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Politics & Government

Following the Money in Dallas City Council Campaigns

You can learn a lot from campaign finance reports.

Earlier this month, over 50 candidates in 14 contested Dallas City Council races had to file their latest campaign finance reports, documenting their fundraising and spending over the last several months.

The Dallas Morning News has hit on some of the bigger takeaways from these records. Almost $900,000 has been pumped into contests that will determine the makeup of the city council, with Mayor Eric Johnson spared from having to run for re-election until 2023. Big-name donors who have previously backed the mayor are now supporting challenges to three incumbent city council members who voted against Johnson last fall in a battle over police overtime funding — a sign that public safety concerns (and the mayor’s strained relationships with many of his colleagues) are driving forces this election.

And a lot of money is going toward races in North Dallas, where sitting council members Lee Kleinman and Jennifer Staubach Gates are on their way out due to term limits. Developer and investor Leland Burk, running for Gates’ seat in 13, has put together a whopping $174,000 to lead all candidates in fundraising.

Here’s where we should note that money doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story in elections — but, for better or (mostly) worse, it doesn’t hurt.

In five contests, challengers are raising more than incumbents. Elizabeth Viney has outraised Councilman David Blewett in District 14 over the last few months (although he still has more money available, some of it leftover from last election season). John Botefuhr has brought in a little more cash than Councilwoman Paula Blackmon in District 9. In a crowded District 7 contest, incumbent Adam Bazaldua is neck-and-neck in fundraising with South Dallas pastor Donald Parish. Running in District 4, Dallas ISD trustee Maxie Johnson has brought in significantly more than Councilwoman Carolyn King Arnold, and District 5’s Jaime Resendez is facing a relatively well-funded challenge from former Park Board member Yolanda Williams.

We went through the finance reports ourselves. Some things stand out more than others, like the $11,000 District 2 candidate Jesse Moreno accepted from 11 general partnerships governed by a developer who is active in his district. After being asked about the contributions, which are legal, Moreno returned them. (A note: Individual donors, which include some non-incorporated businesses, in Dallas can only contribute at most $1,000 to a city council candidate in a given election cycle; the limit is $2,500 for political action committees.)

In other cases, looking at a candidate’s contributions can tell you about the kind of campaign they’re running. Take Giovanni Valderas in District 1: He reports that half of his total haul of more than $17,000 came from donations of $50 or less. It’s the Bernie Sanders model of fundraising, in which small donors power a progressive candidate.

Or look at District 14 candidate Elizabeth Viney. City council races are nonpartisan, but Viney is running with the backing of deep-pocketed and well-connected Republican donors in a district whose voters tend to favor Democrats in state and federal elections. Many of her most generous individual donors list addresses in Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, and Virginia. For comparison, turn to Leland Burk. Running as a fiscal conservative in a district that includes Preston Hollow, the vast majority of his individual contributors list Dallas addresses.

We’ve broken out other odds and ends and observations below. If you’re interested in knowing more about where candidates are getting their campaign money, keep reading. (And if you see anything in the reports we missed, let us know.)

Elected Officials Past and Present Chip In

Former Mayor Mike Rawlings kicked in $1,000 each to council members McGough and Adam Bazaldua. Late last year, he contributed the same to council members Paula Blackmon and David Blewett. He’s also given $949.70 to District 1 incumbent Chad West. (When you see odd, uneven donations, that’s the the credit card processing fee.) Former Mayor Ron Kirk gave $500 each to four incumbents: Bazaldua, Blewett, Carolyn King-Arnold (District 4) and Casey Thomas in District 3. He’d previously contributed $500 to Blackmon.

Councilman Lee Kleinman, term-limited out of his seat this May, last year gave $1,000 to Jaynie Schultz, whom he has endorsed to succeed him in District 11. He’s contributed as well in the last year to council members Jaime Resendez, Adam Bazaldua, and Carolyn King Arnold. And the most recent filings show Kleinman gave $250 to the campaign of Leland Burk, who has raised a ton of money (almost $175,000) in his bid for the District 13 seat now held by outgoing Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach-Gates. (She’s up against term limits herself.)

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price gave $500 each to incumbents Bazaldua, Arnold, and West. He previously gave $500 to Bazaldua’s campaign last April. Moreno also received $500 from state Sen. Royce West, the only time his name comes up in the filing reports.

Former Councilman Philip Kingston, who was voted out of District 14 two years ago, gave $1,000 to candidate Paul Ridley, one of two challengers to the man who replaced him. Kingston has also given to incumbents Chad West, Omar Narvaez, Adam Bazaldua, and Paula Blackmon, as well as Hosanna Yemiru (running in District 11) and Moreno, who is campaigning in District 2 to succeed Councilman Adam Medrano, out this year on term limits. Former Councilwoman Angela Hunt (who, along with Kingston, has been among the more outspoken progressives to sit at the horseshoe in recent years) has given $500 each to Moreno and Bazaldua, and $250 to Blackmon.

Former Councilwoman Sandy Greyson, who termed out of the District 12 seat (for the second time) in 2019, contributed to two candidates in nearby District 11, giving $250 each to Jaynie Schultz and Hosanna Yemiru.

