Add Dawnna Dukes to the list of Texas lawmakers misreporting credit card spending by their campaigns. And to the line of lawmakers going to the state to make amendments to their campaign finance reports and to try to get their fines lowered.
Nearly a third of the Austin Democrat's spending over the last eight years went through 19 credit card accounts. That's legal, but the law requires candidates to say where they spent the money rather than listing the credit card company as a vendor. She did the latter.
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From 2000 to the latest report filed last July (the years for which electronic reports were available from the Texas Ethics Commission), Dukes spent a total of $296,377 (rounded).
That total included $89,697 spent on credit cards and not attributable to any particular vendor. It includes, for instance, $32,247 spent on American Express. While her reports describe the items purchased — furnishings, meals, rental cars, air fare, lodging, printing, gifts, and so on — they don't include information about where those things were purchased, what hotels and airlines and printing companies she paid.
Her reports do include such details on purchases that didn't involve credit cards. Her overall spending over that eight-year period — just under $300,000 — was relatively light when compared to others in the House. But about 30 percent of it isn't traceable to any particular vendor. There's no way to know, for those purchases, who the Dukes campaign was doing business with, where she was staying on trips, or even the destinations of some of those trips.
Earlier this year, the Houston Chronicle outed more than a half-dozen lawmakers with the same mistake in their campaign finance reports, including Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, who's now seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. He and all but two others quickly corrected their reports on file with the state (the state's online database doesn't show any corrections by Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, and Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio). Noriega's report was corrected, but the state fined him $1,000 for the transgression this week, reducing his penalty to that amount from the $10,000 they could have levied.
Elsewhere in her report, Dukes was specific about where the money went. Dukes spent $17,054 reimbursing herself for various things, $7,546 on furnishings for her campaign and state offices, $11,764 for gasoline, $5,700 at Office Max, $22,677 on phones and cell phone services, $987 on cable TV, $465 for "radio equipment" for her office, and $279 for XM Satellite Radio.
The reimbursements included a $2,500 payment that covered expenses from another report; that earlier report, however, didn't include a form for spending by the candidate herself. And the spending was counted against the campaign twice, first as normal campaign expenses for goods and services, then as a reimbursement.
The spending on gasoline sounds odder before you break it down. Assuming gasoline prices of $2.75 per gallon (it covers more than just the price you're paying now) and assuming she gets just 15 miles per gallon, it's enough for 64,167 miles. Her home in Pflugerville is 16.3 miles from the Capitol. With our assumptions and that mileage, her spending would cover 1,968 trips from home to the Pink Building and back. That's 246 round-trips every year, or about the number of work days in a 50-week work year. A caveat: If average gas prices were lower, her mileage was better, or she didn't go to work every day, then some explanation's in order.
Dukes didn't return calls made over a week's time. Colin Strother, her campaign consultant, says she started reporting the credit card expenditures correctly when the Ethics Commission sent a "tip sheet" to lawmakers in June. That sheet — the second page of the document found here — says "the name of the vendor who sold the goods or services is always disclosed as the payee. DO NOT disclose as the payee the name of the credit card issuer." That reminder doesn't refer to a new law. The reporting rule it refers to has been in place since before Dukes first ran for office in 1994.
He says now that "it's going to take some forensic accounting, but she's going to voluntarily amend everything" in the past reports. The satellite radio was for the Capitol office, he said. The cable TV was in the campaign office. And the phone bills are high because she keeps a line in the campaign office and another in her state office — an outside line to keep from mingling personal and state business.
So why are people reading Dukes' campaign finance reports? She hasn't had a serious contest since that first one, when she beat two other Democrats vying to succeed Rep. Wilhelmina Delco, D-Austin. She's faced mostly Libertarians (she beat a Democratic challenger in 2000) and has never dipped below 72 percent in a general or primary election since the 1994 race.
But she might have a battle this time. Some of her Democratic colleagues have been trying to recruit a primary opponent because of Dukes' support for Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick, who rewarded her with spots on the Appropriations and Calendars committees. Nobody's filed against her, but Austin lawyer Brian Thompson has filed a campaign treasurer report, which allows him to raise money while he decides whether he'll get in.
Unidentified Messages from Roswell
The last election of the year will be over next week, with either Dr. Mark Shelton or Dan Barrett winning the remaining year of Anna Mowery's time in Fort Worth's House District 97.
