LOCAL ELECTIONS

FOLLOW UP: Large money donations dominate city council races 

Leander, Cedar Park election funds swell to hundreds of thousands of dollars as concentrated, big money sources are changing fundraising landscape

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Editor's note: This is a follow-up to our initial report on campaign finances in this year's local city council races. This follow-up includes information from the April 26 campaign finance report statements that was not available when our April 27 story was published last Saturday. Worth noting is that all candidates did file their reports in a timely manner but they were not published until this week on city websites. This online version of our story includes additional quotes and graphics beyond what was published in our Thursday, May 2 print edition.

An unprecedented explosion of concentrated, big money donations is dominating campaign fundraising for city council races in Leander and Cedar Park ahead of the May 4 elections. The influx of money has caused fundraising totals to swell in both races, with candidates collecting a grand total of nearly $120,000 in donations since January.

Through last Friday’s campaign finance reports, the six candidates vying for three seats each in Cedar Park and Leander have spent a total of $151,313 in their attempts to win elections.

Donations to a Cedar Park Political Action Committee, The Citizens for Cedar Park PAC, that have been used to support candidates without making direct donations push the total to more than $133,800.

One man at the center of the massive influx of money, Leander businessman Andy Pitts, said he aims to gain control of enough seats on the Leander City Council to support the goals of local developers and Mayor Troy Hill — who Pitts said is a personal friend — with the intent of changing city regulations to be more friendly toward developers. To that end, he has poured more than $41,000 into local races since 2018.

“We were not able to gain control of the council (last year), so Troy can get done what he wants to get done,” said Pitts. “One candidate defected, and he ran for mayor against Troy. They (the developers) know we just need one more seat … we had great success this last election and they want to see this finalized … I think after the end of this election, we’ll have the four votes (to control the council) and Leander will be much better off.”

Pitts, who is publicly listed as the president of MLS Direct Network and Titanium Payments, said he organized a Political Action Committee (PAC) to support Hill’s 2018 mayoral campaign.

He said his son, Aaron, runs the Texas Stronger PAC — a registered as a General-Purpose Committee PAC — which received about $40,000 from a company owned by Pitts. He said local developers have also contributed approximately $20,000 to the PAC, though current financial reports do not yet reflect that total.

“I don’t technically run the PAC,” said Pitts, explaining that the PAC’s purpose is to elect candidates who will bring new developments to the area. “What I want and what every citizen in Leander wants is some economic development, so that our property taxes can eventually go down, so that we can have options when it comes to dining out and shopping, and so that our city can become a real city.”

Hughes Capital Management President and CEO Lance Hughes of Austin has contributed $8,000 to Texas Stronger since 2018. He owns 55 to 60 acres of land along Hero Way in Leander, which he described as being appropriate for development sometime in the future.

Hughes said he thinks Pitts is bringing back “good government” to Leander, and his donations are intended to help Pitts’ efforts in the election.

Hughes said adding jobs locally could eventually lead to demand for development of properties like his.

“The Leander area, like many other slow growing communities, needs strong leadership to take it in the right direction," Hughes said. “We think Leander needs to bring in businesses and grow in a positive manner so it can bring jobs to the community."

Hill, who is a paper products salesperson, said he initially ran for mayor because “I don’t believe the city was developing the right way,” arguing he wanted to bring new commercial development to Leander.

“When I ran, my wife said ‘I’ll support you but I don’t want you to ask or take money from our friends.’ That means I’m funding it (myself) or you are taking money from developers,” Hill said.

His campaign website stated that his goals were to remove some regulations restricting developers and to “slow down residential and focus on bringing shopping and jobs within the city limits.”

“I know the developers that can bring us the types of companies we want and can work well with them if elected,” Hill told the Austin American-Statesman during his campaign.

According to Pitts, another goal of forming the PAC was to help these developers shield their identities while donating to Leander candidates. In a phone conversation with the Hill Country News last Friday, Pitts also elaborated that donations routed through the PAC help candidates and developers avoid disclosing potential conflicts of interest.

“Here’s another benefit of candidates taking money from a PAC … let’s say a developer hands a candidate a $2,500 check. Now, anytime that developer brings something in front of the council, it puts the council person in an awkward situation,” Pitts explained. “‘Should I recuse myself… this guy gives me a lot of money. I don’t want them to think this is a pay to play situation.' ... At the end of the day, it does shield the candidates a little bit, so that’s a benefit. And it’s a benefit to the donor.”

