By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Initially, Gray was delighted to explain exactly what he was doing. A few weeks back, he said, the Bunkhaus held a voter registration drive, encouraging as many of its clients as possible to fill out cards listing the 1818 South Ervay address. This weekend, Gray's job was to make sure as many of those people as possible got their cards and were driven to the polls.
Since voter apathy runs a bit high among this group, Gray said, the $3 and pork sandwiches were a way of helping potential voters see tangible value in exercising their franchise.
"We give them an incentive, sandwiches, because they're really not concerned with voting," Gray says. And how do these voters--many of whom don't even know who is running in the council race--pick the candidate they will vote for? Gray says the homeless are more politically astute than they are given credit for. Many of them see the news on TV in the day room, or listen to the radio, he says.
"I'm a half-way educated man, and what it is, people think we're trying to falsify--trying to get people to vote one way or the other," Gray says. That, he says, is absolutely not true.
But it is true that the only candidate Gray knows by name is Brenda Reyes. That's because she recently came to the neighborhood, accompanied by a Hispanic man driving a red Chevy pickup truck. The man Gray describes seems to fit the description of Roberto Arredondo, a Reyes campaign worker.
Gray says he was very impressed by Reyes and so, too, were others--like the man who joined Gray at the front door during our conversation. The man, who had a blue bandanna wrapped around his head, confirmed that he's a registered voter, but he paused when Gray asked him who's running for city council. "Reyes somebody," he said, slowly tugging at the bandanna on his head, as if it might help jog his memory.
It's not surprising that the Reyes name would ring a bell at the Bunkhaus and Pacesetter Personnel Services Inc. After all, two current Pacesetter employees have contributed $1,000 each to Reyes, and are openly voicing their support for her candidacy. Just a while back, they had a Reyes sign posted in front of the building, says Paul Moreno, who is Pacesetter's general manager and one of the employees who gave Reyes $1,000.
Seated behind his desk on Monday morning, Moreno paused when asked if he contributed to the Reyes campaign. When reminded that his name and that of his assistant, Eric Veblen, clearly show up on the Reyes campaign disclosures as donating $1,000 each, the perplexed look on Moreno's face suddenly disappeared.
"I gave Eric a check," Moreno says hastily.
A check? You gave your employee a check for $1,000 to be used as a campaign contribution?
"Yes," Moreno says, adding that the gesture was "no big deal."
But Dallas County's Sherbet says that the gesture could be a very big deal if the Texas Ethics Commission finds out about it. Under state law, companies cannot contribute to political campaigns directly, and individual contributors are limited to $1,000 a piece. Since Moreno gave $1,000 to Reyes himself, he can't give another $1,000 through an employee.
"That would be a violation [of state law] without a doubt...It's like me giving $2,000 under false premises," Sherbet says. "You can't give somebody money and say 'under your name contribute this money.'"
Texas Ethics Commission general counsel Karen Lundquist concurs with Sherbet's assessment. "You can't hide the person who is really making the contribution," says Lundquist, who adds that she can't comment on this particular incident because she doesn't have the facts of the case.
Under state law, making a hidden contribution is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to $4,000 in fines and/or up to a year in jail, Lundquist says. A corporate contribution is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years, but no less than two years in jail and/or up to a $10,000 fine.
Moreno and Veblen--who could not be reached for comment--are not the only ones affiliated with the labor hall who have contributed generously to Reyes' campaign. George and Elizabeth Boehme of Houston also each gave Reyes $1,000. Boehme is the same man who in 1993 was accused of double-registering day laborers to vote for Chris Luna in District 2. At the time, Boehme was employed by Industrial Labor Services, Inc., which operated out of the Bunkhaus.
Jack Borden, who lost to Luna in the 1993 election, filed a complaint with the Dallas County Elections Department over the labor hall voting, but Sherbet says the complaint went nowhere.
Reached at his home in Houston--located, ironically, on Robinhood Lane--Boehme said he no longer has any affiliation with Industrial Labor Services, Inc. or the Bunkhaus.
"I have absolutely nothing to do with the Bunkhaus and haven't walked in the Bunkhaus or been over at 1818 South Ervay in years," says Boehme. Boehme says that Borden's 1993 complaint had no merit. "In that particular case where he was alleging that we were trying to get out the vote for Luna, he was wrong. And it wasn't that I wouldn't have done that, 'cause I would have. And the reason I didn't is because [Borden] was not a significant threat."