AUSTIN, Texas - This week, every Austin City Council member and Austin Mayor Steve Adler signed an online pledge not to accept any campaign donations from police associations' political action committees.
“To my understanding, Austin is still the only jurisdiction in the nation where there has been a unanimous signature to this pledge,” said Councilman Jimmy Flannigan, District 6.
The Austin Police Association PAC is now asking those city leaders to return previously accepted donations. “All the candidates that received money from the officers’ PAC have come to us asking for our endorsement or asking for some type of fundraising event in which we have contributed,” said Commander Donald Baker, committee chair for the APA PAC.
Out of all the councilmembers, Greg Casar accepted the most money from the PAC: $1,200. Leslie Pool and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza each accepted $700. Flannigan, Natasha Harper-Madison, Kathie Tovo, and Sabino Pio Renteria accepted $350.
“That donation I had completely forgotten about, because it was six years ago during a runoff, a runoff that I lost, so thanks a lot, Police Association, you did me a solid,” Flannigan said.
In a tweet Casar wrote in part, "Frankly, everyone donates to you once you're clearly going to be in office. So in honor of my pledge, I donated the same $700 to the Austin Justice Coalition."
“So Greg received both in 2014 and 2016, and then also received money for his legal defense when he was having the legal battle with Dr. Laura Pressley, when he was fighting that. So he came to the APA asking for their support and assistance,” Baker said.
On Friday, the PAC wrote to city leaders who took the pledge asking them to return any money they had received. Casar instead tweeted back a promise to donate the entire $1,200 to AJC. Garza also said she will donate her share to AJC and the Fair Defense Project.
“They're wanting to claim that they're giving it and donating to other groups, and groups that want to dismantle the police department, defund the police department. And, yeah, I saw what Greg Casar tweets. That's not very professional of him. It's not very ethical, in my opinion. And, frankly, it's pretty classless that he's going to go out and do that,” said Baker.
There are four city leaders who did not receive any money from the APA PAC: Mayor Steve Adler, and council members Ann Kitchen, Paige Ellis and Alison Alter.
Either way, Flannigan said Austin City Council members don't consider who donated to them when voting on policy changes.
“The reality is that when you're a candidate and when you're fresh to the job, you are scrambling to get as much resource as you can to educate the public and keep folks informed. It's a failure of our campaign finance system, that those types of choices are foisted upon current and future elected officials,” Flannigan said.
The APA PAC also said if the reason for signing the pledge is based on the idea that institutional racism exists within APD, council members should consider also denying contributions from the four other areas identified by the mayor and his task force on institutional racism as perpetuating systemic inequality. Those include education; real estate & housing; health; finance, banking, & industry; and civil & criminal justice.
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“Are you looking at those? And are you also going to pledge not to accept funds from those associations that support those workers, or those employees, or those segments of our society? Or are you just focusing on our officers? Because right now that's the target; the men and women who go to work every day, supporting the community, protecting the community, and that's who they're lashing out at and that's wrong,” said Baker.
“I think it's a valid question. Whether or not political action committees should be allowed to donate to political campaigns at every level of government, and I hope that the Police Association would join the call for significant and substantial campaign finance report reform at the state level. Because at the City Council level, we can't take more than $400 per donor," Flannigan said in response.
"We have some of the most restrictive campaign finance law in the nation. But at the State and County levels, they can take as much money as they want. And it seems pretty clear, based on the state laws we have to live under, that those state laws very much advantage the Police Association. So, I would return that question by asking the association, ‘Are you going to stop donating to the politicians that keep making it impossible to provide the oversight and transparency that your department clearly needs?" he continued.