Hill said he disagrees with Pitts’ point, asserting that donating to a PAC does not absolve someone from having to recuse themselves over a conflict of interest.

Without citing any specific examples, Pitts and Hill both claimed developers had also sought out the PAC to avoid potential retaliation from city officials over who they supported in the election.

Austin attorney Fred Lewis, who has two decades of campaign finance experience and recently helped draft Austin’s lobbying ordinance, argues that people’s perception of big, concentrated donations in local races can seriously undermine their faith in their government.

“Even if a donor’s motives are as pure as the driven snow, nobody will believe it,” Lewis said. “How does a candidate explain that they don’t owe anything to someone who gave them 80 percent of their funds?”

He said PAC money and other sources of dark money used to be “exceedingly uncommon” in local elections, but the practice has been slowly making its way from federal and state elections to the local level.

Lewis said he believes the best option for local governments to avoid these issues and prevent undue influence from PACs and other large donors is to implement contribution limits.

“You have a maximum (donation) limit of $2,700 on the federal level. Why can you give more to a city council? What are they trying to buy?” Lewis said.

“The end of self-financed campaigns”

Pitts, on the other hand, believes the days of self-financed and resident-supported campaigns is over for cities like Cedar Park and Leander.

In fact, the majority of funds raised for candidates in both Cedar Park and Leander this cycle have come from a concentrated group of just a handful of large donors.

Financial reports filed by candidates earlier this month show just a small group of donors were responsible for more than 57 percent of the total campaign contributions across the council races for both cities. Those donors, which include PACs, out-of-town business interests and former elected officials, were responsible for more than 87 percent of the money raised by some candidates.

In Leander, Place 5 incumbent Jeff Seiler had raised just over $5,000, with 66 percent of that amount coming in large donations ($400 or more) from local sources. Thirty-one percent of his donations came from donors from outside of Leader.

Seiler’s opponent, Chris Czernek is supported by Pitts and the Texas Stronger PAC and had amassed more than double Seiler’s donations. Individuals and business interests outside of Leander contributed 39 percent of that money. Adding Texas Stronger PAC’s $4,333 donation, $11,083 — representing 64 percent —of Czernek’s funding was raised through just eight donors.

Leander Place 1 candidate Kathryn Pantalion-Parker received the exact same donations from that same group of large-money donors plus an additional $1,000 from Pitts, constituting 69 percent of her $17,498 in 2019 donations.

Leander Place 3 candidate Jason Shaw reported receiving $12,333 — 74 percent — of his donations from of those same donors.

This trend mirrors last year, when Texas Stronger PAC spent nearly $9,000 to successfully elect Place 6 council member Marci Cannon and more than $6,000 to elect Christine Sederquist. Texas Stronger and a pair of large donations from out-of-town business interests represented more than 95 percent of Sederquist’s total campaign contributions.

Texas Stronger and out-of-town business interests funded 87 percent of Cannon’s $12,561 campaign in 2018.

Sederquist said she originally planned to run without PAC money and other big contributions because she wanted to “run a different type of campaign.” However, Sederquist said she was literally laughed at for the idea and after initially trying to pursue her plan, she quickly found out how challenging it could be to run without support from big donors.

“I don’t think you can win if you don’t take (money), especially if you’re a new candidate. For me, it leveled the planning field against an incumbent,” Sederquist said.

Originally, she accepted Pitts’ support — through the Texas Stronger PAC — because Pitts said his primary goal was to support opposition to then-incumbent Ron Abruzzese.

She said she didn’t find any serious flags, such as Pitts owning major property in Leander, so she accepted the donation, and the money transformed her campaign — playing an important role in her eventual win.

When interviewed this week, Sederquist said she had changed her opinion about accepting the money after hearing what Pitts had been saying about those donations.

"I wouldn't have taken the check if there had been any strings attached," Sederquist said.

She said she objects to anyone trying to control a vote, regardless of the intent behind it.

So far this year, Texas Stronger has donated more than $15,000 to Leander candidates, representing 25 percent of donations raised by all candidates this election and one-third off the total donations raised by Pantalion-Parker, Shaw and Czernek.

Several of the candidates also reported large-money donations from business interests with addresses in Dallas, Houston and Austin.

