Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings recently released his semiannual campaign finance report, detailing the money he's received for his re-election campaign and what he's doing with it. There are no smoking guns in the report, no examples of obvious corruption that everyone can feel righteously outraged about. Most disappointingly, there is no $10 billion donation from an imaginary PAC called Put Toll Roads Everywhere. The most interesting part of the report is the expense list. It reveals that Rawlings goes on a lot of overpriced meetings at fancy Dallas places with important people, including journalists.
A favorite spot for Rawlings appears to be the Preston Trail Golf Club, a prestigious, invitation-only private country club that does not admit women. Rawlings spent $250 on food and beverages there with City Manager A.C. Gonzales. On a different day, he dropped $863 to hang out at the club with Sean Donohue, the CEO of the DFW International Airport. In yet another man date at Preston Trail, Rawlings spent $295 while joined by WFAA sportscaster Dale Hansen. You can totally picture Hansen and Rawlings sitting together in suits at a golf course, surrounded by at least $295 worth of food but not touching a thing, discussing a topic too complicated for a woman's ears.
Hansen isn't the only journalist Rawlings is chilling with. In July, Rawlings spent $86 at the Havana Social Club while joined by the Morning News' Robert Wilonsky. "I believe he may have had a cigar," says Wilonsky. The DMN reporter describes it as a spontaneous, brief meeting that occurred because he happened to be nearby while the mayor was already at the club. That was followed in October with a $65 meeting at Capital Grille. Wilonsky, who was footing his own bill, remembers discussing Ebola during the Capital Grille meeting. We're not upset that we weren't invited because we were all really busy on those days anyway, and Wilonsky assures us that the meetings were not exciting or sexy, or even power lunches. "I don't dress well enough to have power lunches," he says.
What about women? Rawlings eats with them, too, just not at Preston Trail. He spent $150 at Coal Vine Pizza in August, joined by Councilmember Jennifer Staubach Gates. Councilmember Vonciel Jones Hill got a $295.82 gift from Fortnum & Mason in November. Something to do with tea, we suspect.
Rawlings is a generous tipper. In late October he spent $200 on valet tips at the Crescent Club.
Councilman Philip Kingston, who is not listed in any of the campaign power-meal dates, argues that Rawlings' trips to Preston Trail with Gonzales and Donohue are bending campaign finance rules since Texas ethics law bars city employees from participating in mayoral campaigns. "The question then becomes, what possible legitimate use of campaign funds can there be for a meal with a public employee?" Kingston asks.
But Mari Woodlief, the president of the Allyn Media public relations firm Rawlings uses, says that "these expenses were, I think, put on the wrong report," so no ethics laws were broken. According to Woodlief, the expenses in question were supposed to go on another report called the officeholder report, in which you're apparently allowed to take out city employees. (Wilonsky also said that his meetings with Rawlings weren't campaign-related). Woodlief says she's going to contact the ethics commission to get it fixed. "It looks to me that there's been an error, I can say that for sure, the A.C. Gonzales and the Robert Wilonsky [expenses] both should not have gone on the campaign finance report."
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So is there some sinister violation of campaign ethics rules going on, or is this all an honest reporting mistake as the mayor's spokesperson claims? No idea! Campaign ethics laws are confusing. Let's forget all that and just look jealously below at the list of Rawlings' fancy power meals:
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.