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

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City of Dallas and
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.

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Ronquillo Makes It Clear, Dallas Mayor's Race Is a Referendum On the Trinity Toll Road

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Marcos Ronquillo for Mayor
Marcos Ronquillo
So the news here is pretty simple. The East Kessler Nighborhood Association in Oak Cliff scheduled a mayoral candidates forum for Tuesday. Challenger Marcos Ronquillo is going to be there. Until late last week, so Mayor Mike Rawlings, as far as everyone knew.

Then, on Friday, Rawlings made it clear that he wasn't going to show up. He informed the neighborhood association that he had a prior engagement. The timing of the notice buoyed the notion that "Rawlings is too chicken to debate the toll road." Rawlings told the DMN that he simply wasn't going to participate in a debate before the mayoral filing deadline, which comes on Friday. He is willing to talk about the toll road, he says, in the context of the campaign's other issues.

See also: Mayor Mike Rawlings Is Refusing to Debate the Trinity Toll Road, and That's Weird

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Dallas Council Candidate Sam Merten Faces Ethics Complaint Over $10k from Mayor

Sam Merten for District 9 via Facebook
Last week, we reported District 9 City Council candidate Sam Merten's response to allegations that a $10,000 payment he received from Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings in May 2014 was improper. Merten told Unfair Park that the $10k was payment for work he'd done on behalf of the DISD home rule petition effort.

"[After the Dallas school district's home rule commission was convened] the mayor decided to, basically, pay me for all the work I'd done on the home rule initiative because that was not a city of Dallas initiative, but something that he'd asked me to participate in," Merten said.

Monday, an official ethics complaint was filed against Merten at City Hall. The complaint seems to follow the logic of many of those on social media who've complained about the payment. Merten was a salaried, exempt city employee, so it would have been impossible for him to be off the clock.

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Rawlings Camp Says He Followed the Letter and the Spirit of Campaign Finance Regulations

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City of Dallas and
I like this so I'm going to keep using it.
Much has been made on Unfair Park and elsewhere over the fact that, due almost certainly to a drafting error, the city of Dallas election code allows for unlimited donations to officeholder accounts.

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

Marcos Ronquillo, a challenger to Mike Rawlings' mayoral re-election bid, went so far as to accuse Rawlings of violating the spirit of Dallas election rules by taking more than the campaign maximum of $5,000 from several contributors. Ronquillo called on Rawlings to give back almost $100,000.

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Pro-Trinity Toll Road Website Is Precious

The Trinity Trust
We think we can hear the juggler saying he's pro-toll road, but that may just be the mescaline we took to properly appreciate this picture.
When Unfair Park's attention was first drawn to Connect Dallas Now, a nascent marketing campaign we've now learned is intended to promote the Trinity toll road, we weren't sure it was real. The effort's Twitter account still has just four followers -- including an apparently hate-following Angela Hunt -- and its Facebook page isn't doing much better, just hitting the 60-like mark Monday morning. The whole thing seemed like an amateur effort, considering the money that's behind the project.

Dallas Citizen's Council President Alice Murray, in an editorial in the Dallas Business Journal , made it clear Monday that Connect Dallas Now does have the support of the toll road's biggest backers.

That's right, the best the Citizen's Council -- as old-power-base as the old power base in Dallas gets -- could do is a site that hails DMN columnist Steve Blow as "a voice of reason."

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Dallas County Sued for Violating the Voting Rights of White People

Categories: Elections

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Dwight Burdette
Giving voice to the voiceless.
Five white plaintiffs, backed by the Dallas-based Equal Voting Rights Institute, are suing Dallas County because, they say, the 60 percent-white Dallas County Commissioner's Court does not fairly represent them.

Dallas County, for the record, is 39 percent Latino; 32 percent white, non-Latino; and 23 percent black, according the the U.S. Census Bureau. Everyone's a minority here.

"Like something out of the bad old days, a Southern electoral body plays naked racial politics, intentionally using its power to minimize a dissenting race's political sway. The body does so through its redistricting authority, cramming as much of that racial minority as possible into a single district and splitting the remainder up as an insignificant fraction of the electorate in the surrounding districts. It undertakes this move to intentionally deny the racial minority a chance to fairly participate in the electoral process, while claiming that the minority has no legal right to protection and arguing that higher law compels the racist act," the suit says.

Again, they're talking about white people. Specifically Republican white people.

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Ronquillo Fires First Shots in Battle to Unseat Rawlings

Marcos Ronquillo for Mayor
Giving it his best shot.
One thing is clear from Dallas attorney Marcos Ronquillo's first mayoral campaign press release: He's looking to make his May 2015 contest with incumbent Mike Rawlings a single-issue showdown, a third referendum on the Trinity toll road.

"The proposed Trinity River toll road project has been controversial from day one," Ronquillo said. "With the promise of new park space and fancy sailboats along a series of new Trinity River lakes, voters narrowly approved the project. But this plan has evolved into nothing more than a $1.5 billion boondoggle -- a poorly conceived idea that gets drastically more expensive every time it is discussed."

Last Friday, during a meeting with the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News, Rawlings made it clear that he believes those who oppose the toll road -- the Greyson/Griggs/Kingston/Medrano faction on the City Council and others -- are disrespecting the will of Dallas voters.

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Software Vendor Takes "Full Responsibility" For Election Day Website Crash

Stephen Young
How looked on election day.
They had one job. Last Tuesday, the one day this year most people will even think to look at the Dallas County elections website, it went down. For seven hours. Any person needing to know her polling place had to seek out other methods. The situation was laughable, but it also couldn't have helped turnout.

See also: Dallas County's Voting Website Is Down

"I've got some real concerns," county commissioner John Wiley Price said at this Tuesday's Commissioner's Court meeting. "This is the second time that the website has gone down."

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Texas Had the Worst Voter Turnout in the Country, and the Rain in Dallas Didn't Help

Categories: Elections

Dwight Burdette
No we didn't.
Preliminary numbers are out for Texas' midterm election voter turnout from the Election Project, and they are abysmal. Just 28.5 percent of Texans eligible to vote did so, either in early voting or on Tuesday, the lowest percentage in the country. The last time Texas voted for its governor in 2010, 32.1 percent of eligible Texans voted.

Dallas County weather, and the dearth of competitive races, likely bears most of the blame. In 2010, Dallasites voted at a 37 percent clip, casting 424,511 votes for the top line race -- Rick Perry and Bill White's gubernatorial election. This year, despite the number of registered voters in the county growing by about 100,000, only 406,594 ballots were submitted in Greg Abbott's landslide coronation. That's 32 percent turnout. Prior to the election Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole told The Dallas Morning News she thought turnout would be between 35 and 37 percent.

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We Knew Craig Watkins Was In Trouble, but Last Night Was Ugly

Categories: Elections

Would be king no more.
As in any good tragedy, Craig Watkins' tumble from his perch as Dallas County district attorney was preceded by hubris and stupidity. After badly underperforming compared with the rest of his party in his 2010 re-election win against Republican Danny Clancy, Watkins did everything possible to ensure another close race in 2014. He got one, and now, come January he'll be out of a job.

Whether it was the car wreck that Watkins secretly settled using forfeiture funds, the contempt charge saga, a bizarre debate performance or an ill-advised attempt to become the de facto boss of the Dallas County Democratic Party, Watkins consistently found new ways to shoot himself in the foot, and never raised enough money to spend his way out of it.

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