Saturday, April 9, 2022

Following the Money in RISD Campaigns

From: source unknown

Campaign finance reports are available for review on the Richardson ISD website under "Election Filings". The reports cover only the last few months. 2021 contributions aren't included. Obviously, future contributions between now and Election Day aren't included. Here are my observations from a cursory look at these partial reports.

District 2

Sherry Clemens (District 2) has raised a whopping $30,000, which is in the ballpark of the total raised by all other candidates combined. You might think a candidate would be proud of how much money they've raised, but paradoxically, fundraising champions often avoid giving direct answers to questions about how much money they've raised and from whom. Sherry Clemens fits the pattern. In The Dallas Morning News candidate questionnaire, Clemens dodges the question by referring readers to her campaign finance report. Well, I'm here to tell you that report shows a boatload of money given to Clemens's campaign. And Clemens's financial report doesn't cover all the money being raised and spent by the Richardson ISD Families First PAC, which some have compared to the Southlake Families PAC, "a group formed by local Republican Party leaders in response to [Southlake school district's] diversity efforts." It's assumed that much of the Richardson PAC money will be spent on electing its two endorsed candidates, Sherry Clemens and Jan Stell. Perhaps not coincidentally, Clemens's own single biggest contribution is $5,000 from someone with a Southlake address. That one contribution is more than the total money raised by either of her opponents. Maybe someone in Southlake is trying to buy themselves a seat on the RISD board.

Vanessa Pacheco (District 2) has raised $3,384. She gave a straightforward answer when The Dallas Morning News asked about fundraising: "I've raised a few thousand dollars from grassroots donors across the area." She replied "n/a" when asked for her top three contributors. In fact, her RISD report lists a $500 in-kind donation for "Advertising" from the Richardson Area Democrats. This is personally disappointing to me as having political parties active in non-partisan elections is a big no-no for me. But maybe she feels she's in no position to turn down money. In most elections, Pacheco's slight fundraising total is not enough to run against both an incumbent and another challenger who has raised almost ten times as much as she has. Can Pacheco get her message to break through Sherry Clemens's huge fundraising advantage and Eron Linn's name recognition?

Eron Linn (District 2) has raised $2,082 and spent $2,049. He still has $1,028 on hand, probably money left over from his 2019 campaign. His biggest donor is Niki Melear ($500). His fundraising puts him in last place in the District 2 money race. I would have guessed a pro like Linn with a history in both RISD and the City of Richardson would have no trouble raising money, so his small numbers are puzzling. Is he over confident? Incumbency is worth a lot, but is it enough to give up fundraising? In a normal election, incumbency might be enough to win. This isn't a normal election. Linn, too, avoided giving a direct answer to The Dallas Morning News questions about fundraising. It was a missed opportunity as his slim total suggests he has nothing to hide.

District 5

Rachel McGowan (District 5) has raised $14,614 from about 144 donors. Her biggest donor is John Monroe ($1,000). The average was about $100. She gave The Dallas Morning News the straightest answer about fundraising by all six RISD candidates: "As of 3/24/22 we have raised approximately $12, 600.00." Why can't all candidates just give a direct answer like this to a direct question?

Jan Stell (District 5) has raised $9,000. A curious detail is that $4,000 of that is from personal loans Stell herself made to her campaign. She could be hoping to pay herself back from contributions she expects to receive in April. If so, from whom is not a question she's required to disclose before voters cast their votes. Maybe by coincidence, $4,000 in expenditures went to hire a campaign manager. Stell too avoids giving The Dallas Morning News a direct answer to the question of total funding or who her biggest donors are. (It's Bryan and Kerri Stone, $2,000. Was that so hard?)

Kile Brown (District 5) has raised $6,541. That puts him last in the money race in District 5. He loaned his own campaign $220 even though he has $4,943 on hand. He seems to be the most fastidious about reporting. He itemizes a $16.38 in-kind contribution from a supporter for mileage donated to pick up campaign signs. He itemizes a $2.98 expense at Starbucks for "coffee with a prospective supporter." In other words, his public image projected by his finance report is squeaky clean. Kile Brown was too cute in his answer to The Dallas Morning News about how much funding he has raised: "Not enough." This was a missed opportunity as his campaign finance report shows nothing to hide. His biggest donor is identified as former RISD trustee Justin Bono ($1,000). Why hide that?

So, in short, no surprises anywhere here, unless it's how much money Sherry Clemens has been able to raise. Will it buy her a seat at the horseshoe? We'll know May 7.


Mark Steger said...

In a Facebook comment, Vanessa Pacheco clarified the in-kind donation I mentioned in my post: "I would like to clarify that they are using their platform at the value listed to share my video to Richardson citizens because they are a local group. A big difference to Southlake partisan money. I see it as support from our Richardson families. Also note it is an independent expenditure, which I am required to list if I receive notice of their expense. If there was another organization or group to use their own platforms to do the same I would list them as “in-kind” services as well."

Mark Steger said...

According to guidance from the Texas Ethics Commission on how a candidate is to report expenses from personal funds, and because a candidate is legally allowed to refund any and all contributions (including their own), a candidate should report self donations as "loans" whether or not they intend to reimburse themselves. I am not a lawyer, so don't hold me to that interpretation.

Sassy Texan said...

That TEC caveat of personal loans is rather suspect from an ethical perspective. Legal vs permissible is the new normal.