Mayor Leppert's Contributions Dry Up and Then His Big Fund-Raiser Becomes a Charity Event -- What Gives?

For the past two years, Mayor Tom Leppert's annual "Giraffes, Monkeys and Lepperts" event at the Dallas Zoo has served as a birthday bash for the mayor and fund-raiser for Friends of Tom Leppert, a committee formed to pay Leppert's consultants and expenses. Last year, we revealed one of the contributors as the vice president of a local strip club.

This year's shindig has become a benefit for Education is Freedom, a nonprofit organization that assists students with completing high school and gaining access to college. This is the same organization to which Leppert has contributed $50,000 of his $60,000 mayoral salary and that oversees several of his educational initiatives.

EIF appears to be a great organization, and Leppert should be applauded for his efforts. However, what struck us was the decision to waive buh-bye to donations if Leppert has intentions on staying in office.

Then we looked at the latest campaign finance reports for Leppert and Friends of Tom Leppert filed January 15, which cover the last six months of 2009. The combined amount raised? Zero. (The $14,000 reported as contributions to Friends of Tom Leppert are merely transfers from Leppert's mayoral campaign.)

So, yup, zilch. Meanwhile, council members Ann Margolin ($24,530), Tennell Atkins ($21,600) and Dwaine Caraway ($17,570) reported some nice hauls during the same period. In fact, only Angela Hunt, Dave Neumann and Vonciel Hill reported no contributions among the 14 council members. And it's not like Leppert doesn't need the dough. He still has $872,000 remaining to pay back to himself after lending his campaign $950,000.

At the end of last year, we spoke with Mari Woodlief, president and CEO of Allyn Media, about the futures of two of her clients: Leppert and State Senator John Carona. With Leppert aiming to replace U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison following her self-proclaimed resignation, Carona told The News that he'd "give consideration" to running for mayor if Leppert bolted.

As Woodlief told us at the time, the moves were based on Hutchison actually leaving the Senate, but Woodlief predicted that Hutchison wouldn't keep her word. Given what's happened since Hutchison was drubbed by Governor Rick Perry in the Republican primary -- The News and Perry have urged Hutchison to stay put, and she's avoiding the media like the plague -- we're thinking Woodlief should have put some scratch on that one in Vegas.

Despite the likelihood that Hutchison finishes her term in Washington, we keep hearing that Leppert won't run for reelection, and Carona is readying himself for a mayoral run in 2011. Presumably, Leppert would then finish his term, which ends in June 2011, and then begin campaigning for Hutchison's seat, which expires in 2012.

At the very least, Leppert should be proving his fund-raising prowess if a Senate run is what he's focused on, but switching the zoo event to a benefit for EIF could be a way for him to add to his résumé, as education was one of the pillars of his mayoral campaign.

It's not like this theory is without holes, and we're sure there's a much better explanation, but, seriously, the mayor of Dallas couldn't manage one contribution in six months? Not one?

Update: The contribution from strip club VP Ron Shaddox was never reported, so we contacted one of Leppert's consultants, Laura Reed Martin, to find out what happened. She says it was refunded in the same reporting period as it was received.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten