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April 28th, 2014:

FEC ponders Bitcoin donations

For those of you that might want to make political contributions via Bitcoin.

The Federal Election Commission appears poised to rule on whether and how campaigns and PACs can accept bitcoins as political contributions. The news comes as Attorney General Greg Abbott’s campaign for governor announced Wednesday that he will accept contributions made in bitcoin.

Two draft advisory opinions have been posted to the FEC website for public comment ahead of the commission’s April 23 meeting.

The first draft, posted Tuesday, would broadly authorize the use of bitcoins not as cash donations, but as in-kind donations, much as stocks and bonds and similar instruments are accepted today. They also could be used to pay campaign bills, provided vendors would accept the novel currency. They could also be deposited into the PAC’s bitcoin digital wallet and kept their to be spent or sold later. The PAC could also use cash to buy additional bitcoins itself, but those coins could only be treated as investments and not as means to pay bills or otherwise transferred. It would also require that the identity of the donor would have to be known and recorded before the donation could be accepted.

But a second draft posted Wednesday contains language that would greatly restrict the use of bitcoins. The bitcoins could be accepted but would have to be converted to cash before they could be exchanged for anything of value, and the cash would have to be deposited in the PACs contribution account. The second draft would also impose a $100 maximum value on how much the bitcoins any one donor gives to a campaign during any one election cycle.

The advisory opinion was requested by Make Your Laws PAC. For the full record of the case, see here.

You can see the two draft opinions here. As we know, Congressman and performance artist Steve Stockman had asked the FEC for an opinion about Bitcoin donations; I wonder how much, if anything, he wound up collecting in Bitcoin. As I’ve said before, I don’t have any problem with this. I doubt it will amount to much, but as long as disclosure requirements are met I don’t see any good reason to treat Bitcoin as anything unusual.

Stockman being investigated for ethics issues

Raise your hand if you’re the least bit surprised by this.

Steve Stockman doing his best Joe Cocker impersonation

The House ethics committee is inquiring into the campaign finances of Rep. Steve Stockman, the Clear Lake Republican who has been questioned repeatedly over the last year about misreported campaign contributions and deficient disclosures.

A spokesman for Stockman acknowledged the inquiry Friday, and the committee itself is expected to announce it Monday.

The Houston Chronicle reported last year that two of Stockman’s staffers were fired in October for making prohibited contributions to the campaign. Stockman spokesman Donny Ferguson told the newspaper then that Jason Posey and Thomas Dodd had been fired from Stockman’s House office.

The scope of the ethics review is not public information, and the statement Ferguson released on Friday did not clearly describe it.

[…]

Brett Kappel, a Washington, D.C. attorney who specializes in campaign-finance law, said the allegations against Stockman, which include reporting contributions under incorrect names, appear “pretty egregious. He’ll be in office until January, and they could proceed with it.”

But Kappel said the committee also could defer to the Federal Election Commission or to the Department of Justice.

I just want to point out that while Stockman will be leaving office in January, he could come back again someday. His, um, unique qualifications for office would make him a contender in any race in a deep-red district.

“Congressman Stockman continues to kind of amaze me … He doesn’t admit any responsibility for what happened in his campaign. Instead I see obfuscation,” said Kathleen Clark, a Washington, D.C.-based professor of law with Washington University who specializes in government ethics.

In addition to the prohibited contributions, the Chronicle has reported on other questions about Stockman’s campaign finances and his personal financial disclosures.

The Chronicle reported:

  • The Clear Lake Republican’s House campaign has been notified by the FEC of dozens of potential problems with its filings in 2012 and 2013, including the misreported donations.
  • Stockman’s personal financial disclosure to the House Ethics Committee was filed nearly a year late and failed to disclose some assets and business affiliations as required by federal law. The disclosure also failed to fully identify the source of $350,000 in income that Stockman claimed in 2011 and 2012.
  • The FEC filed two complaints against Stockman campaigns in the 1990s, one of which resulted in a $40,000 civil penalty, and one in the last two years, which was dismissed.

I’ll say this much for the man: You know exactly what you’re getting with Steve Stockman. The 12-year gap between his tenures in Congress clearly did not cause any erosion in his skills.

Appeals court revives MBIA lawsuit against Sports Authority

Here we go again.

A lawsuit against the agency that pays the debt on Houston’s sports stadiums is back on following an appeals court ruling.

Last April, a state district court judge ruled that a bond insurer could not sue the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority or the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., saying they were immune from such legal action as government agencies.

MBIA Insurance Corp., with the National Public Finance Guarantee Corp., sued the Sports Authority in January 2013, asking that the cash-strapped agency be forced to collect more money to cover its obligations, including additional parking and admissions taxes at Reliant – now NRG – Stadium, and seeking damages for other alleged breaches of contract. The sports corporation, the county agency that manages NRG Park, also was listed as a party in the suit.

In an opinion issued last week, a three-judge panel from the First Court of Appeals ruled that the Sports Authority had waived its immunity when it entered into an agreement with MBIA – now National – that provided that the company, which insures $1 billion in bonds, would guarantee regularly scheduled principal and interest payments on them.

Upholding part of state District Court Judge Elaine Palmer’s decision, it also ruled that the sports corporation was not liable because the company had not accused it of breach of contract.

Sports Authority Chairman J. Kent Friedman said it has not yet decided whether to ask the First Court for a re-hearing, to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court or to “go ahead and try the case.” Deadlines to request a re-hearing or appeal are next month.

