Bobby Epstein is chairman of the Circuit of the Americas racetrack and event venue in Southeast Austin. He’s also the majority owner of Austin Bold FC, a team in the United Soccer League, which is sort of like the minor leagues of pro soccer. Austin Bold is supposed to be coming to town next year, apparently.
So Epstein is obviously not happy that City Council approved a deal to give city-owned land to a Major League Soccer team near the Domain. Not only will the MLS team be a more attractive option than his second-rate team, but the MLS stadium will compete with his own facility for concerts and other lucrative events.
So Epstein and some other COTA investors pay a mercenary signature-gatherer, Linda Curtis, to launch a campaign for a ballot initiative to nix the MLS deal. That backfires when Curtis’ group, IndyAustin, uses an image of Pepe the Frog in a pathetically primative online ad. And then one of the group’s paid canvassers makes bigoted remarks to a transgender Council candidate.
So Epstein says he won’t support IndyAustin anymore. He’ll start a cleaner, more professional group to kill the MLS deal. Except, not so much. Canvassers from Epstein’s new nonprofit, Fair Play Austin, are caught lying to people to get signatures. It’s not exactly a small lie:
“We’re trying to build a new soccer stadium here,” said one paid canvasser, who identified himself in the video as “SQ.”
As Littlefield approaches the canvasser, he tells the man that he loves soccer. Littlefield tells the man that he thought the city already had approved a soccer stadium. The canvasser replies that a deal failed to pass twice, and now a petition was needed to get the matter on the ballot.
“It didn’t pass,” he says. “So that’s why we are trying to get it on the ballot.”
Epstein’s group has not filed any campaign finance report with the city. It could very well follow the example of Citizens for an Accountable Austin, the dark money-backed group that funded the petition drive for Proposition K, the “efficiency audit” measure. The group reasoned that it didn’t have to disclose its donors because it was not campaigning to support or defeat a candidate or ballot measure, only gathering signatures to get a measure on the ballot. Sigh.
Here’s the question. Two canvassers are caught telling people the exact opposite of what they’re trying to do. Were they instructed by Bobby Epstein to lie? If not, then why are they both telling the same lie?