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"Rule of Law" and "Transparency" Candidate Fails to Properly Disclose Campaign Finances

The Editor's Column
Posted by WhosPlayin on 2011/11/28 6:30:00 (3557 reads)

Back in the summer when we received the last round of campaign finance reports in the Lewisville City Council election, we noticed a discrepancy in the reports of Council candidate Steve Hill, who ran unsuccessfully against TJ Gilmore. Since Hill was no longer a candidate at that point, and had been defeated pretty soundly, we decided not to publish anything. Now that Hill is a candidate once again in the special election to fill the remaining term of the late Councilman David Thornhill's seat, we wanted to wait and see whether he filed an amended statement, or somehow accounted for the discrepancy in the next report. Not only did he not account for that, but there are even more discrepancies.

Although there are various minor issues like transposed dates, misclassified expenses, and missing vendor address information, there are two major issues with Hill's reports:

1. Failed to report reimbursements to himself of $1,570 out of campaign funds.
2. Appropriated the use of the Denton County Republican Party's booth at Western Days without reporting an in-kind contribution for the value of that booth.

These could easily be chalked up to clerical error, or ignorance of the reporting requirements, and that would fit the pattern for a candidate who has problems with numbers. But when you have a candidate who lists 'rule of law' as one of his campaign platform's major planks, and transparency as another, then you have to look at their behavior and decide whether that's a real value, or just something they say. I've said it here often enough: Pay attention to what politicians do-- not what they say.

Contributions Pocketed - $1,570 Kept Without Reporting
In Hill's first campaign, as in the current one, he had trouble getting contributions to pay for the expenses. So Hill went out-of-pocket buying things like signs or printed materials, and marked $1,957.04 worth of self-paid expenses in the initial campaign as being planned for reimbursement from contributions. Candidates must report all loans or expenses planned for reimbursement, but then must also report the reimbursement to make the report balance.

In April, Hill received a $50 contribution when he was already in-the-hole, then reported a $0 cash balance instead of $50. Presumably that money reimbursed Hill, but that was not reported as required in his finance report. Similarly, when Hill received $1,500 from the Greater Lewisville Realtors Association, and an additional $20 contribution, he made no further expenditures, but then reported a $0 balance without reporting where the money went. This totals $1,570 that Hill pocketed without reporting a reimbursement.

What I'm explicitly NOT saying here is that Hill would use the race as a way to profit. He didn't. In fact, he's gone way out of pocket on both races, and it's kind of sad that he would get this far without realizing there must be a reason why he's not getting financial support. What we have here is Hill either thinking he would reimburse himself quietly so as not to anger the few donors he did have, or maybe he is just ignorant of the law or cannot follow instructions. In either case, it's not a good sign for someone who thinks he's uniquely qualified to enforce "rule of law" on the City of Lewisville or bring about the transparency that he implies is lacking.

Open in new windowFailure to Report an In-Kind Contribution from the Republican Party
This Fall, Hill manned the Denton County Republican Party's booth at the Lewisville Western Days festival on September 23rd - three days after filing in the race. Although city council races in Texas are non-partisan, the booth had Hill's city council campaign signs displayed prominently along with the Republican literature and signage typical for that booth. The use of a booth at Western Days amounted to an in-kind contribution from the Denton County Republican Party of approximately 1/2 the value of the $100 booth, but it was not reported on Hill's campaign finance report from November 10th.

We would not expect in-kind reports for partisan candidates of the Republican Party in partisan races, such as county, state, and federal offices, but there is no constitutional role for political parties in local races. Voters need to know when the political parties contribute to local races.

Hill should have known better, or been advised better by his treasurer, local Republican activist Avie Raburn. Raburn has been involved in campaigns for many years and is the wife of Denton County Precinct 3 Constable Jerry Raburn. The handwriting on Hill's finance report from 11/10/2011 was the same as the handwriting on Hill's ballot application from 9/20/2011, suggesting that Hill filled out the report himself. At any rate, Hill did sign the report, and is responsible for it.

In Summary
We believe in the rule of law too. We think that laws regarding campaign finance are in place for good reason: The public needs to know where their candidates are getting their financing from, and how they spend it. It's important not just for transparency, but for showing whether candidates can read and follow instructions. Finance reports can show whether their support is broad or narrow, shallow or deep. They can show whether a particular interest is driving their efforts, and whether a candidate is making personal gain from their campaign or office. Hill has clearly made some mistakes here, and whether intentional or not, he needs to correct them.

As the author of this piece, I have not filed any complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission, although I did consult with them. If a complaint were to go through, Hill might get a slap on the wrist and a small fine. I think someone ought to file a complaint though, and I doubt that Hills opposition would do so, given their desire to make this campaign about the issues. I think this continual sloppiness with numbers is an issue. I have already written about Hill's $56 million mistake in describing the City's debt levels.

Steve Hill may or may not be held accountable under the law for his campaign finance problems. But voters should hold him accountable by rejecting his partisan message and faulty math. We recommend a vote for Neil Ferguson in the December 10th special election.

Update - 12/1/2011:
On Tuesday, Hill filed a correction affidavit disclosing a reimbursement to himself in the amount of $1,624, and removing the Final Report form. Thanks to CTTX for bringing that to our attention.

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