Less than two days after mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal filed an ethics complaint against fellow contender Leticia Van de Putte, the former state senator said she will return some of the money transferred into her mayoral campaign from her state campaign account.
Unlike state and national campaign laws, San Antonio has strict campaign finance rules that limit maximum contributions to $1,000 for individuals and political action committees. Villarreal claims that transfers made from Van de Putte’s state campaign break that rule. Click here to download his complaint filed with the Ethics Review Board.
“The most important thing to me is my integrity … even though we’re on solid (legal) ground, I asked my (campaign staff) to find me the most transparent way under the law (to transfer funds),” Van de Putte said Thursday. “It’s campaign season. I get it …. clearly it’s stunt time.”
Van de Putte said the allegations of impropriety have become a campaign distraction. Her team is now going through her accounts and transferring funds under the “most restrictive” methods.
Villarreal said that Van de Putte’s procedural change is not enough.
“She has admitted to being caught. It’s an admission of guilt, this change of course,” Villarreal said. “The only reason why she’s changing direction is not because she discovered the right way, it’s because she was caught. Public scrutiny is causing her to make corrections.”
He does not plan on withdrawing his complaint.
“This is the kind of lack of transparency that people want to see changed in city government,” he said. “The consequences of inappropriately trying to shift hundreds of thousands of dollars into the mayor’s race can only be delivered by voters at the voting booth.”
It’s a move that will cost Van de Putte about $125,000, said campaign manager Christian Archer. He estimates that a little more than $100,000 will be transferred using the new procedure compared to about $225,000 the campaign intended to transfer from the state campaign accounts to the mayoral campaign account.
“Obviously, I don’t like that,” Archer said, citing an unreleased opinion from former City Attorney Michael Bernard, who now is in private practice as a partner with Bracewell & Giuliani, that Archer said approved the transfer as long as the total amount was broken down in increments of $1,000 and attributed to confirmed contributors. “But (Van de Putte) said, ‘If anybody out there doesn’t have 100% confidence in me, Christian, I want to fix it.’”
It’s a substantial reduction in available campaign funds that she’s willing to take, Van de Putte said, in the interest of transparency.
The City’s campaign finance law also states that “available funds shall be viewed as those contributions most recently received that add up to the amount of cash on hand.” Basically, campaigns have to work back chronologically and return excess contributions that exceed $1,000. For example, out of a $5,000 contribution to Van de Putte’s campaign for lieutenant governor or state senator last year, only $1,000 can be deposited into her municipal campaign account and a check for $4,000 would have to be sent back to the contributing individual.
Instead of transferring funds from his state representative campaign account, Villarreal collapsed that account to use for his municipal campaign. In instances where state campaign contributors had donated more than $1,000, Villarreal issued refund checks to his contributors for the amount over $1,000, doing so as early as last July when he launched his campaign.
Candidates are required to file periodic campaign finance reports, but they often do not factor in the campaign because of the time lag. The reports usually go unreviewed except by the media and opposing candidates and otherwise are not subjected to much scrutiny. The next report is due on April 9.
*Featured/top image: Mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte speaks at a forum moderated by Rick Casey at the KLRN -TV mayoral forum. Photo by Scott Ball.