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Campaign Finance Mistake Provides Fodder in South Texas Race

In South Texas, Democrat Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles is hitting her Republican opponent, incumbent J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, for neglecting to report $55,000 in donations from PACs associated with GOP heavy hitters.

State Rep. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville officially announcing on March 8, 2012, his switch to the Republican Party.

Updated: Rep. Lozano said he is working to file an amended report. He said that he did overlook some contributions, but added that his campaign office received some of the contributions in question as recently as Wednesday, which is why they were not included in his report.

Original story:

In one of the most competitive legislative races in South Texas, what one lawmaker calls an innocent oversight, his opponent calls a flagrant disregard for transparency.

After underreporting his latest campaign contributions by more than $250,000, state Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, may have neglected to note an additional $55,000 from political action committees in a follow-up report.

Lozano's campaign has accused his Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, of drawing attention to a campaign finance mistake in an attempt to distract voters from her record. 

The two are facing off in a battle over redrawn House District 43, a seat considered a toss-up. Gonzalez Toureilles, who served three terms in the House, is hoping to head back to Austin after she was ousted in 2010 by Republican Jose Aliseda. Aliseda opted to bow out after one session, and redistricting has pitted her against Lozano, who switched from the Democratic Party in March after one session.

Lozano’s initial report for the filing period that began in June and ended last month showed he raised $1,275. That was quickly amended to reflect an actual fundraising total of $260,590, expenditures of about $185,000 and about $90,000 left on hand. The error was simple, his camp said: It accidentally uploaded the wrong version. But in his amended report, the incumbent did not include about $55,000 from political action committees, including $17,000 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform and $10,000 from the Texas Republican Representatives Campaign Committee.

“Sometimes people make small mistakes,” Gonzalez Toureilles said. “But this kind of money as a simple error? How can you forget that you pulled in $17,000 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform?”

Asked if she thought Lozano was intentionally hiding his money from voters who may think he’s beholden to such conservative groups, Gonzalez Toureilles said she couldn’t speculate. It’s more a matter of principal and transparency, she said.

“I can’t see what is in his heart or his mind,” she said. “But there is something going on here. He’s not being honest and transparent with the voters, or he doesn’t know what’s going on with his campaign.”

Steve Ray, a Lozano campaign adviser who also worked with Aliseda in 2010, quickly dismissed the allegations.

“Yvonne Toureilles is trying to invent issues in her attempt to hide her liberal, pro-abortion, anti-business agenda, which was rejected by the voters when they booted her out of office in 2010,” he said. “Instead of whining about her contributions, she’d be better served to explain why she consistently voted to increase taxes.”

Of the oversight, Ray said the Lozano camp has more than one address where donations are sent, but that any clarification or amended report isn’t a “response to some sort of illogical attack like this.”

Tim Sorrells, general counsel for the Texas Ethics Commission, said that candidates have 14 business days after an error is discovered to make a correction on 30-day reports if the error was made in good faith and they agree to sign an affidavit and submit it to the commission.

Challengers, however, can also file a sworn complaint claiming that errors were not not made in good faith. The commission would review that complaint, Sorrells said, and determine if a penalty should be assessed.

The exchange between the two candidates underscores the increasingly heated rivalry between two members who have never served together.

Lozano calls the allegations an “act of desperation.” Gonzalez Toureilles laughs off the claims that she’s a “liberal” and said that’s what Republicans call Democrats when they get desperate.

“It’s all really nice to throw around labels,” she said. “In terms of anti-business, that’s just ridiculous. I served three terms on the Energy Resources Committee. I am not an enemy of oil and gas.”

Lozano has received the endorsements of several groups that previously supported Gonzalez Toureilles, like the Farm Bureau, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Small Business Association. She called this the result of the “support the incumbent” rule.

Despite the errors in Lozano’s reporting, the incumbent has vastly outraised his challenger. During the same time period, Gonzalez Toureilles was only able to rein in about $46,000. She has spent about $24,000 and has about $11,600 on hand.

“We knew we were going to be outraised,” she said. “It is what it is.”

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