Johnson, in District 4, also received money from his fellow trustees: Dustin Marshall gave $1,000, Edwin Flores gave $500, and Joe Carreon gave $100. Former Trustee Lew Blackburn contributed $100 to incumbent Arnold. Other notable, former public official donors include former Council member—and lover of free parking—Dave Neumann, who gave $250 to Thomas in District 3, $100 to Schultz, and $94.70 to West. Former City Manager Mary Suhm, who listed an Austin address, gave $100 to Thomas.

Pauline Medrano, who preceded her nephew Adam as District 2’s representative, contributed $500 to Moreno. Former Park Board member Becky Rader threw Moreno, her former colleague, $270.21.

Biggest Spenders

Doug Deason, a major GOP donor who gave nearly $1 million to the 2016 campaign of former President Donald Trump, contributed $1,000 each to candidates Leland Burk (District 13) and Elizabeth Viney (14), as well as District 5 challenger Yolanda Williams and District 12 incumbent Cara Mendelsohn. His wife, Jacki Pick Deason, who hosts a conservative talk show for The Blaze, did the same, giving another $1,000 to District 11 candidate Barry Wernick. Kimberly Deason and Darwin Deason, Doug’s dad and a noted Republican fundraiser himself, each gave $1,000 to Burk, Viney, and Mendelsohn.

ISN Software Corporation executive William Addy and philanthropist Lydia Addy spread a combined $8,000 among candidate Jesse Moreno in District 2 and incumbents Bazaldua (7), Mendelsohn (12), Omar Narvaez (6), and Chad West (1).

Murchison Capital partner Robert Murchison is backing candidates in four districts, giving $1,000 each to Gay Willis (13), John Botefuhr (9), Donald Parish (7), and Yolanda Williams (5).

Local PAC Money

Tax consultant and Republican donor G. Brint Ryan’s political action committee, Ryan Texas PAC, gave $2,500 each to candidates Donald Parish (District 7), Yolanda Williams (5), and John Botefuhr (9). As an individual, Ryan gave $1,000 to Botefuhr, who is running against incumbent Councilwoman Paula Blackmon.

The political action committee for the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, a trade association representing landlords and rental property managers, gave $2,500 each to incumbents McGough, Atkins, and Mendelsohn. The group also contributed $1,500 to candidate Sana Syed, running in District 2, and to District 1 Councilman Chad West, who returned $1,000 of the donation. (The association had previously given West $1,000 last year—PACs can donate a maximum of $2,500 per election cycle, and West says he refunded some of the money given this year to comply with campaign finance laws.)

The MetroTex Association of Realtors split $5,000 between McGough and Jaime Resendez, who represents District 5.

Out-of-State PAC Money

The Black American Futures PAC—registered in Decatur, Georgia, but with a list of endorsements for Dallas contests on its website—backs “local elected officials who are willing to dismantle systemic racism” and who support Black communities. It contributed $900 to Councilwoman Paula Blackmon and $250 to Councilman Omar Narvaez. The political action committee gave $500 each to another two incumbents—Adam Bazaldua and Jaime Resendez—and three other candidates, including Dallas ISD school board trustee Maxie Johnson, who is out-fundraising incumbent Carolyn King-Arnold in District 4. The other two candidates who have gotten donations from the PAC are both running in District 11: former city plan commissioner Jaynie Schultz and community organizer Hosanna Yemiru.

AECOM is headquartered in Los Angeles, and its political action committee is registered in Washington D.C., but the global engineering firm has offices in Dallas and is involved in plenty of projects affecting North Texas. Anyway, the AECOM PAC has given $2,000 to Atkins in District 8.

The Gen-Next GOP Leaders Fund PAC, founded by the conservative California talk show host Carl DeMaio, gave $2,500 to District 13 candidate Leland Burk.

District 14 candidate Elizabeth Viney—who has raised more than $65,000, including $20,000 she loaned her campaign—received $2,500 from the Campaign for Working Families. The political action committee is led by Gary Bauer, the former president of the ultraconservative Family Research Council who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2018 to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Interesting Spenders

In District 2, Moreno got money from other developers, too. Susan Reese, the owner of Madison Partners, gave $1,000. Madison owns buildings in Deep Ellum and Oak Lawn. (Reese also gave $949.70 to Chad West.) Arthur Santa-Maria, a vice president at Hoque Global, gave Moreno $500. Hoque is planning projects in and near District 2. Developer Jim Lake gave $1,000 to Moreno, Tennell Atkins (8), and Omar Narvaez (6).

Raha Assadi, in District 2, received a bevy of donations from dentists, teachers, and lawyers. Sana Syed, also running in District 2, appears to have received most of her donations in increments of $100 or less. That’s the same case for the artist Giovanni Valderas, who is running in District 1 against Chad West. Kirk Hopper, who owns the Design District gallery Kirk Hopper Fine Art, was one of Valderas’ only $1,000 max contributions. He made almost $9,000 from contributions of $50 or less.

The other interesting angle is the mayor’s apparent involvement in three races: District 5, in Pleasant Grove and southeast Dallas; District 7, in South Dallas; and District 9, near White Rock Lake. The Dallas Morning News ran this down: some of the mayor’s max contributors during his campaign two years ago also gave to Yolanda Williams (5), Donald Parish Jr. (7), and John Botefuhr (9). The mayor didn’t comment, but that would, presumably, give him three more voices on a council that has been reticent to back some of his priorities. One to watch.