I of course have some thoughts about this.
Nearly a quarter of candidates running for Houston City Hall positions still have not reported how much money they raised and spent for their campaigns last year, missing the January deadline by six months.
About 70 people have filed paperwork that allows them to raise money for mayoral or City Council campaigns, including 41 who filed the form in 2022.
Once candidates file that form, they are required to report campaign finance details every January and July, showing how much money they have raised from supporters, how much they have spent on their campaigns and how much they have in the bank. The candidate’s signature on the form acknowledges that they know about the reporting requirements.
The candidates have until Monday to file their July reports, but 10 of the 41 who filed to run last year still have not filed their January reports. Those reports show financial activity for the last six months of 2022.
They are Koffey El-Bey, who is running in District B; Lloyd Ford Jr., District D; Mark McGee, District H; Ralph Garcia, District I; Melanie Miles, At-Large 1; Obes Nwabara, At-Large 2; James Joseph, At-Large 3; John Branch Jr., At-Large 4; Charles Onwuche, undeclared; and Rickey Tezino, mayor.
“I’ve never experienced that many that were untimely,” said former City Attorney David Feldman, who enforced the reporting laws under former Mayor Annise Parker. “That’s disregarding the process. The whole idea is to have full disclosure.”
Feldman said the city used to send letters to candidates who failed to file reports, and that usually led to compliance. If it did not, Feldman said, city attorneys would forward the matter to the city’s ethics commission, which could pursue enforcement. The violation is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500.
It is not clear if the city still sends those notifications or enforces the reporting requirements.
Miles, from the At-Large 1 race, and McGee, in District H, said they would file the reports showing they raised and spent $0 now that they knew they were required.
“This is my first time running for office, so this is my first time filing a campaign finance report,” McGee said. “That was just an oversight.”
Miles said she checked with the Texas Ethics Commission, the state body that regulates campaign finance, and a representative told her the agency is more lenient with local officials because they do not get reminders and alerts about the reports, like state candidates.
The treasurer for Branch said he tried to file the report in person in January. The secretary’s office said it has no record of a submission.
Ford said he did not think he had to file one because he had just started the campaign, but he filed his treasurer declaration last August and was required to show his activity for the following six months.
Nwabara could not recall why he did not file the report, and he said he had no additional comment. Tezino said he dropped out of the mayoral race once U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee announced her bid, though that was four months after the report was due. He said he plans to run for Jackson Lee’s congressional seat now.
First, let me say that I think the percentage of candidates who either don’t file reports or screw up how they do their reports will be largely no different this cycle than it has ever been. What I believe is different about this cycle, what David Feldman is noticing, is that there are more people who filed their designation of Treasurer report before January 1, which means they had a requirement to produce a January finance report. What has increased is the number of people filing before January, probably because in years past you couldn’t raise any money before then because of the now-illegal blackout period. I’m willing to bet that the number of people who failed to file July reports and 30-day reports has been more or less consistent over time, and the number of people who fail to file those reports this year will also be in line with that. But nobody other than the incumbents and some past candidates who still had money in their accounts ever had to file January reports before, and now they do if they make their candidacies official earlier. Check this total again in 2027 and see how it compares then and we’ll see.
Anyway. In my observation, the people who fail to file campaign finance reports, at whatever juncture in the cycle, fall broadly into three categories. The first, and I believe largest, group, is the unserious candidates. They never have any real presence in the campaign – you’ll rarely if ever see them at candidate events or other civic-type meetings that attract candidates, they don’t have websites or Facebook pages or if they do they never get updated, no one really knows who they are. Some of them are the perennial types who always file for elections for reasons that no one who isn’t them could articulate. They’re basically flotsam.
Some of them are like Melanie Miles and Mark McGee (who the article says is running in H but who is listed as “undeclared” on the Erik Manning spreadsheet; I live in H but have not seen any campaign presence from him), who didn’t raise or spend any money in their first reporting period as candidates and thus didn’t file an all-zeroes finance report. They were obligated to and should have known they needed to but they didn’t. Usually these people file the next report and so it’s basically no harm no foul.
The third group are candidates who are active and serious and appear to have their act together and yet for some reason I cannot fathom are unable to file a report on time, and sometimes they don’t file at all. It’s like there’s some level of dysfunction there, and I find it very disappointing. Every election there’s at least one candidate like this, and I have no idea why. It just is.
I don’t claim this covers every case. One-time screwups happen, and sometimes there are reasons we just don’t know about. Be all that as it may, we’re about to be up to our eyeballs in campaign finance reports. I’ll be doing my thing with them over the next week or two.