It is, on paper, a Republican district, and all but one of the five Republicans culled in the first round has endorsed Shelton. Former Rep. Bob Leonard hasn't. And his backers, quietly, are pushing the same line that Barrett's backers are pushing, loudly. To wit: That Election Day auto-dial calls blasting Leonard and smearing candidate Craig Goldman, as the source were somehow tied to Shelton. Maybe so.
The Lone Star Project — a Democratic group run by Washington consultant Matt Angle — notes the appearance of Dialing Solutions LLC of Roswell, New Mexico, on Shelton's last campaign finance report. That info wasn't available before voters made their first decisions, but appeared in the reports that were due eight days before the runoff. Shelton spent $1,586 with the company, which has done nearly $300,000 in business in Texas in the last four years, some for groups that have helped House Speaker Tom Craddick stay in control in the Legislature (that's the part of interest to the Democrats at the moment; most of the group's work — $254,271 of it — was done for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst). Shelton has said that if he wins a full term next year, he'd support another term as speaker for Craddick. Barrett's a "no" vote. Leonard wouldn't state a position before the special election, leading many local politicos to conclude he's also a "no."
The runoff election is Tuesday. And although filing is underway for the regular election for a full term in that office, Shelton is the only Republican who's filed; a spokesman for Leonard says his guy hasn't decided whether he'll run.
Oh, yeah, the reports! Barrett raised $72,607 and spent $46,365 between the last days of October and the first week of December. With eight days left before the runoff, he had $20,923 in the bank. He got $5,000 from the Fort Worth Firefighters along with contributions from the House Democratic Campaign Committee, $4,057, and the Texas Parent PAC, $2,225. Shelton raised $78,938, spent $105,061, and ended with $39,380 in the bank and $50,000 in outstanding personal loans to his campaign. His contributors included Texans for Lawsuit Reform, $25,000, and Houston builder Bob Perry, $10,000.
Push-back on sales tax swaps, and a deal in the middle stages on sales taxes for online and catalog sales.
Swapping higher sales taxes for lower property taxes is a bad idea, says a report from the Center for Public Policy Priorities. They contend it would be hard on Texas businesses, would raise taxes for most Texas families, and would hurt public education, which gets the property taxes in question now and would be in line to get the increased sales taxes.
Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, made this topical, saying he and other conservatives have been working on the idea and that he's hoping the House will make it the subject of an interim study on the state's taxes. He wasn't specific about how he'd raise taxes. Replacing the state's school property tax would increase the 6.25 percent sales tax rate by five to six cents on the current tax base; the rate increase would be smaller if lawmakers extended the tax to things that are currently tax-free.
Either way, the CPPP folks say it's spinach. Business would be hurt because Texas would have the highest sales tax in the U.S., a differential that would make Texas prices less competitive. They contend it would be regressive — harder on poorer Texans — though King proposes a year-end rebate for lower income Texans to make it less regressive. And they contend it would be hard on public education, since the revenue from the tax would swing with the economy. The current system, with sales and property taxes, is less susceptible to quick economic changes.
King has said the Texas Conservative Coalition is working on a proposal and that he hopes this will be an issue when the Legislature meets about a year from now.
• While we're in Taxland, Comptroller Susan Combs says the states are moving closer to a deal that'll make it easier to tax online and mail order sales. Stuff you buy online and through catalogs is taxable now, but people ignore that to the tune of about $541 million a year. That's the amount of taxes the state doesn't collect from those sales, Combs estimates. Businesses don't have to collect taxes for the state if they're not located her, and most taxpayers don't voluntarily donate the tax money they save back to the state.
The deal worked out by the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board — a multi-state panel that's been trying to work out a compromise that can survive battalions of legislators and the U.S. Congress — hinges on whether taxes are applied where things are sold or where they're delivered. Things sold over state lines would be taxed at the destination's tax rate; buy something from an Oklahoma company online, for instance, and your local sales tax would apply. But things sold within the state would be taxed at the origin's sales tax rate. Buy a Dell computer from, say, Fabens, and Round Rock would still get to collect local sales taxes.
Combs will go to the Legislature to ask them to join the SST project, which now includes 22 states. Once enough states have opted in, they'll go to Congress to try to get the system put into federal law.
Lawmakers as Zebras
The National Football League wants baseball-style parleys with two big cable companies, but Texas legislators aren't sure they have the authority to schedule the game.
The footballers want lawmakers, in the 2009 session, to appoint a third-party arbitrator to preside over talks, the way baseball handles owner-player talks: The NFL and cable companies would each submit a proposal, including distribution size and price, and then the mediator would pick one. The cable companies say they want no part of that.
