Dallas City Council member and mayoral candidate Scott Griggs yesterday posted a message on Facebook saying that he’d identified another two campaign contributions from minors and had returned the money. (Presumably the minors have bank accounts into which the refunded money can be deposited, as would be required by law.)
This is the second time in recent days that Griggs has returned campaign contributions from children too young to use a microwave. The first refund resulted from this story that we broke about a lawyer and former judge named James Stanton, whose four young children gave money — or whose names appeared on contributions — to council members Griggs, Philip Kingston, and Omar Narvaez. When it comes to this second refund to children, Griggs isn’t telling the full story.
In his Facebook post yesterday, Griggs said that he identified the most recent ethically dubious contributions; actually, I did. After seeing that the city’s database of campaign finance reports indicated Griggs had, on one day in 2016, taken six $1,000 contributions from a single person, Ruel Hamilton — a clear violation of the city ordinance that limits contributions from an individual to $1,000 in an election — I called Griggs on Friday to ask about the matter. I also called Hamilton.
Hamilton founded AmeriSouth Realty, a development company that works with distressed apartment complexes. It is headquartered downtown, in Republic Center, at 325 N. Saint Paul. When I asked him about the campaign finance report that showed he’d given six $1,000 contributions to Griggs, he said he didn’t remember anything about that. All six contributions were listed as coming from Hamilton’s business address. Hamilton said that he knew the limit was $1,000, so he never would have donated $6,000. He did allow, however, that he had family members who might have contributed to Griggs. I asked if he had six family members. Hamilton said no. (It should be noted that one of his sons, Chris Hamilton, ran for chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party last year.)
On Friday, Griggs sent me a picture of an envelope, he said, in which the $6,000 in question had come to him. The flap bore Hamilton’s address and name, indicating it was his stationery. The back of the envelope bore handwritten names of six people in the Hamilton family, including Ruel. Griggs told me that the names written on the envelope — Ruel, Dana, John, Sarah, Lucy, Evelyn — were how his office kept record of the source of the contributions. I asked for digital images of the checks associated with each name, and Griggs said he’d contact his bank to see if he could get those images.
That brings us to yesterday, when the councilman and I next spoke. This was before his Facebook post about the second refund to children. In our conversation, he stressed repeatedly that he’d spent a lot of time trying to figure out who’d made the contributions.
The 2016 campaign finance report in question ran to only 22 pages. It listed a total of 28 contributions, meaning one-fifth of them bore the name Ruel Hamilton. Griggs himself electronically certified the accuracy of the report when he filed it. So I asked him how it was possible that he could have overlooked six $1,000 contributions coming from the same person at the same address. He said it was a “clerical mistake” and that my questions had led him to file a correction with the city secretary’s office.
I asked about the checks themselves. Griggs said his bank was able to provide him with a deposit slip of his total transaction that day in 2016 but not digital images of the individual checks. When I pointed out that with my bank—Chase—I could go online and find such images in about 10 minutes and that if he couldn’t do the same, he might need to change banks, Griggs chuckled.
“What’s your bank?” I asked.
“I’m not going to give you banking information,” Griggs said.
“I don’t want your personal information. Just the name of your bank, so that I can call and ask what their system is, in terms of digitizing images of checks.”
He wouldn’t give me the name of his bank. He did say, though, that he’d returned money to two Hamilton minors and that he would continue his efforts to get from his bank proof that he’d deposited multiple checks from multiple members of the Hamilton family. Then, shortly after we hung up, Griggs posted to Facebook about the refund.
To reiterate, taking money from minors is not illegal. Or, rather, it’s nearly impossible to prove that it’s illegal. Which is why it’s gross and unethical. Read what I wrote earlier about the law governing such contributions. Can a 16-year-old knowingly and willfully give $1,000 to a candidate from his or her own funds? Yeah, maybe. But what about a 3-year-old?
That’s my guess on the ages of some of the Hamilton contributors to Griggs. Here, again, are the Hamilton names written in hand on the envelope that Griggs showed me: Ruel, Dana, John, Sarah, Lucy, and Evelyn. The latter two are the twin daughters of John and Sarah; John is Ruel’s and Dana’s son. This picture posted to Facebook and shown at the top of this post was taken in 2018. I am guessing, but those twins were about 3 years old in 2016, the year the contributions in question were made.
Griggs, perhaps, isn’t the bad actor here. As he wrote on Facebook, “I accept legal contributions in good faith with the belief and trust that they are given with the best intentions. … [W]e don’t have the resources to do background and asset checks on every contributor … .”
The twins, Lucy and Evelyn, have a cousin. His name is Jackson. He might be a year or two older. Lucy, Evelyn, and Jackson each gave $1,000 to former Dallas City Council members Tiffinni Young and Carolyn King Arnold in 2015. Now we’re talking 2- and 4-year-olds. Those donations, too, list AmeriSouth’s downtown address as their origin.
D Magazine will continue to comb through campaign finance reports as we approach the May election. There is more to come.