Obtaining campaign finance reports filed by local candidates

Q: I need campaign finance reports for a couple of contested local races, but I am under the impression that I may not get access to those in time to write a story before the election. What all do campaigns have to keep track of? Is there a way to get this type of information while it’s still extra relevant?

A: See https://www.ethics.state.tx.us/guides/local_duty_guide.pdf. You can ask the treasurer of each campaign for a copy or you might be able to find what you’re looking for by searching the political committee lists at this page of the Texas Ethics Commission website: https://www.ethics.state.tx.us/dfs/paclists.htm.

 

Q: A city council member voted to approve an ordinance extending an easement so that a wireless tower could be placed right there, on his own property. Should he have abstained from voting on the ordinance? 

A: First, see Local Government Code Sec. 171.003, titled PROHIBITED ACTS; PENALTY. It says: (a) A local public official commits an offense if the official knowingly: (1)  violates Section 171.004; (2) acts as surety for a business entity that has work, business, or a contract with the governmental entity; or (3) acts as surety on any official bond required of an officer of the governmental entity. (b) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.

Next, see Sec. 171.004, titled AFFIDAVIT AND ABSTENTION FROM VOTING REQUIRED. It says: (a) If a local public official has a substantial interest in a business entity or in real property, the official shall file, before a vote or decision on any matter involving the business entity or the real property, an affidavit stating the nature and extent of the interest and shall abstain from further participation in the matter if: (1) in the case of a substantial interest in a business entity the action on the matter will have a special economic effect on the business entity that is distinguishable from the effect on the public; or (2) in the case of a substantial interest in real property, it is reasonably foreseeable that an action on the matter will have a special economic effect on the value of the property, distinguishable from its effect on the public. (b) The affidavit must be filed with the official record keeper of the governmental entity. (c) If a local public official is required to file and does file an affidavit under Subsection (a), the official is not required to abstain from further participation in the matter requiring the affidavit if a majority of the members of the governmental entity of which the official is a member is composed of persons who are likewise required to file and who do file affidavits of similar interests on the same official action.

 

Q: What are the notice requirements for public projects in which a county has entered a contract with a construction manager at risk?

A: Let’s look at Government Code Chapter 2269, CONTRACTING AND DELIVERY PROCEDURES FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS. The chapter, which includes reference to managers at risk, applies to state agencies and local governmental bodies. 

Under the title NOTICE REQUIREMENTS, Sec. 2269.052, paragraph (d), it says: For a contract entered into by a county under any of the methods provided by this chapter, the county shall publish notice of the time and place the bids or proposals, or the responses to a request for qualifications, will be received and opened. The notice must be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county once each week for at least two weeks before the deadline for receiving bids, proposals, or responses.

But, in regards to the timing, please see Local Government Code Sec. 262.025, titled, COMPETITIVE BIDDING NOTICE, which says: (a) A notice of a proposed purchase must be published at least once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county, with the first day of publication occurring at least 14 days before the date of the bid opening. 

 

Q: Our county clerk is refusing to release a signed, filed plea entry because the case it pertains to has not been disposed. She says she does not have to release anything until after the final hearing, even though the district attorney and the judge have said the information should be released. She said I could file an official public information request but that she doesn’t have to do anything with that for 10 days.

A: Well, your county clerk has plenty of company in her treatment of the “10-day” reference in the Texas Public Information Act. More than a few public officials hold to the notion that they have 10 days to twiddle their thumbs before they even acknowledge your request. But the law, as interpreted by Attorney General Ken Paxton and earlier by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott in their annually updated Texas Public Information Handbook(s), requires the public information officer of a governmental body to “promptly produce” the requested information, unless the information is protected by some other statute or common law privacy. The clerk does not have the leeway to wait 10 days before she responds to your request. Also know that Rule 12 of Texas Rules of Judicial Administration provides for public access to certain records made or maintained by a judicial agency in its regular course of business but not pertaining to its adjudicative function. How a situation like this plays out can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it sounds like the judge and district attorney are already on your side. Still, you might end up having to wait for an arraignment in open court, if there is one.

 

Q: Do political ads need to be paid for before we publish them?

A: No mention of that is made in Election Code CHAPTER 255, REGULATING POLITICAL ADVERTISING AND CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS. Some newspaper publishers have made it their policy not to publish a political ad unless it is prepaid because a political campaign can run out of money and the newspaper may have to wait to get paid for an unreasonable period of time. Also, think about this: Are you going to treat everyone who wants you to print a political ad the same? What would happen if you accepted an unpaid ad from candidate A and demanded cash on the barrelhead from candidate B?

Send questions to Ed Sterling at 

edsterling@texaspress.com or call Texas Press Association at 512-477-6759.