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A City compliance officer has closed a San Antonio resident’s complaint citing more than 100 campaign finance reporting errors during then-Councilman Greg Brockhouse’s 2019 campaign to unseat Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
If the complainant wants to further pursue the issues with the Ethics Review Board – she can re-file the complaint, a City spokesperson said.
“I own the clerical errors. The law allows a cure period, and I fixed the issues,” Brockhouse told the Rivard Report. “Most important to note: I reported everything received. And in good faith.”
Candidates have 10 days to correct campaign finance reports after they are alerted to possible errors. Brockhouse was notified of the complaint on Feb. 11.
Madeleine Dewar, who served as a volunteer for Nirenberg’s reelection campaign and identifies herself as a “liberal political activist” on social media, filed the complaint last month.
Asked if she plans to resubmit her complaint, Dewar said, “Probably. I’ll have to look and see what he’s explained away and what’s left.”
Dewar said she decided to review Brockhouse’s campaign reports because she felt he was not honest about an expunged police report detailing a domestic violence incident at his home in 2009. “I just get curious,” she said. “I want to see where the money’s coming from and who’s supporting who.”
Out of 325 campaign contributions listed in each of the reports, Dewar pointed to 104 errors in her complaint. More than half (61) were misspelled donor names and addresses, most of which Brockhouse corrected Feb. 12 and 13 with revised campaign finance reports and correction affidavits. The complaint also cites contributions that exceeded the allowable dollar limit, a contribution from a donor who was deceased, and donations made during a period before the runoff when campaign donations are prohibited.
Dewar filed a similar complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC), but only pertaining to the non-existent addresses and the deceased donor discrepancy. TEC has no jurisdiction over the local blackout period or contribution limits.
That complaint was sent back to Dewar for submission errors, but she has since re-submitted, she said. That complaint is still under review by TEC officials.
“This is a clear shot [at me] for political reasons,” said Brockhouse, who hasn’t ruled out another mayoral run in 2021. Nirenberg narrowly won the 2019 runoff election against Brockhouse with just 51 percent of the vote.
He said the misspelled donor names and addresses occurred when he misread scanned donation checks because the quality of the scans was poor, adding that it was a lesson learned: “Next time, photograph the checks.”
These kinds of mistakes are common in campaign finance reports, said Laura Barberena, a local political consultant who has worked for neither Brockhouse nor Nirenberg.
“At the end of the day, these reports [and the ethics code] are about transparency and informing the public where the money is coming from,” Barberena said. “Misspelling a name or address is not blocking transparency.”
“The 10-day grace period exists because [campaign finance reports] are very tedious,” she said. “Especially when you’re on these tight deadlines in the middle of a campaign.”
Because local campaigns can’t afford the accountants large campaigns can – such as in statewide campaigns, where millions of dollars are in play – candidates themselves are often filing their own reports, Barberena said.
In her complaint, Dewar also noted that A.J. Clark, the founder and former president of Clark Construction, had been dead nearly two years before a campaign report stated he donated $1,000 to Brockhouse on May 13, 2019.
That also was a clerical error, Brockhouse said, as both A.J. and wife Kathleen Clark were listed on the check. His report has been updated to reflect Kathleen as the donor.
Brockhouse recently returned a total of $1,500 to three donors who contributed $500 more than the allowed $1,000 per election cycle. He provided the Rivard Report copies of the checks he made out to Herlinda Aguilar, Marcella Lucario, and Maria Lucario.
Dewar’s complaint, notarized Jan. 28 and received by the City on Feb. 4, included the excess contributions.
In late 2019, he returned $1,000 to Richard and Joanne Wells, who each contributed $500 more than the limit, according to a separate affidavit Brockhouse filed Jan. 30. Brockhouse returned the Wellses’ over-contribution after a Jan. 22 media report regarding an unrelated federal bribery investigation in San Angelo showed the over-limit contribution.
Brockhouse acknowledged that he reported receiving 37 other contributions during a contribution moratorium ahead of the runoff election.
