By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Last week I reported that members of the Tom Dunning and Domingo Garcia mayoral campaigns had been subpoenaed to testify before a Dallas County criminal grand jury investigating election fraud. Garcia confirmed the story concerning his own campaign, but Dunning went on KRLD radio last week and insisted that nobody from his own staff had been subpoenaed.
What Dunning said on the radio was not true. Jan Gore, who is running the Southern Dallas phone banks for Dunning, has been called before the grand jury under subpoena. So has at least one other staff member.
The fact that people have been compelled to testify before the grand jury does not mean that they have done anything wrong. In the past when I have come across Gore in other campaigns, it was my impression that she did not engage in illegalities. But let's stop and make a mark next to one important point: I said members of the Dunning staff had been subpoenaed. After a full day to check it out, he said I was lying; nobody from his campaign had been compelled to testify. I have two people from his campaign on tape telling me they were subpoenaed.
I'm not a lawyer. My impression of what Jan Gore does for campaigns is not exactly definitive. The bottom line is that I have no idea who may be a target of this grand jury investigation and who may be an expert witness of sorts.
Dunning said on the radio that the grand jury investigation is not focused on the current mayoral election, and that's technically true. The grand jury probe was launched last summer after the Dwaine Caraway/Ed Oakley city council race. It's focused on vote-selling in Southern Dallas generally, including instances that may have occurred in any one of several elections.
None of which is exactly the point here. You have three mayoral campaigns: Dunning, Garcia and Miller. In two of them, people involved in the campaign have to go downtown under subpoena and talk to this grand jury, which expects to produce criminal indictments within the next few weeks. One does not.
The difference is simple. The Garcia and Dunning campaigns both have relied heavily on the traditional machinery that delivers the "bought" vote, whether it's bought through illegal activities or bought through a system of so-called "walking-around money" that may well fall within the boundaries of the law. The Miller campaign has not gone that route.
Next question: Why does anybody have to buy a vote?
The reason Dunning has to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Southern Dallas voting apparatus is because his supposed historical bond with black Dallas is a farce. When I talked to Gore at Dunning campaign headquarters, I told her it was my impression that Dunning had no name i.d. and no reputation in Southern Dallas at all before this campaign.
"He absolutely didn't," she said. "We had to build some name i.d."
She said Dunning's money was all-important: "Every penny that Mr. Dunning put over here in this community, baby, it was worth it, because he wouldn't have ever been in the runoff if it hadn't been for our efforts over here."
Gore and I discussed the role of Kathy Nealy, Dunning's principal political operative in Southern Dallas. Last week Nealy refused to answer questions about how she spends Dunning's money and accused me of racism for asking. Consultants for Domingo Garcia and Laura Miller opened their books to show how they spend campaign money.
I asked to see how the consultants spend their money, because all three of the campaigns have voiced suspicions about the others paying for endorsements. The endorsement issue is only one window on a very gray ethical area in which cash becomes a major campaign tool.
In Southern Dallas, where campaigning is often personal and door-to-door, large sums may be spent for so-called "walkers," who carry campaign literature out into the neighborhoods. Dunning also was asked at a news conference last week whether his campaign had been making cash contributions to Southern Dallas churches where he's been invited to speak. He conceded that he and his staff may "put some money in the collection plate."
Gore told me that she and Nealy both work for a flat fee. All of the other money that flows through Nealy, she said, goes for legitimate campaign expenditures.
"The thing I can tell you about Kathy Nealy that I know and I've known for 20 years is that Kathy Nealy gets a fee, and I get a fee. I think Kathy Nealy's fee for this gig is $10,000 a month. Everything else goes to where it's supposed to go."
After last week's Dallas Observer came out, Dunning promised on the radio to detail how the Nealy money is spent, but I don't think he'll honor that pledge.
However Tom Dunning may be putting the money out there, legitimately or otherwise, one thing is clear: If he were not paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in street money for his support in Southern Dallas, he would have no support there at all. A good example of how Dunning relates to black people is the meeting that was arranged for him early in the campaign by one of his own (former) supporters, the Reverend Charles Stovall of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.