Seiler, whose opponent Czernek received money from Pitts, had mixed feelings about PACs and found himself in the rare situation of agreeing with Pitts that PACs are an important tool for voters and businesses.

“I think PACs are fine. I’ve taken money from PACs and I haven’t had any problem with PACs in general … PACs are sort of a necessary evil. But the PACs I’ve typically worked with have reputable, help educate the public and supportive of independently-minded, pro-business candidates,” Seiler said.

However, he said he opposes the existence of PACs like Pitts’ Texas Stronger.

“But, my biggest problem is with one person who owns this PAC wanting to support that many people to (control) the council. It’s a road we don’t want to go down. We don’t want someone with a preordained directive.”

When questioned on how Pitts’ PAC was any different than the PACs that support him, Seiler said it was a matter of a PAC’s scale and declared intent.

“Leander needs growth and it needs development, but it doesn’t need to be run by those developers and their friends,” Seiler said.

Meanwhile, nearly every candidate in contention for Cedar Park and Leander races received some form of support from a PAC, though only few exceeded giving $1,000 at a time. The big spender PACs include Butler Family Shinoak, RB 270 Partnership, Milestone Community Builders, LLC., Citizens for Sensible Growth PAC, and the firefighters PACs in both Cedar Park and Leander.

By comparison, the current city council races in neighboring Round Rock are drawing far less money, despite the city’s significantly larger population and annual city budget. The most recent mayoral and city council elections in Kyle, Buda and Lakeway drew just a small fraction of the amount of money being spent in Leander.

“PACs are involved with virtually every election. It's just a way of life now,” said Pitts. “I don’t think you’ll see sleepy elections going forward. The days of spending a couple thousand dollars and winning a race are done.”

Foray into Cedar Park

This year for the first time, Pitts stepped into the politics of Cedar Park, personally donating more than $2,400 to a pair of candidates he hopes will unseat incumbents Anne Duffy and Heather Jefts.

“I’m not just focused on Leander. I want our surrounding cities to do well,” Pitts said.

A group of four big-money donors — former State Rep. Tony Dale, former Cedar Park council members Jon Lux and Lyle Grimes, and Cedar Park resident Mary Horn — collectively donated more than $22,000 to newcomer candidates Tim Kelly (Place 1), Hulyne Christopher (Place 3) and Rodney T. Robinson (Place 5).

Pitts’ donations only went to Christopher and Robinson, but collectively, this group represents more than 47 percent of all donations in the race — and between 51 and 90 percent of the total money raised by the candidates they support.

Additionally, Pitts, Lux, Dale, Horn and Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long’s campaign donated a combined $13,750 to a Cedar Park Specific Purpose PAC known as the Citizens for Cedar Park PAC.

Phone calls to Kristyne Bollier, a former Cedar Park council member who is listed as the treasurer of Citizens for Cedar Park PAC, and other listed contacts for the PAC were not returned despite repeated calls throughout over a period of several days. Several attempts to reach Hulyne Christopher for comment were not returned.

Unlike the Texas Stronger PAC in Leander, the Citizens for Cedar Park PAC has avoided making direct campaign contributions to the candidates it supports. Instead, it has spent money on general advertising in support of Kelly, Christopher and Robinson, and attacking Duffy and Jefts directly.

Robinson said the Cedar Park PAC made those investments in advertising without talking to or coordinating with him. Robinson also said he had only this week learned for the first time that Lux, Grimes, Dale and Pitts were the primary source of funding for the PAC.

However, Robinson said that revelation won’t change his views, nor will it change how he plans to vote if elected. He said he wants to believe those individuals support him because they share his fiscally conservative views.

“It doesn’t bother me that they are helping as long as they don’t expect anything in return and they don’t do anything disgraceful on my behalf,” Robinson said.

Andy Hogue, speaking on behalf of Kelly’s campaign, said his candidate was completely surprised by the support from the PAC and didn’t know about its spending to benefit them until after it happened.

Hogue emphasized the PAC did not directly donate to Kelly’s campaign and reaffirmed Kelly’s interest in not taking PAC money so he can run a “different kind of campaign.”

“We’ve entered a new era of politics... the era of the PAC,” Hogue said. “The game hasn’t changed but the proliferation of PACs on the local level is new. I think it will be a growing trend until we see some kind of legal change.”

