas is sufficiently blue in 2018 or 2022 to maybe use all that money to take another shot at public office. I hope the Democratic primary voters in those years would look askance on someone who sat on a million bucks for 15 or 20 years just in case conditions became favorable for him again instead of using it to help other candidates and causes. My advice to Turner would be to either gut it up and run against Big John Cornyn in 2014 – a million bucks won’t get you that far in a Senate race, but it beats starting out with nothing – or just admit that your time has passed and donate the cash to Battleground Texas. But seriously, don’t keep sitting on it. It’s not doing anyone any good.

Two modest campaign finance reform suggestions

What to do about this?

Jack Abercia

As indicted ex-constable Jack Abercia fights federal corruption and bribery charges brought against him last month, a lack of money for his legal defense isn’t one of his problems.

The former Precinct 1 Harris County constable has salted away approximately $423,000 in campaign contributions, according to campaign finance reports.

And while Abercia’s political war chest is hefty, it’s hardly the largest held by Harris County officials.

Longtime Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee is sitting on $3 million, and fellow commissioner Steve Radack reported $774,000, according to recent campaign finance reports. Abercia’s campaign funds exceeded the $302,000 reported by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Abercia, 78, said in December he would not seek re-election, explaining he was battling cancer and resigned after his indictment last month. He did not return calls for comment.

Abercia’s defense attorney, Rusty Hardin, said his client has every right to keep campaign funds he’s amassed over the years and use them for his legal defense if he chooses.

Legally speaking, he’s correct. Pretty much every officeholder that has ever been arrested or investigated has spent campaign money on their defense. It always makes me a little squeamish, but as donors can ask for their contributions back, I don’t see what there is to be done.

What interests me more is the totals that Abercia and so many others are able to accumulate. If you look at Abercia’s January finance report, you will see that he only took in $2200 for the last six-month period. He also spent over $12,000, so he entered that period with over $430K. Not that you’d have known it from his form, since he didn’t list a cash on hand balance. That’s a pretty impressive amount for a low-profile office, more so when you realize that he had primary challengers in 2008 and 2004. Though he probably didn’t spend too much in either of those elections – the story suggests his opponents were not serious, and as a resident of Precinct 1, I can say that I don’t recall any campaign activity. By contrast, there was a contested Justice of the Peace primary in Precinct 1 in 2008, and it generated plenty of activity. I didn’t even remember that Abercia had opponents till I looked it up on the County Clerk website.

The thing about these officeholders in safe districts who amass large campaign war chests is that they do so – or so they say – to be prepared for electoral challenges. I can’t argue with the logic, but it sets up a situation where nobody substantial actually does challenge them, because they can’t compete financially. While I’m generally happy about that for most of our incumbents, that’s not a good thing for democracy. What I would propose to do about this is require that every officeholder spend a certain amount of money each cycle, to prevent them from building up too big a pile. Perhaps a rule dictating that, I don’t know, 75% of all contributions given in a cycle must be spent by the start of the next cycle. You could still build up a big balance over time, but it would take longer. The amount and the mechanism are not set in my mind, but the basic idea is to lower the barriers to entry in a given race.

My other suggestion doesn’t directly address this but does come back to something that’s bugged me for awhile. I noted recently that former Rep. Jim Turner, who was last elected to Congress in 2002, still has over a million dollars in his campaign finance account. It’s my understanding that unused campaign contributions are supposed to be disposed of within some number of years, but I don’t think anyone takes that very seriously. I would mandate that any funds that remain in a campaign account two years after the last election in which someone was a candidate are automatically forfeited. The cash could then be used to fund better and more comprehensive enforcement of campaign finance laws.

I realize this is much easier said than done, and would require laws to be changed at both the state and federal level. I don’t care about the details, I’m just expressing a vision here. What do you think?

January finance reports: Congress and Senate

The last batch of finance reports to come in are the federal reports, which for the most part don’t get posted till a full month after they’re due, which in this case was February 1. I’ve created a Google spreadsheet of the Texas FEC reports, taken by querying on Texas from this page, then culling the chaff. You can compare my report to this one at Kos, which focuses on the more interesting race. Note that in my spreadsheet you will find links to each candidates’ report so you can see for yourself what they’ve been up to. You can see all the finance report links on my 2012 Harris and 2012 Texas primary pages. A few highlights:

– Still no report yet from David Dewhurst and Paul Sadler. I can’t say I’m expecting much from Sadler, but I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised. As for Dewhurst, it’ll be interesting to see how his contributions from others compare to his self-funding – he would surely like to do better than Tom Leppert in that regard – and to the contribution totals Ted Cruz puts up.

