Campaign Finance Reports Paint Murky Picture of Accountability

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Keith Toney talks to reporters after hearing early voting results.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

District 2 candidate Keith Toney

The campaign finance report Keith Toney filed last week was a headscratcher.

The numbers showed he had raised about $3,600, spent $755, had no money in the bank, and hadn’t taken out any loans as of the last day of the April 25 through May 29 reporting period before the June 8 runoff election.

By that math, Toney, who was already being outpledged and outspent by his District 2 runoff challenger Jada Andrews-Sullivan, would have no financial means for a final campaign push during the week leading up to the election.

But according to Camille Padonu, Toney’s campaign treasurer, the campaign finance report was a product of an accounting gaffe that could easily be attributed to overzealousness and hubris. Padonu said the campaign filed its paperwork thinking it would win the May 4 election. The filed numbers didn’t take into account a runoff.

The numbers were corrected Monday afternoon. The current, amended report has Toney’s contributions as the same, $3,600, but his expenses are now at $2,433 and on-hand is $2,096 for the reporting period.

Previously unreported expenditures include more than $1,000 to Alamo Mailing and other smaller purchases associated with advertising.

This kind of confusion and revised reporting is not abnormal, said Laura Barberena, owner of a local political consultancy firm who represented three incumbent Council members who won re-election in the May 4 election.

“These reports are very confusing,” Barberena said, especially for accountants and bookkeepers. “We want them to balance and they just don’t. … They never do.”
The number of corrections, refunds, loan paybacks, and the timing of the filing means these reports are rife with seemingly simple addition and subtraction problems that don’t provide a clear picture, she said.

And candidates aren’t breaking the law if they don’t file on time or at all. Similar to many of San Antonio’s campaign ethics rules violations, she said, a complaint has to be filed for an official investigation to take place. Even then, it would take months to implement penalties that would probably be minimal, she said.

“We can talk transparency and ethics reform ’til we’re blue in the face but when there’s no accountability to it, what does it matter?” Barberena said. At best, campaign reports demonstrate if candidates can meet deadlines and “show us that they are responsible public servants who follow the rules.”

All but one candidate for San Antonio City Council district runoffs have filed their campaign reports for the most recent reporting period, according to the City of San Antonio’s website. Those reports show some candidates vastly outraising and spending their opponents.

Andrews-Sullivan, who has been endorsed by three sitting City Council members, has twice the funds raised (about $7,000) and has more than three times Toney’s expenditures ($8,084). She has $2,000 cash and about $1,500 in outstanding loans.

Panodu said she expects Toney will spend campaign funds more aggressively in the final week.

“He’s just old school and real careful about spending money too fast,” she said of Toney. “Most people as quick as they get the money they spend it.”

In District 4, Johnny Arredondo’s reports were not submitted by the Friday deadline. They were uploaded to the City’s website this week and show that he raised $1,200, spent about $1,000, and has $1,200 more to spend. Meanwhile, his opponent, Adriana Rocha-Garcia, raised more than $31,000 and spent more than $25,000. She still has $24,000 to spend.

In District 6, Melissa Cabello Havrda raised more than $27,000 and spent $25,000. Her opponent Andrew Greene raised a little more than $7,000 and spent $10,000.

Money spent doesn’t determine election outcomes, Barberena said, but money is a key factor in exposure in local elections.

In the mayor’s race, campaign finance reports show Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) trailing Mayor Ron Nirenberg in funding – but the local police and firefighters union have been spending thousands of dollars on Brockhouse’s behalf.

Political action committees (PACs) file separate reports with the Texas Ethics Commission and they are not allowed to coordinate with the campaigns they support.

While the fire union has used the bulk of their funds to try to ensure a Brockhouse’s win, the police union has spread its money to Rocha-Garcia and Cabello Havrda in addition to Brockhouse. It’s unclear how much the public service unions have spent on each candidate. Those reports are due June 5.

2 thoughts on “Campaign Finance Reports Paint Murky Picture of Accountability

  1. Why are sitting councilmen endorsing a candidate in a run off? What if the other guy wins? Won’t that lead to hard feelings?

    • If a council member is scared of hard feelings, they shouldn’t be on the dais. Every vote has implications, and not one decision is held as “right” by everyone.

      Being willing to support a candidate shows involvement in the political process outside of self-gain and allows incumbents to meet and understand their potential colleagues.

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