City council elections

July campaign finance filing show final local election fundraising

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Recent July campaign finance reports by candidates and PACs, show the flurry activity in the final month of the recent city council elections.

It also shows how much money washed into those local races.

In all, local candidates raised more than $135,000 and spent more than $210,000 in the final reporting period of the 2019 election cycle, with PACs having a previously unheard-of influence on local fundraising.

Leander businessman Andy Pitts and the Cedar Park-based Texas Stronger PAC, which is run by his son Aaron and received approximately $40,000 since 2018 from a company Pitts owned, was the single biggest source of donations. Nearly one in every four dollars by all candidates in the Leander race came from the PAC.

Between his company’s PAC donations and his direct donations to candidates and PACs, Pitts has given more than $57,000 combined since 2018.

He said back in April that his PAC donations in Leander were aimed to electing a majority to support Mayor Troy Hill’s economic development agenda and his Cedar Park donations were meant to support conservative candidates. Nearly all of the candidates he supported in 2019 – Council members Chris Czernek, Jason Shaw and Kathryn Pantalion-Parker in Leander and Council member Rodney Robinson in Cedar Park – won their races. Because the success, Pitts recently told Community Impact he may expand into donating to Georgetown race in future elections.

Hill and the other candidates Pitts supported in the recent race have each said that regardless of size or source of the donations, the donations would not sway their how they voted in council meetings.

Pitts also said the PAC was also created to help developers shield their identity, which he claimed was needed due to retaliation against them in the past by city officials, and allow them to avoid having to report a conflict of interest if they have a future agenda item before a city council, which would legally be required if the donation had been directly to a candidate.

In the July report, the PAC only received a $150 contribution on April 30 from the Dallas-based CESM Real Estate, which is developing land in the Sarita Valley area in northern Leander, and only gave a matching $150 to Pantalion-Parker on May 1. The PAC ended the period with $1,065 left.

In fact, the $16,000 combined the PAC gave in 2019 had each of its donation to a Leander candidate add up to donations it received the same day or just a few days prior from a developer with land or business in Leander.

This year’s combined total donations included $9,000 from Pitts, $4,500 from Hughes Capital Management President and CEO Lance Hughes of Austin, who is Manager of the General Partner of Transit Village Investments, Ltd, that owns 17 properties in Leander worth nearly $6 million combined, and $2,500 from Dr. Vivek Mahendru, M.D., who owns 22 properties in Leander worth nearly $1.6 million combined.

Pitts ventured into Cedar Park races for the first time this year, giving nearly $10,000 combined to Council member candidates Robinson and Hulyne Christopher through direct donations and $5,000 to the other PAC that gave the most this year – the Cedar Park-based Citizens of Cedar Park PAC.

Besides Pitts, the Cedar Park PAC’s received over $16,000 in donations and in-kind donations primarily from six main donors – former Council members Jon Lux, Lyle Grimes and Kristyne Bollier, former State Rep. Tony Dale, Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long and Cedar Park resident Mary Horn. The PAC ended the period with $135 left.

Lastly, the July report shows the Round Rock-based Williamson County Conservative Citizens PAC got involved in the Cedar Park race, spending approximately $2,500 combined on a joint mailer touting Cedar Park candidates Robinson, Christopher and Tim Kelly. Prior to this election, the PAC only spent funds on Round Rock candidates.

Cedar Park

Place 5 Council member Rodney Robinson raised the most of than any candidate’s July filings. He raised $5,209, including a $2,000 donation from Pitts. He spent $7,159 and ended with $2,215 left.

He spent $3,630 on attorney fees and legal services during the race’s election recount, which upheld Robinson’s win by 2 votes.

He also spent $1,500 with Austin-based 90 Degrees Agency, a consulting firm run by former Cedar Park mayoral candidate Bob Cornelius who lost to Cedar Park Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale in the 2018 elections. Additionally, he also spent $250 with Dripping Springs-based Benezet Consulting for blockwalkers and $225 with Texas CMS, which is run by Grimes.

Former Place 5 Council member Heather Jefts, who lost to Robinson, raised $3,340, spent $10,453 and ended the period with $3,378 left and $4,000 in loans.

Jefts spent $2,000 on contract work by Austin-resident Allison Heinrich, who is also the campaign manager and legislative director for Texas Rep. John Bucy III (D-Austin). She also spent $2,200 with the City of Cedar Park to cover the cost of the election recount she requested and $1,228 to Fort Worth-based InFocus Campaigns for polling.

Place 1 Council member Tim Kelly raised nothing in July, spent $1,420 – primarily repaying his loan to his campaign – and ended the period with $1,530.

Former Council member Stephen Thomas, who lost to Kelly, raised $1,000 exclusively through Austin developer William Pohl and spent $19,843 to close out his campaign account, including $3,053 to Austin-based Barrage, LLC. for his mail campaign.

Place 3 Council member Anne Duffy raised $1,805, spent $4,043 and ended the period with $1,422.

She received a $1,000 donation from Pohl. Her spending primarily consisted of $2,235 to reimburse Jefts for joint campaign expenditures and $1,228 with Fort Worth-based InFocus Campaigns for polling.

Hulyne Christopher, who lost to Duffy, raised $898 from an in-kind donation from Williamson County Conservative Citizens PAC, spent $2,733 and ended the period with $2,021 and $1,500 in outstanding loans.

She spent $1,000 with 90 Degrees, $250 with Dripping Springs-based Benezet Consulting and $225 with Texas CMS.

Leander

Mayor Pro Tem and Place 5 Council member Chris Czernek raised nearly $400, including $300 from Leander ranch and real estate owner Jody Giddens. He spent $1,600 and ended the period with $3,166 left.

Former council member Jeff Seiler, who lost to Czernek, raised $400 from the Texas Land Developers Association. He spent $4,500 for advertising after the election with Buda-based Purple Dog Consulting and closed out his campaign account.

Place 1 Council member Kathryn Pantalion-Parker raised $1,375, including $650 from Texas Stronger. She spent $3,621 and ended with $3,817 left.

Place 3 Council member Jason Shaw raised $525, including $500 from Texas Stronger. He spent $2,328 and ended with $3,324 left.

Laura Lantrip, who lost to Pantalion-Parker, and Becki Ross, who lost to Shaw, both closed out their campaign accounts. Their only donations were $250 each from former Leander Mayor Chris Fielder.

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