A Dallas political action committee funneling large amounts of money into particular city council campaigns is raising eyebrows among members of competitive races and complaints of “dark money” buying elections. (Photo: Steve Rainwater / Flickr, Composite: NDG)
When city council candidate Eric L. Williams stepped up to the microphone during the Monday Night Politics forum on March 20 at Fair Park’s African American Museum, he didn’t mince words as to why he was running for the District 8 seat in South Dallas.
“I’m not going to drink the Mayor’s Kool-aid,” Williams said, adding that $200,000 had “bought” the District race back in 2015.
Allegations of “North Dallas money buying South Dallas elections” is nothing new, but a political action committee (PAC) with a purse approaching just about that amount is causing a stir as the city moves toward runoff races in three districts. According to documents received and compiled by the North Dallas Gazette staff, the “For Our Community PAC” has spent more than $195,000 on various campaigns in the 2017 election (as of the April 28 filing of campaign expenditures, there were further donations received after that date). The PAC consists of high-dollar donors, with one individual contributing $100,000 alone. For Our Community PAC is at least linked to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings through Mari Woodlief, who runs the PAC and is also Rawlings’ political consultant.
Williams is no longer in the race for District 8, having been eliminated in the first round of voting. The For Our Community PAC backed his opponent, incumbent Erik Wilson, to the tune of more than $24,000.
Wilson now faces returning council member Tennell Atkins in a runoff race. Atkins has been quite successful in raising funds himself (out-spending Wilson as of the end of April). Atkins also received the highest number of votes in the May 6 election, but with a wide and diverse field in that race, no candidate gained a clear majority in the first round of voting.
But District 8 in South Dallas was not at the top of the list for expenditures. With one exception, all the candidates supported by For Our Community PAC are incumbents seeking reelection. The one exception was the District 14 race in which the PAC backed challenger Matt Wood over incumbent Philip T. Kingston. Kingston is often referred to as a thorn in the side of the council’s status quo, opposing the mayor on a variety of issues ranging from the handling of the Police and Fire Pension crisis to the proposed Trinity River tollway.
Between supporting Wood and specifically opposing Kingston, For Our Community PAC’s expenditures in the District 14 race exceeded the six-figure mark, including the production of a video which portrayed Kingston as a rude and combative element on the city council. Despite the effort, Kingston managed to pass through the May 6 election unscathed, garnering more than 54 percent of the vote outright and avoiding a runoff.
In West Dallas, For Our Community PAC supported incumbent Monica Alonzo, which drew some criticism associated with the reported opposition to HB 2480 by Alonzo’s brother, Texas Sen. Roberto L. Alonzo. The bill which was filed by Texas Rep. Eric Johnson to alleviate pressure from growing property taxes in the West Dallas district caused by the incursion of new investment was killed in a political maneuver by GOP lawmakers in Austin. With a $10,000 donation to the PAC from the co-founders of West Dallas Investments, some questions of motive were raised.
However, Johnson’s bill was one of more than 100 bills killed by the Republican Freedom Caucus in a move that is now being called the “Mother’s Day Massacre” and is being chalked up to partisan in-fighting in the legislature. HB 2480 was officially returned to Calendars Committee on May 12. Also, Alonzo and fellow incumbents Casey Thomas and Rick Callahan received, by far, the lowest level of financial support from the PAC. All three combined totaled less than $21,000.
The For Our Community PAC also weighed in heavily in the District 7, lending its support of more than $24,000 to incumbent Tiffinni A. Young. Young received the highest number of votes in the May 6 election, but did not gain a clear majority and will face challenger Kevin Felder in a runoff.
While the contributions of the For Our Community PAC have left many grumbling, no one has suggested the PAC has done anything illegal. All indications are that the election rules were followed and these donations are allowable.
There are many voices being heard across the country calling for campaign finance reform, and assertions that money plays too big a role in U.S. elections. It was the primary rallying cry of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Until such laws are changed, voters can expect to see such PAC activities continue.
(Disclosure: The North Dallas Gazette endorsed eight candidates in the May 6 election. NDG endorsed the same candidate as For Our Community PAC in the District 3 race, Casey Thomas; and endorsed opposing candidates, Tammy Johnston in District 7, and Tennell Atkins in District 8. NDG reached out to For Our Community PAC for comment, but did not receive a reply by press time.)