During a special meeting of the House Committee on Regulated Industries, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones asked legislators to force Time Warner and Comcast to the arbitration table over the price and distribution of the NFL Network. (Jones is also head of the owners' NFL Network Committee.)
On Nov. 29, the Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers in a game available only on the NFL Network — causing Cowboys fans outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth area to either find something else to do, to seek out a satellite dish, or to find a bar showing the game. Many of the disgruntled also chose to complain to their local lawmakers.
From the committee's point of view, the issues are twofold: Whether the committee has jurisdiction over the issue, and if so, what it should do.
"My impression is that Texas doesn't have jurisdiction about program content," said committee Chairman Phil King, R-Weatherford, after the meeting. He tends to view the disagreement as a problem between two businesses, he said, but didn't give a timetable for a decision.
The NFL wants to charge cable companies 70 cents per customer per month and to include the NFL Network in their basic cable packages, along with golf and hockey channels owned by the cable companies. The cable companies want to add the NFL Network to a special sports package — costing $5 to $8 per month — that already includes baseball and basketball, or alternatively, to offer NFL Network games on a pay-per-view basis. Basic cable customers wouldn't pay for what they aren't watching, and in the pay-per-view plan, the NFL would keep all the proceeds.
Goodell and Jones argued that Time Warner and Comcast have an unfair advantage in the Texas cable market and that, since fair competition does not exist, the Legislature should intervene on the behalf of NFL fans.
Cable proponents disagreed: "Competition is alive and well in the video market in Texas," said former Rep. Todd Baxter, now a lobbyist for the Texas Cable and Telecommunications Association.
The Federal Communications Commission has express jurisdiction over this exact kind of dispute, said Howard Symons, also with the cable association.
Goodell and Jones accused the cable companies of giving preferential treatment to less popular channels the cable companies own (concerning things like cooking and shopping), another matter over which Symons said the FCC has express authority.
That was countered by University of Texas at Austin law professor Ernie Young. He said the NFL's proposal is for the state to provide a less costly and less complex forum in which to resolve a dispute about federal law, something well within a state's rights.
"I think the law professor made a very powerful argument," said state Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas. "But the ability to do something is a long way from doing it."
The NFL got some support from Larry Darby, an economic and financial consultant based in Washington, D.C.: "The playing field is still not level, and there are still considerable benefits to incumbency for telecommunication and cable companies."
Darby, who's been involved with telecommunications deregulation since the 70s, said the NFL paid for his trip to Austin but that he was testifying on his own behalf. Large cable companies still enjoy significant advantages over their competition, Darby said. He also presented research purporting that cable companies do favor their own shows over independent programming.
"Incumbents will not yield dominance without a fight," Darby said.
"I'm just interested in getting this dang thing settled," said Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas.
Swinford said his city's government loses money every time someone switches to satellite from cable and that makes him think the Legislature might have some jurisdiction over the matter.
Baxter suggested that cities could tax satellite and cable companies the same amount (an idea that caught the attention of San Antonio City Councilman John Clamp, who was in attendance).
Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said his constituents worry that the NFL is planning to reduce the number of games shown on broadcast TV for free.
The NFL has been yanking free games from its viewers, Baxter said, noting that 20 percent of Texas households have antenna TV only, and in some regions, like Oliveira's, the number is 36 percent or higher.
Goodell said broadcast customers miss access to only 25 of the NFL's 256 regular season games per year only on cable. And he said that's not likely to go up much, if any. He said the NFL's popularity is built upon free TV, and revenue from games shown on subscription TV will allow for games to continue to be shown on free TV.
—by Patrick Brendel
Counting to Eight
The publisher of a math textbook wants Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott to overrule the State Board of Education, after the board voted to reject the use of math books already in use in 30 school districts.
Everyday Mathematics is the third-grade book of choice in more than two dozen districts including the second-largest, Dallas, and one of the best, Highland Park. But last month, the SBOE voted not to put it on either the "conforming" or "non-conforming" lists of books for use in Texas public schools. They put it on a list of "rejected" books, meaning school districts can use it but that the state won't help pay for the books.
The board's vote — actually a tie — followed the recommendation of Educational Research Analysts. They knocked the book for allowing students to depend on calculators over memorization and for not providing timed quizzes, among other things. The book apparently meets the state's curriculum requirements.
Now the publisher — McGraw-Hill — is asking Scott to put the book on the conforming or non-conforming list before the end of the year. If he decides not to overturn the board's decision, they can take it to court.
