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Mayor’s Race Turns Ugly with Labor PAC Attack

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT
A photo of the mayoral candidates at the Ballot Boxing mayoral forum on October 15.

From The Austin Monitor:

Austin City Council politics has hit the big time, with an out-of-state political action committee making numerous negative phone calls into the city to lambaste mayoral candidate Steve Adler.

This reporter received one of those calls Thursday afternoon from a man with a Southern accent who refused to say where he was or give the name of his organization. The caller also mispronounced Adler, sometimes calling him Alder. It seemed obvious that the caller was reading from a script.

Below you can listen to a recording of the call.


He said, “I’m calling about the mayor’s race. Developer Steve Alder wants us to vote for him but he’s wrong for Austin. He wants to be there so he can give tax breaks to his millionaire friends on their houses, while at the same time raising the rent for our working-class and middle-class families.” He concluded, “Don’t let Steve Adler and his friends buy City Hall. Don’t vote for Steve Adler. He’s just wrong for Austin.”

When the reporter asked him repeatedly who he was and the name of his employer, the caller said he could not disclose the information. Nor would he reveal his location. When asked directly if it was the South Forward IE PAC, the caller denied that he was working for that organization.

Two other Austin voters who received similar calls said they were told that the callers were from the South Forward IE PAC. (The IE stands for “independent expenditure.”)

Adler supporter Kathy Vale told the Austin Monitor she received such a call Thursday around noon. “It was a woman who sounded like she was in a call center. She just said, ‘I’m calling to talk to you about the mayor’s race in Austin. It’s important that you know that Steve Adler is only in it to take care of his millionaire friends. … We don’t need a millionaire mayor.'”

Vale and two other people who spoke with the Monitor but did not wish to have their names revealed indicated that the callers did not seem to have a recommendation on whom to vote for, but just wanted to criticize Adler. Vale asked the woman on whose behalf she was calling, and the woman told her it was the South Forward IE PAC.

The South Forward IE PAC received $10,000 from the Southwest Laborers’ District Council PAC, according to a Federal Election Commission report covering the period from July 1 to Sept. 30. Southwest Laborers’ District Council is an affiliate body of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which endorsed Mike Martinez for mayor.

The group has an Austin office, but its representative did not return a call requesting comment.

After Adler’s campaign staff received myriad messages about the calls, Adler said in a news release, “Austin deserves better than old-style dirty politics and out-of-state super PAC meddling in Austin’s affairs.” He then called on his fellow mayoral candidates to disavow the activity and demand that it cease.

Martinez’s campaign manager, Matt Parkerson, denied knowing anything about the calls. He said, “All I’ve gotten is an email about a Facebook post,” by Adler campaign manager Jim Wick. “We have no idea what the heck they’re talking about … nor do we condone any sort of negative play like that.”

Later Parkerson called back to say, “They (the Southwest Laborers’ District Council) have endorsed Mike, but we haven’t coordinated with them.”

South Forward is a political action committee organized in South Carolina under federal 501(c) 4 rules. In other words, it is an independent expenditure PAC. It does not appear to be registered in the state of Texas or with the Austin City Clerk’s Office.

That failure to register with the city and provide information to the state may be a violation of both state and local laws. However, enforcement of such laws is extremely lax, so it seems unlikely that the PAC will have to answer official questions about its actions.

Local labor leader Jack Kirfman said that Austin’s Central Labor Council, which has endorsed Martinez, has nothing to do with the calls or the labor PAC apparently making them. “The Labor Council locally here thinks this will be settled on the merits of the candidates, and they’re all good.” He added, “We’ve got three excellent candidates. … We’re all trying to have a positive campaign. ”

Genevieve Van Cleve, political consultant for Sheryl Cole’s campaign, told the Monitor, “We have not done anything like that and would not … the only way we would talk to voters is through the normal channels. There’s no way that Sheryl would participate in anything like that.”

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