City Hall

The Dallas City Council Has Closed a Gaping and Stupid Campaign Finance Loophole

It's no surprise that the Dallas City Council voted Wednesday to fix a loophole in the city's code that allowed elected officials to take unlimited funds for an officeholder account, then use that money on their campaigns. It's a surprise it did it before May's council election, preempting months of potential loophole exploitation.

It all started when mayoral challenger Marcos Ronquillo called on Mayor Mike Rawlings to give back over $90,000 in contributions Ronquillo claimed made use of the loophole. Since the city allowed unlimited donations to so-called officeholder accounts, and since state law allows that money to be used in campaigns, the contributions were technically legal. But they were still fishy, Ronquillo said.

See also: Ronquillo Calls Out Rawlings On Fat-Cat Contributors. Me, Too.

The Rawlings campaign disputed that the contributions violated the spirit of Dallas contribution law, which says mayoral candidates may only take $5,000 from an individual for each campaign they participate in. Mari Woodlief, Rawlings lead political consultant, said Ronquillo's camp failed to account for Rawlings having participated in three elections -- the 2011 general, 2011 runoff and 2015 general. Woodlief said Rawlings has known about the loop as far back as 2011 and had asked that it be worked on, to no avail, then.

Now, Rawlings and the council have basically closed the loophole. Donors can still contribute unlimited amounts to officeholder accounts, but only $100 from each officeholder's account can be used for campaign expenses.

Council members Sandy Greyson and Carolyn Davis said that they were not aware, before the Rawlings controversy, that officeholder accounts existed. Philip Kingston was upset with even the $100 limit.

"There is no legitimate reason to have an officeholder account," he told Dallas City Attorney Warren Ernst. "It's anti-democratic and gross."

Ernst, who proposed a $1,000 limit, said that not allowing any spending from officeholder accounts on campaigns could put the city at risk of being sued for violating state law. Greyson asked that limit be lowered to $100, a move that was approved in a 10-4 vote.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young