FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dunkerley Returns Over $13,000 in Illegal Contributions
Other Councilmembers Found to Have Violated Charter
Austin, TX - July 18, 2005
Austin Councilmember Betty Dunkerley has reported returning over $13,000 in illegal contributions made to her recent city council campaign.
The returns were disclosed on Dunkerley's July 15 campaign finance report. The returns were made after opponent Wes Benedict complained about the illegal contributions to the city.
According to Benedict, Dunkerley accepted at least $32,835 from non-Austinites. The city charter restricts contributions to candidates from "sources other than natural persons eligible to vote in Austin" to $15,000 in the general election, plus $10,000 in the case of a runoff. This $15,000 limit is in the same section of the charter that restricts individual contributions to $100.
Benedict and his campaign treasurer, Arthur DiBianca, suspected that much of Dunkerley's large volume of contributions might be from non-Austinites. They examined her reports and compared them to Austin-area voter records. Benedict made his concerns public in April, and Dunkerley responded that she would return the excess contributions.
Benedict commented, "We had to audit Dunkerley's finances for her. If we had not done the work that the city charter requires _her_ to do, none of this money would have been returned."
The city charter specifically states that candidates must determine whether contributions are legal before accepting them.
After subtracting the returns, Benedict and DiBianca calculate that Dunkerley retains at least $19,760 in contributions from non-Austinites, still nearly $5,000 over the limit.
"The charter is clear," said Benedict. "You must stay within the $15,000 limit, and you must take care to determine whether the money is legal before accepting it, not after. Betty Dunkerley did neither."
DUNKERLEY NOT ALONE
Dunkerley is not the only violator. Benedict and DiBianca examined reports from the latest campaigns of the other six councilmembers, and found that most of them also violated the $15,000 limit:
In his 2003 campaign, Will Wynn accepted at least $31,040 in contributions from non-Austinites.
In his 2003 campaign, Brewster McCracken accepted at least $67,300 in contributions from non-Austinites. (Note: McCracken was permitted to accept an additional $10,000 from non-Austinites because he was in a runoff election.)
In his 2003 campaign, Raul Alvarez accepted at least $23,342 in contributions from non-Austinites.
In his recent 2005 campaign, Lee Leffingwell accepted at least $25,500 in contributions from non-Austinites.
In her recent 2005 campaign, before the runoff period began, Jennifer Kim accepted at least $25,845 from non-Austinites.
Only Danny Thomas stayed within the charter's limits in his most recent campaign.
"These discoveries are troubling," said Benedict. "In many cases these six candidates won their seats by outspending their opponents. Now we see that a lot of the money was obtained illegally."
DiBianca commented, "These councilmembers had better return the excess money right away."
Dunkerley's latest finance report may be found here: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/election/downloads/bdunkerley_071505.pdf
Benedict and DiBianca will provide a spreadsheet of their analyses of the candidates' contributions upon request.
AUSTIN CITY CHARTER
Article III, Section 8(A): "Limits On Contributions To Candidates. No candidate for Mayor or City Council and his or her campaign committee shall accept campaign contributions in excess of one hundred dollars ($100) per contributor per election from any person, except for the candidate and small-donor political committees. Each candidate may authorize, establish, administer, or control only one campaign committee at one time. No candidate and his or her committee shall accept an aggregate contribution total of more than fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000) per election, and ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in the case of a runoff election, from sources other than natural persons eligible to vote in Austin."
Article III, Section 8(E): "Responsibility Of Candidate To Prevent Violations. The candidate, or his or her committee, shall determine whether accepting each contribution would violate this section before accepting the contribution."
Article III, Section 8(K): "Penalties. Any violation of this section is an offense. Any knowing violation of this section by an incumbent officeholder or officeholder-elect shall ipso facto result in the forfeiture of the office by the person so violating it."