A media report claiming that three newly elected members of the Odessa City Council, and one former candidate, failed to disclose in-kind contributions from the Ector County Republican Party (GOP) has stirred up controversy – and now the Party and the accused are saying the report is entirely inaccurate.
Odessa Headlines examines the facts.
According to the story by Odessa American (OA) reporter Frederico Martinez, unnamed members of the GOP told the OA that the GOP executive committee made $20,800.00 of in-kind contributions in support of the city council candidates the Party endorsed, including Mayor Javier Joven, Councilmembers Denise Swanner, Mark Matta, and former candidate Rachel Minor.
The report then goes on to say that it was done with the candidates’ knowledge and cooperation and describes the expenses as having been used to purchase “t-shirts and door hangers” that were distributed at various events.
Odessa Headlines spoke with Party Chairwoman Tisha Crow, as well as multiple members of the Party executive committee who all confirmed that the claim the Party spent $20,800 towards in-kind support of the council candidates was incorrect.
Rather, Party officials state that the Party made a handful of expenditures such as a mailer supporting all Republican Party-backed candidates in the election and gave each candidate – with the exception of President Trump who was prominently featured – equal mention on the mailer. The mailer included candidates from President Donald Trump, State Representative Brooks Landgraf, as well as the Party endorsed city council candidates, and many others.
Specifically, the Party also rebuked the claim that the Party purchased door hangers for the candidates but did say there was a t-shirt that was part of a “back the blue” fundraiser the Party planned supporting local law enforcement and that the Party did purchase doorhangers that, like the postcards, promoted the entire slate of Republican candidates.
The back of the t-shirt stated, “Vote Republican 2020” and included a slate of Republican Party-backed candidates that were running on pro-law enforcement platforms.
Two important facts to consider in this issue are that one, inherent in the nature of political parties is the effort to get candidates elected to office and that two, the accusations when compared to what the actual ethics guidelines are do not appear to match.
According to the Texas Ethics Commission, a person makes a campaign contribution if the person provides or promises something of value with the intent that it be used in connection with a campaign. A contribution of goods or services is an “in-kind” campaign contribution. Candidates must report their campaign contributions, including any in-kind contributions they receive.
However, a “direct campaign expenditure” is different from an in-kind contribution. Direct campaign expenditures are made by third-parties (such as a county political party) without the candidate’s consent, and the candidate does not need to report them on his own campaign finance filings. Instead, direct campaign expenditures must be reported by the party that makes the expenditure.
The anonymous and unnamed witnesses cited in the OA story claim the campaign material the Party produced was “distributed with the candidates’ knowledge and cooperation” but stops far short of describing or providing any evidence of material produced to the benefit of one candidate, much less that the material was produced in coordination with any one candidate to their benefit.
In conclusion, the materials we have been able to identify and the officials who have willingly gone on the record do not appear to meet the definition of in-kind contributions, much less $20,800.00 worth, that the candidates would have needed to disclose.
For political reporting purposes, there is a key difference between expenditures, contributions, and in-kind contributions, and it is important to understand the difference.
(Editor’s Note: While the Presidential election last year was one of the most tumultuous elections in history, the races for the Odessa City Council were no exception. Long-time political allies who have maintained largely unfettered control of the city council were in for the fight of their lives against a slate of Republican Party-backed candidates who ultimately won 3 out of the 4 races. The subsequent fallout has resulted in continued feuding, so it is important to take with a grain of salt anonymous accusations, their accuracy, and their intent.)