Ronquillo Calls Out Rawlings On Fat-Cat Contributors. Me, Too.
Mayor Mike Rawlings
Yesterday, mayoral candidate Marcos Ronquillo came out with his own take on a topic we discussed Monday -- the number of political contributors who have given Mayor Mike Rawlings way more than the $5,000 limit per candidate per campaign.
A statement attributed to "the Ronquillo campaign" calls the contributions above the $5,000 limit a "violation." The statement says, "Dallas' campaign finance laws were put in place to protect taxpayers against undue influence by special interests over our elected officials.
"While we are confident it was an oversight and not a deliberate act, we urge Mayor Rawlings to do the right thing and return the almost $100,000 in campaign contributions that were accepted in violation of our longstanding ethics laws."
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Rawlings has a list as long as his arm of people who have given him three and four times or more the $5,000 limit. I told you Monday that city officials told me Rawlings is within the rules. I also told you that the city's version of the rules made no sense whatsoever and seemed to add up to no rules at all for incumbents, tight rules for challengers. But I took them at their word.
Ronquillo is clearly skeptical. His people talked to the same guy at City Hall, Elections Manager Brylon Franklin, who told them what he told me. The $5,000 limit is only for candidates. Once somebody is an elected officeholder, he can accept as much money as anybody will give him, but it has to go into his officeholder account, not his campaign account.
Problem? As far as city paperwork is concerned, the candidate account and the officeholder are the same thing. In fact it's called a candidate/officeholder account. OK, look, after an awful lot of years doing this, my solution for these things is not to talk to people at City Hall for too long at a stretch.
But Ronquillo clearly intends to make something of this. His statement said, "We cannot imagine that Mayor Rawlings and his campaign would knowingly and intentionally violate the intent and spirit of ethics laws and try to take advantage of a 'loophole' to accept unlimited campaign contributions as a candidate and officeholder."
I might call that a deficit of imagination. Meanwhile, I did a podcast yesterday with political consultant and education blogger Eric Celeste in which we discussed this. He wondered why officeholders need an officeholder account. Good question. I said I have always thought of officeholder accounts -- and this is speaking very informally, totally metaphorically, only for effect and not at all literally -- as bribes.
You're not trying to get them elected any more. They're already elected. You give money to an officeholder after he's already holding the office so he or she will do something for you. Or because you love him. Or what, by accident? A lot of things are possible.
I am not inclined to nitpick the technical requirements of Dallas City Hall ethics rules, which I have always regarded kind of like a crucifix on a hooker, but more to simply enjoy the view. Who, for example, writes multiple $5,000 checks to a guy who is already mayor and wasn't even running again yet when the extra checks were written?
Well, maybe it's a guy like Robert Rowling, who wrote three of them. Rowling has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $5.2 billion, sold the oil and gas company his dad started to Texaco in 1989, and made most of his billions since then as an investor in the Omni Hotel chain.
Or Jay Pack. He and his wife wrote three fivers. Pack was a very big deal in the food supply business before selling his company. Now he's a principal in the privatization of the Dallas Farmers Market.
There's always John Adams. He and his wife wrote three checks for $5,000 and one for $1,000. He has been a longtime director of Trinity Industries in the rail, construction, inland barge and oilfield equipment businesses.
Or Edward "Rusty" Rose, a principal in Cardinal Investments, a global luxury real estate firm, and a director of Ace Cash Express, a payday lending company in which the mayor has also been a principal.
James Carreker, former president and CEO of Trammell Crow Co., kicked in three fivers. Oh, it just goes on and on, to the tune, as I told you Monday, of $1.54 million or 60 percent of his total fundraising, all from multiple check writers whose contributions flouted whatever that $5,000 rule was ever intended to be in the first place.
But I guess if we even bring it up, it's the politics of envy, right? Can we at least express fawning admiration? Is that allowed?
I don't think Ronquillo is a poor man or an even slightly less than rich man. He's a longtime high-profile lawyer who has represented most of the big public institutional clients in the region at one time or another. I'm sure he's done well for himself.
But what about this? Would it be asking too much for somebody to call that elections manager before the City Council and have him lay out the rules publicly, just so that everybody knows? It does seem as if Ronquillo's very direct challenge to Rawlings ought to be enough to merit at least that much of a response.