“I continue to be very confident in our position in the litigation,” he said. “All it really did is allow them the right to proceed with their lawsuit.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The Court’s opinion is here, and if like me your eyes glazed over after about five seconds, you can skip to the end and confirm that the bottom line is that the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority does not have immunity and thus can be sued, but the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation does have immunity as Judge Palmer ruled and thus cannot be sued. The matter is now back in the 215th Court, pending a decision by either party to appeal the part of the ruling they didn’t like. Also, I’m glad to see that we seem to be done with that “Kenny Friedman” business, and J. Kent Friedman is once again being called “J. Kent Friedman” as well he should be. So there you have it.

Early voting for SD04 special election begins today

Go make the best of the bad choices being offered.

SD04EVLocations

Early voting begins Monday in a special election to fill the seat vacated last year by former state Sen. Tommy Williams.

The Woodlands Republican left the upper chamber last October after a decade in office to serve as vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.

The following month, Gov. Rick Perry issued a proclamation scheduling a special election for May 10 to determine the next state senator for District 4, a Republican stronghold that spans Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties. Early voting begins Monday and ends May 6.

[…]

The four candidates on the ballot, all Republican, are: former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998; two Montgomery County state representatives – freshman tea party favorite Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chairman of the House Republican caucus; and businessman Gordy Bunch, who serves as treasurer on The Woodlands Township board and as chairman of The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bunch is the Chron-endorsed candidate, if that matters to you. From the County Clerk’s office, here’s more about the election and the early voting locations:

“Over 84,000 registered voters in Harris County are eligible to participate in the May 10, 2014 Special Election in State Senate District 4,” informed Stan Stanart, Harris County Clerk. Stanart, the chief election officer of the county, urges these voters to take advantage of the Early Voting Period which begins on April 28 for the Special Election. The Special Election is being held to fill a vacancy that was created at the end of last year.

“Harris County registered voters constitute about 18% of the almost half a million registered voters in State Senate District 4,” added Stanart. “Eligible voters may vote at any of the five early voting locations until May 6, the last day to vote early.”

Early voting locations for the May 10, 2014 Special Election to fill a vacancy in State Senate District 4 for voters in Harris County include:

1. Main Office: Harris County Administration Bldg., 1001 Preston, 1st Floor, 77002 2. Far North: Champion Life Centre, 3031 FM 2920 Road, Spring, TX 77388 3. Humble: Octavia Fields Branch Library, 1503 South Houston Ave., Humble, TX 77338 4. Kingwood: Kingwood Branch Library, 4400 Bens View Lane, Kingwood, TX 77345 5. Crosby: Crosby ISD Administration Building, 706 Runneburg Road, Crosby, TX 77532

State Senate District 4 comprises part of North and Northeast Harris County, including 37% of Atascocita, 2% of Baytown, 100% of Crosby, 3% of Houston, 2% of Humble, 3% of The Woodlands and 1% of the unincorporated county. The District’s lines run through Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson and Montgomery counties.

“Registered voters in Harris County have constituted 20% of the total vote in recent State Senate District 4 elections, playing a significant role in determining the outcome,” asserted Stanart. Overall, 32 of the district’s 232 voting precincts are within Harris County.

Aside from the State Senate District 4 Special Election, there are a number of elections being conducted on May 10 by School Districts, Emergency Service Districts, Municipal Utility Districts, and other political entities across Harris County. “We have populated our May 10 Election Day location lookup on www.HarrisVotes.com with as much voting information as we could find regarding these elections,” concluded Stanart. “Even though these elections are not being administered by Harris County, it is important that we make an effort to assist voters in these political entities.”

For more election information, including the list of acceptable forms of Photo ID that can be presented to vote at the poll, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

Interestingly, three of the five EV locations for SD06 aren’t actually in SD04, though two of them are just outside the boundaries. I assume turnout for this election will be low, and turnout for the inevitable runoff will be lower.

Today is also the last day to register for the primary runoffs if you haven’t done so already. From Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan’s press release:

Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan reminds residents that April 28, 2014 is the last day to register to vote in the May 27, 2014 Primary Run-Off Election.

“The Primary Run-Off Election is a month away, which means the deadline to register to vote is approaching,” said Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan. “I strongly encourage everyone who is not registered to vote to do so by the April 28, 2014 deadline.”

State law requires citizens to be registered to vote 30 days prior to the election date. Residents can visit the Tax Assessor-Collector’s (TAC) Office website at www.hcvoter.net to learn how to register to vote, update their address and make name changes.

Qualifications to Register to Vote:

  • You are a United States citizen and a resident of Harris County; and,
  • You are at least 17 years and 10 months old to register (to vote, you must be 18); and,
  • You are not a convicted felon (you may be eligible to vote if you have completed your sentence, probation, and parole); and,
  • You have not been declared by a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be either totally or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.

Voter registration applications can be submitted to any TAC office branch location before 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 28th or mailed with a U.S. Postal Service postmark date of no later than April 28, 2014. For more information, please call 713-368-VOTE (8683) or email [email protected]

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan also serves as the Harris County Voter Registrar, which conducts voter registration activities and maintains a certified list of registered voters. Learn more by visiting www.hcvoter.net.

As of when I wrote this, information about early voting for the May 27 primary runoff was not available on the Clerk’s website. I’m not sure if it’ll be seven days of early voting or five days, but I guess we’ll find out, probably after May 10. In any event, I presume everyone reading this is already registered, but if you know someone who isn’t, tell them to get cracking on it.