Abbott campaign discovers O’Rourke’s mistakes on campaign finance reporting


The Texas Ethics Commission is conducting a preliminary review, as it’s required to do, of an allegation by Gov. Greg Abbott’s re-election campaign that Democratic rival Beto O’Rourke violated campaign finance reporting laws by misreporting more than $1.7 million of in-kind contributions as also being expenditures. 

Though the accounting stumble didn’t alter what the O’Rourke campaign trumpeted in press releases 10 days ago — that he’d raised $7.2 million in his first 46 days as a candidate — it followed by just a few days an earlier glitch in the former El Paso congressman’s first report as a candidate in a state election.
 
“O’Rourke’s unwillingness to release accurate campaign finance reports is shameful,” Abbott spokesman Mark Miner said Friday. “Either they’re incompetent or they’re lying — neither of those good qualities in a candidate for governor.”

O’Rourke spokesman Abhi Rahman fired back that Abbott is “playing political games,” exaggerating “clerical errors” that have been corrected by O’Rourke to distract from the two-term Republican governor’s failures to strengthen the electric grid, fund schools adequately and expand Medicaid.

The O’Rourke camp’s first misstep on its January semiannual report filed last week involved online contributions — a strength for the former U.S. Senate and presidential hopeful in his past campaigns.

Traditionally, small contributions under a certain amount in state races don’t have to be reported to the commission except as a subtotal of such small gifts. Over time, the threshold for detailed reporting has increased, from contributions of more than $50 to those exceeding $90. Since 2019, though, the only small contributions exempt from reporting of the name and address of the donor and the date of the contribution are those made with either cash or check.

All online contributions, no matter how small, have to be itemized on candidates’ reports.

On Monday, O’Rourke, who on Jan. 18 said that 80% of his roughly 115,600 contributions were made online, filed a corrected report that took 18,359 pages to give the details of what he originally conveyed in one box on the second page: $1.77 million in small donations.

“The report is being amended to report itemized contributions that were previously reported as un-itemized,” Gwendolyn Pulido, O’Rourke’s campaign treasurer, said in the amended report.

On Wednesday, Gardner Pate, a GOP election law attorney who until recently was Abbott’s deputy chief of staff, and who blew the whistle on O’Rourke’s not itemizing the online gifts, filed a second complaint with the commission.

It noted that through Powered by People, the group O’Rourke created to register Texans to vote and help get out the vote for Democrats, and End Citizens United, a national group trying to get big money out of politics, O’Rourke has received more than $1.7 million of in-kind contributions such as email lists, website domains, digital ads and text messaging. But he used them to build both his contributions and expenditures totals, which is a violation, Pate said.

On Thursday, the commission assistant general counsel Jordan T. Hunn wrote Pulido to say the agency, as it must, is looking into Pate’s second complaint. Pulido has 10 business days to respond.

Rahman, the O’Rourke spokesman, called the issue “a nothing burger.”

O’Rourke’s “top line numbers were accurate and as we announced them to be” on Jan. 18, he said. The handling of the in-kind contribution will be corrected, he said.

“All that they’re going to do,” he said of the commission, “is find that we fixed it.”

The Abbott campaign, which also filed an ethics complaint against O’Rourke in November, for not including a disclaimer on his website, is pounding the issue hard. In eight days, Miner has issued four news releases about O’Rourke’s January semiannual report.

“O’Rourke and his not ready for primetime players deceived the public yet again by overstating his contributions or his expenditures by more than $1.7 million,” an Abbott release said Monday.

“If Abbott cared half as much about fixing our grid than he cares about fixing clerical errors on a people-driven fundraising report, we all wouldn’t be holding our breaths wondering the grid will hold up this winter,” Rahman countered Friday.

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