However, Hogue said he doesn’t think PACs are a massive concern. Instead, it’s just a new way for people to deliver cash to candidates. He said if it started to become a problem, Kelly’s campaign would consider refunding money they received from a problematic PAC, though they don’t see the actions of the Citizens for Cedar Park PAC as problematic.

Hogue also said he regrets how much partisan politics have filtered into what should be nonpartisan council races.

“(But) we can’t pretend it’s not partisan anymore,” Hogue said. “We’ve seen the threat (from the other side) and we’re responding in kind.”

Lux and Grimes, who were unseated in 2017 by Duffy and Jefts, aren’t running themselves this election. They are responsible for $10,000 in money and in-kind donations to the campaigns to remove Duffy and Jefts in favor of Christopher and Robinson, and that's in addition to donations they’ve made to the PAC.

Lux said his donations this election were not coordinated with his fellow former council member (Grimes), even though they are friends. Instead, Lux said he wanted to be a good steward of his remaining campaign funds from his unsuccessful 2017 re-election campaign.

“I don’t have time to start my own PAC. In my new position at work, I’ll be on the road too much, which is why I didn’t run for council again,” Lux said.

Lux said he donated his money to these specific candidates and the Cedar Park PAC because they share his vision for the city.

But, Lux said partisan politics has absolutely changed the landscape locally.

“A lot of outside (political) money started coming from one side, and the other side said ‘We need to catch up.’ So, it’s become a food fight,” Lux said. “I wish we didn’t have outside money coming in. And I hope and pray it will go away. But I think that train has left the station. It’s really hard to stop something like this.”

Robinson said he believes a candidate should be open with voters about which party they support – so voters can see if they share values – but he strongly opposes any efforts to make a seat explicitly partisan.

“If you want to be a Republican, then fine. But we shouldn’t put the party stamp on a city seat,” Robinson said.

The Citizens for Cedar Park PAC recently paid for a mailer comparing Duffy and Jefts to controversial U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, accusing them “New Green Deal” style initiatives.

For his part, Cedar Park Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale — who is not up for election until next year — has publicly supported all three incumbents running for re-election, including Place 1 incumbent Stephen Thomas, who was not targeted directly by the mailing. He donated $650 to Duffy and Jefts at the end of last year. Thomas also contributed $650 to each of them.

Despite the fact that local elections are supposed to be non-partisan, Pitts said he was supporting Duffy’s and Jefts’ challengers precisely because they are conservatives.

“They had tons of money come in from Austin and from very liberal people who supported the candidates who won, so you kind of have to fight fire with fire,” said Pitts. “There’s a very liberal faction that’s gotten elected into the Cedar Park Council and they’re pushing a very liberal agenda.”

While Pitts asserted that Duffy and Jefts received substantial funding from outside Cedar Park to win their seats, campaign finance reports filed leading up to the 2017 election tell a different story.

Duffy’s campaign raised a total of $9,304.35. Of that, 77 percent came in the form of small donations, mostly from Cedar Park residents. Public reports show that Duffy received 125 donations under $399, averaging just $57.63 each. While she did receive a $500 donation from the Western Williamson County Democratic Party, there were no other large donors to her campaign with addresses outside of Cedar Park and no PACs made direct donations to her campaign.

However, Duffy has subsequently received $200 from the Democratic Party in 2019 and $500 from State Rep. John Bucy III, who is a Democrat, in 2018.

Jefts’ campaign finance reports show a similar pattern of mostly small, local donations. Her 2017 reports show Jefts received 65 percent of her campaign funding from a group of 47 donors averaging $95.15 each, the majority with Cedar Park addresses. She also received a $500 donation from the Western Williamson County Democratic Party, but like Duffy, her reports showed no large-money donations from outside Cedar Park

Jefts subsequently received $800 from Bucy in 2018, and both Duffy and Jefts have received verbal support from left-leaning Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. However, former Austin Council Member Don Zimmerman, a conservative, has donated to the campaigns of candidates seeking to unseat Duffy and Jefts, further fueling a public debate about the political direction of the Cedar Park council.

Van Arsdale countered the assertion that incumbents running for re-election are out of step with the council and the city in a March 24 post to his campaign’s Facebook page.

“The idea that any council member is trying to ‘turn Cedar Park into Austin’ is nonsense,” Van Arsdale posted.