– There’s Jim Turner in East Texas, who ran his last race in 2002 before being DeLayed into retirement, still sitting on a million bucks in his campaign treasury. Why it is that he hasn’t ever used any of that money to help the Democratic cause, and why it is that we rank and file Democrats tolerate that sort of behavior from so many current and former officeholders is a mystery to me.

– Nick Lampson’s late entry into the CD14 race produces a small fundraising total so far. Given his presence on the early DCCC watch list, I expect much bigger things in the March report.

– Joaquin Castro continues to hit it out of the park. Assuming the courts cooperate, you can see why the DCCC is expecting big things from him.

– A couple of Democratic primaries just got more interesting, as challengers outraised incumbents in both of them. In CD16, former El Paso Council member Beto O’Rourke took in $211K to Rep. Silvestre Reyes’ $177K. There’s a third candidate in this race, but he has no report listed. The Lion Star blog discusses what this means.

– Meanwhile, in CD30, challenger Taj Clayton raised $212K to Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson’s $95K. State Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway took in $16K. Clayton’s accomplishment is more impressive given his late entry into the race – he did it all in just ten weeks.

– Other Democratic races of interest: David Alameel wrote himself a $245K check for his challenge to Smokey Joe Barton in D06. His co-challenger Don Jacquess had no report. New dad Dan Grant raised $37K in CD10. State Rep. Pete Gallego took in another $137K in CD23 to bump his total to $288K for the cycle. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has over $3.3 million on hand after raising another $150K. Armando Villalobos led the pack in CD27 with $134K raised, followed by Ramiro Garza with $70K and Rose Meza Harrison with $15K. However, Villalobos spent $116K to Garza’s $3K, leaving him with only $16K on hand to Garza’s $67K. State Rep. Mark Veasey collected $46K for CD33, putting him ahead of Kathleen Hicks, who had $5800. Finally, former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez was actually out-raised by Sylvia Romo in CD35, with her getting $35K to his $27K, but he maintained $99K in cash to her $30K.

– On the Republican side, there’s a lot of money flowing into CD14. I don’t know who James Old is, but he’s taken in $433K for the cycle and has $310K on hand. Following him are State Rep. Randy Weber ($313K for the cycle, $206K on hand); Michael Truncale ($269K for the cycle and $149K on hand); and Felicia Harris ($161K for the cycle and $103K on hand). State Sen. Mike Jackson has a surprisingly paltry $61K on hand for CD36, having raised $130K for the cycle. No one else has as much as $10K on hand in that race, however. The Williams non-brothers, Michael and Roger, have plenty of money available to them but as yet not district in which they would want to use any of it. I’m sure they’re burning candles in hope of a favorable map from the judges.

That’s about all I have for now. The good news for me is that with the delayed primary, the next reports won’t be out till April.

What to do with all that leftover campaign cash?

The Texas Trib explores the question of what happens to the money after a candidate drops out or an incumbent retires.

Let’s say you’re a donor to a candidate or an elected official who quits a race mid-campaign or chooses not to run again. What if you made a contribution to one of the nine Texas legislators who decided not to seek reelection this year — to Plano’s Brian McCall (who had nearly $542,000 in his campaign account, according to his latest filing with the Texas Ethics Commission), or Lubbock’s Carl Isett (nearly $139,000), or San Antonio’s Frank Corte (more than $123,000)? What if you gave to Tom Schieffer, the former Texas House member and American diplomat who campaigned as a prospective nominee for governor before deciding against running, or to Jack McDonald, the former tech executive who raised more than $805,000 while considering a challenge to U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul that he utimately thought better of? What happens to your money?

Almost-candidates and former officer-holders have wide latitude in how they can unload their campaign cash. The same rules apply to lawmakers who leave office and to abortive hopefuls. According to Texas campaign finance attorney Ed Shack, the only firm Thou Shalt Not is that candidates can’t dip into contributions for personal use (which is a narrowly proscribed territory, as shown by the Texas Ethics Commission’s recent approval of Sen. John Whitmire’s purchase of $90,000 in baseball tickets with campaign funds). Candidates must also clear campaign-associated accounts within six years after they get out of office or leave electoral politics, whichever is later.

As long as they make sure they’re using contributions in a way that’s related to serving in office or campaigning, the recipients of your cash have a few options. They can give it to their political parties, other candidates or political committees, charities, or to the state comptroller for deposit in the state treasury (though a spokesperson for the Comptroller’s office said they don’t have a record of that ever happening). As long as it’s used for the express purpose of setting up or helping a scholarship program, candidates can even donate to schools or colleges. State candidates can also opt to refund contributions to donors; the only limit is that they can’t reimburse more money to a donor than that donor contributed during the past two years.

