Short answer: Nobody knows. That’s because the group that funded the Prop K petition drive weren’t required to disclose their donors.
So we may never know who provided $137k to Citizens for an Accountable Austin, the group that led the campaign to gather the signatures and get a proposition on the ballot to require city government to undergo an independent “efficiency audit.”
The group’s nondisclosure of donors is a patent violation of the city’s “dark money” ordinance, which requires groups advocating on behalf of candidates or ballot propositions to disclose donors. Now, technically Citizens for an Accountable Austin did disclose its donors. It reported that it received all of its money from another group, Austin Civic Fund. There’s nothing online about Austin Civic Fund except an eerily vapid website that clearly only exists so they can say they have a website. Because Austin Civic Fund isn’t actually a group, it’s a bank account, run by the same guy that heads Citizens for Accountable Austin.
So who gave the money to Austin Civic Fund? The dark money ordinance says that any donor who contributed more than $500 to a group for the purpose of a direct expenditure for/against a candidate/ballot prop should be disclosed, even if there contribution was redirected through another group. However, Michael Searle, the head of the PAC, offers a convenient excuse for they should not be disclosed. That’s because the donors to Austin Civic Fund didn’t know that their money would be used for the petition drive. From the Statesman in August:
In an email to the Statesman, Searle said donors gave to the Austin Civic Fund with no knowledge that their money would be used to push for the efficiency audit.
“Donors to the Austin Civic Fund do not direct use of funds,” Searle said. “Donors support the organization’s mission; the board determines expenditures.”
This is a laughable, of course. Austin Civic Fund is not an organization. It’s a bank account for Citizens for an Accountable Austin, whose sole purpose is supporting the ballot proposition.
Austin Shadow Mayor Fred Lewis also said the anonymous contributions were no big deal.
Lewis told the Statesman that the ordinance applies only to PACs campaigning for a specific ballot item. Since Proposition K did not exist when Citizens for an Accountable Austin spent money to push the efficiency audit petition, the ordinance would not apply, Lewis said.
Incredible the contradictions that politics forces on people.
While Citizens for an Accountable Austin paid for the expensive petition-gathering campaign, it is another group run by Searle, Yes On Prop K, that is campaigning to get the ballot initiative passed. Whether due to the rules or to avoid more bad press, that group has disclosed its donors. Thus far, it looks like a modestly-funded campaign, considering the six-figure effort that preceded it. The following donations make up the bulk of the fundraising:
Council Member Ellen Troxclair: $2.5k (Searle’s former boss)
Bryan Hardeman: $5k (Mercedes-Benz dealership owner)
James Skaggs: $5.2k (prolific funder of conservative, specifically anti-public transit, initiatives)
Stacy Hock: $10k (local rich person. Once bought some cronuts for $14,000 at an auction)
Brian Rodgers: $500 (Fred Lewis’ homeboy…real estate investor and big funder of anti-growth/anti-CodeNEXT stuff)
Paul Zito: $5k (not familiar with Zito)
Building Owners and Managers Association of Austin:$500
Reagan National Advertising: $1k (same folks bankrolling Lewis’ anti-CodeNEXT stuff)