Archive for December 31st, 2015

That’s It, 2015!

No doubt, the nation’s top political story of 2015 is Donald Trump. No ifs, ands, or buts on this one.

Locally it has to be the mayoral race followed closely by the HERO.

On the local sports scene, it has to be the ‘Stros.

This past season, the ‘Stros had 230 dingers. When was the last time the team finished with under 100 dingers?

I am thinking a whole lot of H-Town will be watching #GoCoogs on ESPN from 11 am until around 2:30ish.

Council Member Ellen Cohen just got named Mayor Pro Tem. I wonder if any other CM is disappointed they did not get selected? Oh, well.

Remember this Rebecca Elliott article about the new term limits for H-Town City Council and how it might impact future elections. Here is her article again and I have a take afterwards. Here:

The already difficult task of ousting incumbent Houston officeholders likely has become even tougher.

City elected officials now have an extended runway to accumulate cash before returning to the campaign trail, thanks to a voter-approved extension of term limits and the elimination of Houston’s fundraising blackout during non-election seasons.

Experts agreed the changes could be a boon to incumbents, though were split over the magnitude of that boost.

“It’s huge, hugely significant,” Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer said. “We’re, basically, giving people an eight-year term.”

Local government finance lawyer Neil Thomas, however, characterized the shift as marginal.

“It certainly gives candidates and officeholders a longer period of time to raise funds, but incumbents always have an advantage,” Thomas said.

Both the January ruling undoing Houston’s 23-year-old fundraising moratorium and last month’s vote to switch to two four-year terms from three two-year terms were lost amid the chaos of an open-seat mayor’s race and the noisy campaign over Houston’s equal rights ordinance.

The effects were delayed in part because the federal opinion calling an end to Houston’s temporal fundraising ban came just weeks before candidates otherwise would have been able to begin soliciting cash.

Under the 1992 measure, which the city said reduced actual and perceived corruption, the fundraising clock for city races started the February before an election and ran until about four months after its conclusion.

The plaintiff, Brent Trebor Gordon, was planning to run for City Council and argued that the abridged window kept him from amassing enough money to effectively challenge an incumbent, violating his and his potential contributors’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

In siding with Gordon, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake said the city failed to present evidence that the law was “necessary to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

Even though Gordon argued that the now-defunct blackout period disproportionately benefited incumbents, attorneys and political scientists said its absence only puts officeholders further ahead.

“Incumbents always have an advantage, but this will enhance their advantage,” Austin campaign finance lawyer Buck Wood said, noting that donors generally are more willing to support officeholders because they hold decision-making power and are likely to be re-elected. “In some cases, it could be significant, because it may be that there’s some big issue pending before City Council with moneyed interests on both sides. So, it just gives you leverage to raise money.”

Limits still in place

Of 12 City Council candidates up for re-election in November, 11 retained their seats. District F Councilman Richard Nguyen, who ousted two-term Councilman Al Hoang two years ago, was himself unseated by physician Steve Le.

Under the new regulations, candidates will be allowed to solicit donations year-round, though the city’s $5,000 individual contribution limit and $10,000 cap for political action committees per election cycle remain. Thomas said that cap mitigates the impact of abolishing the blackout.

“I would think that any additional amounts that they might raise would really affect any advantage an incumbent might have only marginally, because the base limits still remain in effect,” Thomas said. “Yes, there may be some events that wouldn’t otherwise occur, but I don’t see any big change.”

Thomas and local fundraiser Pat Strong also noted that elected officials regularly draw down campaign funds for officeholder expenses, so not all of the money raised over four years necessarily will accumulate in the form of a campaign war chest.

“Now that they can raise money year-round, they can actually enhance their outreach by reaching into their campaign funds rather than relying on taxpayer funds to cover their officeholder expenses,” said Strong, who raised money for mayor-elect Sylvester Turner.

‘Pay-to-play’ perception

Challengers do not have those same financial obligations, Strong said.

Echoing the city’s legal argument, some voiced concern that abolishing the moratorium has opened the door for additional conflict of interest problems at City Hall, since those doing business with the city now will be able to contribute relatively close to council votes, regardless of the proximity of an election.

“At least a perception of pay-to-play can be developed,” Aiyer said. “It would be important for the mayor … to make sure council members aren’t unduly influenced.”

Others pointed to the fact that city contractors already are barred from contributing during contract award periods. The court also rejected the city’s anti-corruption argument.

Wayne Klotz, president of a local engineering firm and regular municipal donor, called for additional guidance from the city about the new contribution guidelines.

“Do I think there’s going to be changes? Yes. Do I know what they are? No,” Klotz said. “I’m going to be very cautious moving forward.”

They didn’t do away with the donor limits: $5,000 per individual, $10,000 per PAC – that you can donate per election. Under the now defunct system, an election was generally considered the time you could begin fundraising until the time you couldn’t. A runoff is considered a separate election.   When does the 2015 election cycle end and when does the 2019 cycle begin?

If you can only take the $5,000 and $10,000 every four years instead of every two years but you are going to be spending more dough out of you campaign fund on community politics and stuff, it does not seem like that big of an advantage. Oh, well.

In 2011, the ‘Stros had a total of 95 dingers of course.

Last night I went over to my niece’s for dinner and in the course of the evening I taught Dante and Lucas how to play dominoes.

I hope everyone is careful this evening because we certainly have a lot to look forward to next year.

I will be back Monday.

Happy New Year!

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