“Anyone saying this is either deceiving, or ignorant about the fact that they’re repeating someone else’s deception to whip up campaign fervor,” his post continued. “Here’s how our council actually voted 133 times over the past year … Dorian Chavez and Heather (Jefts) voted differently twice; Mike Guevara and Anne (Duffy) voted differently once; Mel Kirkland and Stephen (Thomas) voted differently twice ... out of 133 votes. Bottom line: our city issues aren’t partisan—which is why our elections are in May, not November.”

Lux, Robinson and several other local political activists criticized the mayor in interviews and online for his posted statement, arguing he shouldn’t be playing favorites council candidates and that he was mischaracterizing the candidates supported by the PAC.

Just this week, a number of anonymous fliers targeting incumbents were distributed in Cedar Park. Van Arsdale told the Austin American-Statesman Wednesday that the fliers falsely accuse Thomas, Duffy and Jefts of supporting the idea of an abortion clinic in the city and of wanting to build a homeless shelter in Cedar Park.

All three candidates told the Statesman that the claims were false. 

Van Arsdale said he didn't know who was responsible for distributing the anonymous fliers this week. He said other anonymous flyers have been distributed during this year's campaign season, and said one of them in March was sent by Citizens for Cedar Park PAC supporter Susan Merrick, who declined to comment for the Statesman's story this week.

The Texas Election Code prohibits political advertising that is anonymous, except for flyers that cost less than $500 to publish and distribute.

Impact on public participation

Research from the Brennan Center for Justice — a nonpartisan institute at New York University focusing on voting rights and campaign finance issues — states that large-money donations that drive up the cost of campaigns reduce competition, particularly among minority populations who feel they can’t match the resources of wealthy candidates and those with wealthy campaign donors.

PACs in particular have the effect of dissuading candidates without significant wealthy backing from running for office. One longtime Leander political insider, who did not want to be named for the story for fear of reprisal, said a number of candidates have chosen to leave local politics and others won’t even consider running simply because the volume of money necessary to compete is overwhelming.

For many years, local elections in Cedar Park and Leander were largely self-financed and many campaigns operated on just a few hundred dollars. That’s still the case in some other cities, but with lucrative opportunities for development in Cedar Park and Leander, moneyed interests have increasingly set the agenda, according to several current and former candidates who spoke to the Hill Country News.

Because some PACs have different reporting periods for their campaign finance disclosures, it’s not always easy for voters to learn who is backing candidates for office in time to consider those issues before voting.

Pantalion-Parker said she doesn’t see anything wrong with people using a PAC to funnel money to their chosen candidate. In fact, she said that she has helped donors give money to the Texas Stronger PAC to support her campaign without the identity of the donor being released publicly.

Pantalion-Parker and Czernek both said they had been approached by developers interested in using the PAC to fund Leander campaigns out of fear of retaliation.

Leander Place 3 candidate Jason Shaw, who received donations from the Texas Stronger PAC, did not return a phone call for this story.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to this (funneling these donations through PACs), what’s shameful is they feel they have to do this,” Pantalion-Parker said.

For his part, Czernek said he believes donations have ramped up this year because of the opportunity to have a singularly-focused faction take control of the council.

“There’s a feeling that this (election) is a major deal,” Czernek said. “Word got out that this is an important election. Things will continue how they keep going in Leander, or there’s a chance to create a new image for this town.”

He and Pantalion-Parker both acknowledge that there’s a fear and mistrust of PAC money in local elections, but they both believe those fears are unfounded.

“This money may be coming from a narrow area, but my transparency shows people who I really am,” Czernek said.

“PACs are not uncommon. People donate to PACs all the time. This is business as usual,” said Pantalion-Parker. “Whether one person who writes me a check for $25 or $5,000, one is not any more special to me than another.”

Lux, however, has a different view on the growth of PACs and big money at the local level, despite playing a role in both recently.

“It’s absolutely suppressing people who want to run for office. It’s a voluntary, non-paid position. But if it’s going to cost $20,000 to run, it’s going to turn ninety-five percent of people off,” Lux said.

“It’s really gotten away from dedicated people … who are just focused on doing what makes this city successful. Now, it’s just about who can we get out to vote that can raise the most money.”

Lux also echoed the sentiment that partisan politics is helping to fuel the skyrocketing cost of running for local office.

“Now, it’s about whether you’re a Republican or Democrat so you can raise enough money,” Lux said.