The SBOE decision wasn't legal, the publisher says, because rejecting the book wasn't one of the board's options once they found it met at least 50 percent of the state's curriculum requirements. And the vote was weird. One member of the board was absent, leaving 14 members there to vote. One abstained, and seven voted to put the book on the non-conforming list; that same group then voted to put it on the rejected list. Since there weren't eight votes — a majority on the 15-member board —the vote to reject wasn't legal, the company says in its briefs.
Mauricio Celis, a South Texan accused of practicing law without a license in a noisy case that's splashed several political figures, wants to move his case from Corpus Christi to Austin.
His lawyer (Austin's Steve McConnico) says two cases already filed in Austin cover the same ground as a lawsuit in Nueces County.
Celis and his lawyers say he's authorized to practice law in Mexico and that he hasn't broken any laws restricting who gets to be a lawyer and who doesn't.
Celis' legal troubles began this fall and quickly got into the political pool: He's given to a number of local politicos in state and federal offices, and he's close to then-U.S. Senate candidate Mikal Watts. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is suing him, too, in one of the Travis County suits cited in the motion for a change of venue. In fact, Abbott sued in Austin before the locals moved in Corpus. Jason Stanford, a consultant who worked for Watts and, last year, for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, is handling media calls for Celis.
No Limits, But So Far, No Takers
San Antonio Republican Francisco "Quico" Canseco has tripped the wire, and anyone who gets into the Republican primary for CD-23 with him can bust the normal spending caps.
That's called the Millionaires' Amendment, and it says that if your opponent tosses more than a certain amount of his own money into the race — it's $350,000 for House candidates — then your donors don't have the normal campaign finance limits. The normal limit is $2,300 per person for a primary election. Once the wire's tripped, though, it jumps to $6,900 in a House race.
That said, Canseco's the only guy in the race so far. Bexar County Commission Lyle Larson has talked about it, and if he waits until next year to file (January 2 is the deadline), he won't have to forfeit his county seat to run. The GOP nominee will face U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, in November.
Karen Wiegman, a former Grand Prairie school board member, will try to wrest the HD-106 seat back for the Republicans. She'll challenge Rep. Kirk England, a Democrat elected as a Republican who changed parties earlier this year. She lists herself as a former England supporter — he's in his first term — who can't abide his party switch. England won last year with 49.2 percent of the vote, with a Democrat just 235 votes behind him and a Libertarian taking the rest of the votes. It's a tossup district.
• Corpus Christi teacher Ray McMurrey, seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, starts with a challenge to supporters: Help raise $5,000 before he files for office next week, when he needs to pay that much to the Texas Democratic Party to file for office. He'll jump in on Tuesday.
• Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, has to pay $16,000 in back child support and $8,000 in legal fees after his ex-wife hauled him into court. At issue were support payments for the couple's four sons. Dutton is chairman of the House Committee on Juvenile Justice & Family Issues.
• Fort Worth Sen. Kim Brimer picked up endorsements from the political affiliates of the Arlington Professional Fire Fighters, Fort Worth Fire Fighters Association, Arlington Police Association, and the Fort Worth Police Officers Association. The Republican incumbent will face former Fort Worth City Councilwoman Wendy Davis, a Democrat, in next year's elections.
• If you believe local races drive turnout, watch Harris County. To nobody's surprise, Charles Bacarisse will be running against appointed County Judge Ed Emmett in the March GOP primary. Emmett, a businessman and former state legislator, took the job when Robert Eckels resigned. He wants to win in his own right, and Bacarisse, the former district clerk, wants to knock him off.
On that same turnout theory, the Democratic primary in Travis County could be interesting. Tax Assessor-Collector Nelda Wells Spears faces a challenge from former state Rep. Glen Maxey.
• A dozen Democrats from the state's congressional delegation endorsed Rick Noriega in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a San Antonio Republican. That's one Democrat short of a load. Missing is Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who says, through a spokesman, that he's voting for the Democrat but not endorsing. He just doesn't do that, the spokesman says.
• Randy Dunning, one of three candidates in the hunt in HD-112, got endorsements from Republican National Committeewoman Denise McNamara and from Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker. Dunning, a former Garland city councilman, is running against Angie Chen Button and James Shepard. Rep. Fred Hill, who's got the seat now, isn't seeking reelection. And everyone in this paragraph, to simplify things, is a Republican.
