Austin has a strict limit on how much individual can give to a candidate’s campaigns. The limit, which is pegged to inflation, is currently $350. The problem is, there’s nothing the city can do about independent groups. They’re free to raise as much money from anybody they want and to spend as much as they want promoting or opposing candidates.
Case and point: Center for Austin’s Future, a group funded largely to promote development-friendly candidates. In October, the group easily raised $82k from a small group of real estate interests to support and oppose different candidates in the Council elections. Here were the largest donors:
- Robert Turner (real estate investor): $10k
- Austin Hotel & Lodging Association: $10k
- CREA Capital (real estate investors): $10k
- PSW Real Estate: $10k
- Bukowski Law Firm (real estate law firm): $7.5k
- Sean Bukowski (see above): $7.5k
- Waren Walters (developer): $5k
- Texas Association of Builders: $5k
- Austin Apartment Association: $5k
- Jeffrey Hahn (PR firm that largely serves developers): $2.5k
- Associated Builders & Contractors PAC: $1k
Finally, Ward Tisdale, the head of Center for Austin’s Future (former head of Real Estate Council of Austin) chipped in $5.5k. And Texas Equity PAC, an LGBT rights group, contributed $2k, likely to support Danielle Skidmore’s bid to be Austin’s first transgender Council member.
I’m not sure exactly what CAF got up to in the elections. They haven’t disclosed who their spending supported/opposed. The only thing I know they did was run a mailer against Kathie Tovo that Danielle Skidmore, her opponent disavowed. I don’t know why they haven’t disclosed that spending.
Despite its lackluster performance in the District 9 race, the CAF is gearing up to be a new political heavyweight in city races. They raised and spent a ton of money this cycle and I wouldn’t be surprised if the group spends heavily to make sure that anti-growth Susana Almanza doesn’t knock off her brother, pro-density Pio Renteria, in next month’s runoff. They’re probably not too worried about the other runoff in District 8, which features an urbanist-minded Democrat, Paige Ellis, against Republican Frank Ward.