By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Campaign dish: In the interest of fairness, Buzz offers you the following information: Republican County Commissioner Maurine Dickey often uses campaign funds to purchase food from Dickey's Barbecue Pit. Her campaign spent more than $14,000 between 2007 and 2009 at the restaurant chain she and her husband own, all to provide food for her political events.
We'll give you a minute to pick yourself up off the floor. Shocking, we know.
An anonymous little bird—a blue bird—sent us copies of Dickey's old campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. We suspect our source was looking for payback for an item that the Observer's Sam Merten posted on the paper's blog Unfair Park in March, reporting that Democratic District Attorney Craig Watkins "paid family members or businesses they own more than $85,000 from his campaign funds."
What's barbecue sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so it's only fair that we report Dickey's food bills.
TEC rules are complex, but near as Buzz can tell, officeholders may reimburse their family's or their own businesses for legitimate campaign expenses, as long as they're not using the payments as a ruse to convert campaign contributions to personal fun and profit. ("I know campaign reports are key, and I scrub all mine carefully," Dickey says.)
In Watkins' case, what we really wanted to know was whether he used campaign contributions to pay utility bills for his family's businesses, as they share office space with Watkins' campaign headquarters. Watkins insisted everything was above board. Merten wanted to see some receipts. They weren't forthcoming. Much bad blood ensued.
What conclusions can we draw from all this? Well, for one, it pays better to be a Watkins. Second, Republicans have pedestrian tastes in food. And, third, Watkins' campaign needs to reassess its strategy, which is a polite way of saying "get its shit together."
The Morning News reported Tuesday that county auditors informed the district attorney's office two years ago about suspicious payments from Dowdy Ferry Auto Services to Democratic Constable Jaime Cortes' office, which used Dowdy to tow impounded vehicles. Watkins denied the claim, and he still won't say whether he's investigating Cortes, who recently announced he's quitting his post in July and will dedicate himself to seeing Watkins re-elected. (Thanks, Jaime! Go campaign in Oklahoma, will ya?) The story again raised questions over whether Watkins has the stomach to investigate a fellow Dem. On the scale of things that really matter, we figure that ranks substantially higher than who picked up the check for barbecue.