• Meanwhile, in Houston, there's some political cannibalism underway. Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, is backing a Republican challenger to a Republican lawmaker in a district overlapped by Patrick's own Senate district. It's probably not unprecedented, but it's out of the ordinary. Patrick won his seat by beating a Houston city council member and two Texas House members. One, Joe Nixon, was supported by Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale of Tomball. All are Republicans. That's the context, and now, we'll quote from Patrick's letter on behalf of former Houston policeman Allen Fletcher, who is taking on Van Arsdale in the primary: "Last year, we learned together how difficult it was to win against the establishment's candidate; it will be even tougher to win against the establishment's incumbent candidate."
This is an excerpt from an actual memo circulating in the comptroller's office, possibly proving that there's a link between an office building full of cubicles and a KOA Kampground:
"This is a reminder that the Texas Facilities Commission (TFC), Tenant Manual, 'Section VII. Safety, Security and Shared Areas' prohibits employees in state buildings to use unauthorized appliances in their office spaces. The TFC wishes to provide a hazard-free working environment for all state employees. Failure to comply may result in notification to the proper personnel to ensure compliance. A List of unauthorized and potentially hazardous appliances includes, but is not limited to: air purifiers, aquariums, coffee cup warmers, coffee makers, coffee pots, crock pots, curling irons, desk or floor fans, hot plates, immersible water heaters, indoor grills (such as; George Foreman type grills), microwave ovens, refrigerators, space heaters, steam irons, toaster ovens, toasters, water coolers/dispensers with heating or cooling elements".
Political People and Their Moves
Elsa Murano will be the next president of Texas A&M University, after being named the sole finalist for that job. She is currently vice chancellor of the Texas A&M University System and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the main campus in College Station. She'll be the first woman in that post, and the first Hispanic.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed former Dallas City Manager Richard Knight Jr. to the board of regents at Texas Southern University in Houston. Knight is the managing partner of Pegasus Texas Holdings LLC.
Perry named Texas Tech University professor Juan Sanchez Muñoz of Lubbock to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Muñoz, who's also assistant to the president at Tech, is commissioner of the Lubbock Housing Authority.
And there are three new appointees on the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, which oversees the prison system: Eric Gambrell, a lawyer from Highland Park; R. Terrell McCombs, vice president of McCombs Enterprises in San Antonio; and Janice Harris Lord of Arlington, a social worker and consultant on crime victim issues.
A reorganization at the Texas Education Agency makes Ray Glynn the acting deputy commission (one of three) for school district leadership and educator quality. Barbara Knaggs and Shirley Beaulieu got promoted to associate commissioner jobs. And three become deputy associate commissioners: Gloria Zyskowski, Lisa Dawn-Fisher, and Laura Taylor. All six were in other jobs at TEA before the moves.
David Quin is leaving the Texas Senate after 13 years as a staffer there, most recently as legislative director to Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. Quin got a management gig with the Conference of Urban Counties. Graham Keever, now the director of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, will take Quin's spot with West.
ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) has three new board members: Bob Helton of International Power America Services; Robert Thomas of Green Mountain Energy; and Charles Jenkins of Oncor.
A plug: John Young, political columnist for the Waco Tribune-Herald, has a book of collected columns out. You can get Ghosts of Liberals Past at the front desk of the paper (that's old school) or by ordering it on Amazon (that's new school).
Deaths: Elspeth Rostow, former dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and a formal and informal advisor to presidents, governors and other public officials here and in Washington, D.C. She was 90.
Quotes of the Week
Gov. Rick Perry, goofing up, as reported in the Houston Chronicle, after he was asked a question about abortion and the presidential candidates: "If that is the model, then the issue becomes very, very clear to me from the standpoint of who I want to support, and it is Mike Huckabee. And then it goes to the next level: Who do we have that is the most electable from our candidates? And I think without a doubt it is Rudy Giuliani."
Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on his place in the polls, in The Dallas Morning News: "I'm a little more comfortable in front. I've been back there from behind. It's not very fun when all you are is an asterisk in the story."
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, promoting guest worker programs, in the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel: "I don't think we need any new paths to citizenship. I do think, though, that we need more workers than we have here. There really aren't enough workers."
Mike Samples, director of internal investments for the state comptroller, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman in a story on the sub-prime mortgage mess: "We don’t have any impaired assets."
Republican consultant Todd Smith, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman: "I never heard anybody say, 'I just got the right amount of property tax relief.' Republican primary voters are like everyone else: 'What have you done for me lately?'"
Texas A&M University professor Bruce McCarl, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on sharing the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming: "It's just a validation. It's nice when you do strange, abstract things to realize that somebody's listening."
Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 26, 17 December 2007. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2007 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (512) 302-5703 or email email@example.com. For news, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (512) 288-6598.
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