Municipal Code states, “A candidate for Mayor or City Council … shall not accept nor deposit campaign contributions after midnight on the fourth calendar day before the general, run-off, or special municipal election date.”
Brockhouse said those donations were made online and deposited in his account after the blackout period by a company he used to collect online donations.
“You don’t get that money immediately,” he said, adding that the code is unclear about how online contributions should be recorded.
Brockhouse returned a $500 online donation to Marc Rodriguez because it was made during the blackout period, according to a July 2019 correction affidavit.
Barberena agreed that the code is unclear on this point.
“It could be when I got it in my hand or when I put it in the bank,” she said. “That is open to interpretation.”
Dewar said she consulted Nirenberg’s campaign manager Kelton Morgan before filing her request.
“I asked him questions about it,” she said.
Brockhouse noted that the handwriting on the envelope sent to the City with the complaint looks like Morgan’s.
“The complainant is an avowed Democratic Party activist, a Ron Nirenberg supporter, and campaign team member, and most importantly, she admittedly received advice on how to handle this complaint from Ron’s campaign manager,” said Brockhouse, whose politics lean conservative. “It is clear I am renting free space in the heads of Ron Nirenberg, his campaign team, and supporters since I announced for mayor over a year ago. I’ll take it as a compliment that they feel the need to keep after me.”
Asked if he sent the complaint, Morgan only said, “Can [Brockhouse] ever just take responsibility for his … behavior?”
The number of errors in four of Brockhouse’s reports for the 2019 election is troubling, he said.
Morgan said it’s easy to disable online donations during the blackout period. That money, totaling more than $7,000, should be returned, as the code states, and “shall not accept nor deposit campaign contributions” during that time.
“He accepted them,” Morgan said. “What’s the point of an ethics code if there is no consequence for serially violating it?”
But the compliance auditor, who is not required to verify that corrective actions were made, deemed Brockhouse’s response letter “sufficient,” a City spokesperson said.
“I am most appreciative of [Dewar’s] hard work and diligence to ensure proper campaign finance reporting,” Brockhouse wrote in a response to the complaint sent to the City on Feb. 19.
He outlined several ways in which he will ensure more accurate reporting in the future.
“I am thankful for the help in identifying errors in reporting, and, even though all reports were filed in good faith, mistakes can happen, but due diligence will help prevent future errors,” he wrote.
Colin Strother, a local political consultant who has worked with Dewar before on campaigns (but not on the complaint), said he was surprised she filed the complaint.
“Clerical and typographical errors are exceedingly common in campaign finance reports,” Strother said. “It seems like an odd flex by the mayor’s team to bring up stuff from last year. One would think they would be looking to move on rather than reignite the 2019 rivalry. They must be concerned about a rematch.”
It’s unlikely that a re-filed complaint will be taken seriously by the City, as donations accepted online during blackout periods are also common, said Strother, who has worked with campaign finance reports locally since 2001.
“If these typographical errors were ruled to be violations, the mayor and about three-quarters of the council members who have ever served will be put [in] jail,” he said. “Frivolous ethics complaints waste the time of the respondent and the commission and really should be penalized no less than legitimate violations. Ideally you want your ethics commission being able to investigate and handle actual violations. If I served on that commission I would certainly consider this frivolous and would not be very happy to have to spend time working on it.
“I know [at the] state level you can be penalized for repeatedly filing frivolous complaints. The Texas Ethics Commission has realized for some time that the complaint process is used as a political weapon and [it is] taking some steps to minimize that.”
At different times, both Brockhouse and Strother have worked for the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, the City’s fire union that has opposed City Hall leadership during a years-long legal fight over the fire department’s labor contract.
If the complaint reaches the 11-member Ethics Review Board, which has discretion on which complaints receive a formal hearing, it has two options: dismissal or a finding that the City’s Ethics Code – which applies to campaign finance rules – was violated.
If it finds that a violation has occurred, it can recommend to City Council criminal prosecution, civil remedies, or that no action be taken.