“Just spend enough and (you’ll) win an election”

Leander Mayor Troy Hill, who was elected last year with the support of Pitts and Texas Stronger, hopes a slate of candidates supported by Pitts will be elected this month. His plan for Leander includes changing development regulations and he and Pitts both believe they’ll need to have control of the city council to follow through on those plans.

Hill said donations from developers won’t change anything about how he votes on the dais.

“Whether it’s a dollar or a thousand dollars, (donors and supporters) will get the same treatment,” Hill said. “Donations are a part of campaigning, but who you are as a person is infinitely more important. I hope that anybody that knows me will know this is not an attempt to obscure anything.”

Nearly all the donors and candidates interviewed said they felt it is unfortunate that the cost of campaigning is growing, but they see it as an inevitability. Several said they never dreamed they could raise this much money for their campaigns.

Robinson said he fears the growing costs of campaigns would make low-income candidates feel forced to use PACs or to claim to be aligned with a specific party just to have access to enough money to run.

“It creates a situation where somebody that’s rich would have the advantage and more options for how they choose to campaign,” Robinson said.

Without large-money donations from interested players like Andy Pitts, developers and Political Action Committees, Pantalion-Parker and Czernek argue they wouldn’t have been able to raise the several thousand dollars in donations that they feel is essential to be able to run a competitive campaign and outspend their opponents.

Pantalion-Parker's campaign spent nearly $11,000 through last Friday and still has more than $6,000 on hand. Her opponent, Laura Lantrip, has raised just $3,639 in 2019 and used a $2,000 loan plus previous campaign funds to help her spend nearly $12,000. Her campaign was down to its last $267 as of the April 26 filing.

Jason Shaw’s campaign raised more than $16,700 this year and has spent a large portion of it. His opponent, Becki Ross, raised just $1,950. She’s spent nearly $4,000, though, reporting campaign loans totaling $3,500.

Czernek’s campaign has outspent incumbent Seiler by a wide margin. The incumbent raised more than $5,000 this year, but only spent $1,975 of that through the April 26 reporting period. Czernek, however, raised more than $17,000 and has spent nearly $13,000.

Incumbents have a decided advantage in raising funds, because they bring leftover money from prior races in before new fundraising efforts kick off. Stephen Thomas brought more than $68,000 into this year's campaign, those funds left over from 2018 and before — the biggest so-called 'war chest' of campaign funds among all the candidates for this year's races. Jefts had more than $20,000 on hand and Duffy reported more than $12,000 on hand in January. Leander Place 5 incumbent Jeff Seiler had just $1,115 on hand as of January's report.

Like Cedar Park’s races, much of the money behind the newcomer candidates in Leander comes from a group of large donors who have given to the same candidates supported by Pitts and the Texas Stronger PAC.

Hill, though, said he sees nothing wrong with Pitts’ outsized influence in Leander elections, or the substantial money coming from developers.

“I don’t agree with Andy about everything. But, why would I have a problem with (Pitts) giving to local candidates? He doesn’t have any business to go before the city compared to other PACs,” Hill said.

Local voters, however, had mixed feelings about large, concentrated donations forever changing the previous landscape of their local elections.

Cedar Park resident Tammy Logan, 42, said she doesn’t get too involved in politics and prefers to vote straight party ticket. However, she said she wasn’t aware of how much money was entering local elections and the sheer proportionality of funds coming from just a few sources might be enough to make her rethink a vote.

“This is definitely something that would catch my interest. It makes me ask ‘Where is the money coming from?’” Logan said.

Some voters said they don’t typically pay enough attention to campaign finance for it to influence their voting habits.

Michael Crum, 43, Cedar Park, said people need to stop being districted by these other factors.

“We need to only vote on the candidate’s actual policies and how they will affect us,” Crum said.

Bryon Jones, 66, Cedar Park, said he would definitely form his opinion of candidate based on what campaign money they accept.

“When it’s this much money, it gives me the idea that somebody thinks they can just spend enough and they’ll win an election,” Jones said.

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story reported that Anne Duffy and Heather Jefts received direct financial support from Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. Current campaign finance reports on file do not reflect any donation from Flannigan to either candidate, though the counilman has publicly expressed support for their candidacy in the past.

Editor's note: Our editorial on the findings from our investigation into campaign finances in this year's local elections is here: http://hillcountrynews.com/stories/when-you-fight-fire-with-fire-everyone-gets-burned,80012

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