Well, I don’t know what will happen with any of these folks’ money, but I do know that it’s now been five years since former State Rep. Steve Wolens and former US Rep. Jim Turner left their offices, and as of the last reporting deadline each of them still had over a million dollars in the bank. As neither of them is on a ballot this year, I for one would like to know what they plan on doing with all that money. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are some other elections of interest this year, and there are plenty of good homes for their dollars if they want to look for them. What’s it gonna be, fellas?

White rakes it in for his Senate bid

Among other things, today is the deadline for federal candidates to report their campaign finance status. Of the many contenders for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat, whenever that becomes available, I think it’s safe to say that Bill White had the best start to the year. From his press release:

Mayor Bill White reported contributions totaling more than $2.6 million in just over 100 days since launching his U.S. Senate campaign, according to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission today.

More than 1,400 Texans contributed through March 31st, the end of the filing period. The contributions for the filing period totaled more than $1.8 million.

Campaign Finance Chair Scott Atlas said, “The outpouring of support from donors and volunteers has been simply amazing. The energy around Mayor White’s campaign shows Texans believe in his ability to bring people together and get things done. People want their next senator to be a voice for our state’s future.”

So far, none of the Senate incumbents or hopefuls have their reports up on the FEC disclosure page, so I can’t give you the details yet. However, Gardner Selby has some information.

Democrat John Sharp topped five other candidates or prospective candidates for the U.S. Senate in cash on hand as of March 31, though his camp didn’t say this afternoon how much of the $2.4 million he piled up since Jan. 1 came from loans. His loan chunk—perhaps tapping Sharp’s personal wealth—may be left to show up when his report, filed with the Federal Election Commission, surfaces online.

Another Democrat, Houston Mayor Bill White, had $2.1 million cash on hand at the end of this year’s first quarter; he’d taken no loans.

Among Republicans, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams had $388,628 cash on hand; a haul fueled by $200,000 in loans he gave his exploratory committee. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, had $310,407. She was trailed in her bank balance by two members of the Texas Railroad Commission, Elizabeth Ames Jones with $164,663 and Michael Williams with $113,957.

As Selby notes, we can’t fully judge Sharp’s total till we know how much of it was loaned by himself to the campaign. It’s possible he did better than any of the Republicans and yet still fell well short of White, and it’s possible he outraised White, though to be honest if he’d really taken in $2 million or so, I’d have expected him to be shouting that from the rooftops. We’ll know soon enough. In any case, as BOR notes, the two Dems are way out in from of the Rs – heck, all of them put together can’t match either Dem. That may change if a David Dewhurst or a Greg Abbott jumps in, but for now, it’s a nice position for the Dems to be in.

Other reports of interest, all Congressional:

Pete Sessions, who has been in the crosshairs of the DCCC lately and whose district is trending strongly Democratic, had a good quarter with over $200K raised and almost $900K on hand. Sessions has always been an able fundraiser, no doubt why he’s chairing the NRCC this go-round.

– Mike McCaul doesn’t have a report yet. He already has a well-heeled challenger and a DCCC bulls-eye on his back, but he’s also filthy rich and will not be outgunned financially.

John Culberson had a decent quarter, with $100K raised, though only a modest $70K on hand. He didn’t leave anything in reserve after his expensive re-election fight last year, and though I think he’s likely to skate this time around, I’ll bet he invests some time in restocking his coffers.

Sheila Jackson Lee didn’t raise much, and spent more than she raised, but she starts the year with over $400K on hand, which may give pause to anyone looking to primary her.

– The benefits of running for President, having a national following, and being stalked by Borat not having an opponent in the last cycle: Ron Paul has over two million dollars on hand, despite raising almost nothing and spending nearly $250K.

– Randy Neugebauer in CD19 doesn’t have a report up yet, either, but according to the CREW crew, he wants to use his campaign funds to pay for the use of his yacht to fundraise for his campaign. Just click over and see for yourself. The yacht is anchored in DC, in case you were wondering (as I was) what the heck one would do with a yacht in Lubbock.

– Former Congressman Jim Turner, who was drawn out of his seat in the 2004 Tom DeLay re-redistricting, still has over a million bucks on hand. Which in theory he eventually needs to dispose of in some fashion, either on another campaign of his own or by giving it to other candidates.

That’s all for now. I’ll add to this as I see more reports.