As long as I can remember, one of the biggest complaints I heard around political circles was the pay-to-play mentality that is politics. Some have advocated that to solve the problem the political system needs to do away with campaign contributions. Others feel that the system in place allows the system to work as envisioned. The almost concluded recent public corruption investigation revolved around candidate slates with many of the cases involving bribes disguised as campaign contributions.
For that reason, it is imperative that each election cycle the campaign contributions of candidates be analyzed. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done because of the sheer magnitude of the data and the multiple ways bribes can be hidden.
The County does a much better job of making campaign contributions accessible as they are forced to go through the State of Texas system, whereas the city makes it extremely difficult to analyze the data. Because of the volume of data and the time it takes to scrutinize the data sets today I’m only going to focus on the County Judge race focusing on three candidates; Aliana Apodaca, Veronica Escobar and Eddie Holguin.
All data sets need a starting point and in this election cycle, the January 15 reports are going to be the starting point.
Many political pundits will focus on the amounts collected by each candidate as a barometer of the candidate’s viability. Empirical evidence seems to suggest that the amount of campaign contributions collected by a candidate likely shows a candidate’s viability, however not necessarily their potential to win. There have been underdogs in El Paso races that have prevailed over well-funded candidates.
It is also important to note that the January 15 reports are not a good barometer of a candidate’s viability because the reports are a starting point with many factors limiting a candidate’s ability to collect campaign funds. Incumbents have a built-in bias in their favor and challengers must demonstrate general viability before funds become available to them.
The total funds collected by the three candidate is: $129,848.11.
- Aliana Apodaca collected $60,495.00 and spent $45,778.82. She has $14,716.18 left.
- Veronica Escobar collected $61,964.46 and spent $8,958.15. She is reporting that she has $45,383.17 left.
- Eddie Holguin collected $7,388.65 and spent $4,625.06. He has $3,794.08 left.
Apodaca started accepting campaign contributions on October 7, 2013.
The El Paso Times masquerading as a newspaper has already made a big issue about Aliana Apodaca accepting a campaign contribution from her own company. I showed, through numerous blogs, how Steve Ortega accepted an illegal campaign contribution from Bain Construction and after first denying it was a violation he eventually returned the contribution. You can read more about it in “Did Steve Ortega Accept an Illegal Contribution?” and “Steve Ortega Returns Campaign Contribution and Other Questionable Characters Contribute”.
Even with the evidence I compiled that clearly showed a violation the local paper ignored the violation. Obviously you know why I think the paper ignored it and is making an issue out of Apodaca’s violation but I’m sure you’ll draw your own conclusions.
Being in the business one item that stood out for me on Apodaca’s report is the $11,500 Aliana Apodaca paid SPA for “Graphics, Web, Design, IT, Online” services. Knowing that her website is based on the NationBuilder platform I was curious to see why she spent so much on her campaign website.
The NationBuilder platform charges a monthly-tiered amount based on the number of people in her database and the number of individuals she emails. From her campaign filing, she is paying $99 a month, which puts her in the tier of 50,000 individuals in her database and 10,000 in her mailing list.
Keep in mind that the amount does not necessarily mean that she has that many people in her database it just means that whoever set up her website selected that tier.
The service basically provides a ready-made campaign website and does not charge a setup fee. Her website seems to be based on one of the templates provided by the service. It is difficult to see what services she received for the amount of money she paid SPA without looking at the actual invoices.
The other thing that caught my attention about this item is the name of the company; SPA. According to Natalie at the Texas Ethics Commission, who was kind enough to answer my questions, the Commission requires the filings to include the full name of the contributor or the company that was paid.
With the PO Box address and the “SPA” name it is difficult to see what types of services this company, or individual provided Apodaca for $11,500. There are no “SPA” companies listed at the County’s DBA directory. It is also difficult to determine whether “SPA” is the full name of the company therefore I can’t determine if there is the possibility of a violation.
Veronica Escobar first reported receiving a campaign contribution on September 7, 2013 for this cycle. Interestingly, for me at least is that Veronica Escobar reported receiving a campaign contribution from Lyda Ness-Garcia on October 2, 2013 for $50.00.
Interestingly Escobar reported only spending $40.20 on her website. It appears to be her hosting fee. She registered her domain name on September 26, 2012 and therefore I assume she has either paid or maintained her website from previous campaign donations or from her personal funds.
The El Paso Times masquerading as a newspaper also made an issue of Escobar using attachments to list contributors and expenditures. I spoke to Natalia at the Texas Ethics Commission who told me that she cannot comment directly on specific allegations however she directed me to the relevant Election Code. As I understand it the Commission requires a specific format however the Executive Director can approve other formats. At this point it is unclear whether Veronica Escobar’s filings are compliant or not.
Other than a Constant Contact email list manager, Holguin does not appear to have spent any money on an online presence. Holguin does not seem to have a website yet.
I did not expect to see much in these initial campaign finance reports however, I needed to create an initial dataset from which to derive information from as the new reports become available. Other than the expenditure by Aliana Apodaca on her website and graphics, which I assume to a branding campaign, nothing really stood out for me from these reports.
Some have already insinuated a possible outcome for the election from these initial reports however I believe it is still too soon to draw any trends from them. I’ll try to track down more information on “SPA” to see what develops from there.