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Aleshire Files Criminal Complaint Against Zimmerman

A candidate forum will be held Friday starting at 6:30 p.m. for the Austin City Council runoff election.
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District 6 City Council member Don Zimmerman is accused of wrongly using campaign funds to pay his wife.

From the Austin Monitor:

District 6 City Council Member Don Zimmerman may be headed back to court, but this time as a defendant in a criminal prosecution.

On Thursday, Aleshire LAW PC attorney Bill Aleshire filed a criminal complaint against Zimmerman with the Travis County Attorney and the Texas Ethics Commission.

Aleshire’s complaint centers on Zimmerman using $2,000 in campaign funds to pay his wife. That, says Aleshire, is “a clear and blatant violation of the Texas Elections Code by a man that has been filing campaign finance reports since at least 2003.”

The offense is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000, up to one year in jail, or both.

Zimmerman told the Monitor that his wife, Jennifer Winter Zimmerman, worked 30- to 40-hour weeks in his office for about four months. Zimmerman explained that his wife works seasonally for Alaska Airlines and came down to Austin early to help him out with his campaign.

“Everything in that campaign, she was involved with,” said Zimmerman. “She did everything. It’s astonishing how much work she did. I do feel embarrassed to only have given her $2,000.”

Zimmerman acknowledged his prior experience with campaign finance and insinuated that may be part of the problem.

“This used not to be against the law,” he said, adding that his attorneys told him “the law may have changed in 2007. The laws are constantly changing.”

Zimmerman points out that not paying for campaign workers could also run afoul of federal labor laws, which presents what he sees as a Catch-22.

“You have to pay people for the work they do,” said Zimmerman. “I’m thinking, if I don’t pay my spouse, couldn’t somebody bring a legal action and say, ‘She did professional work for you; you didn’t pay her?’”

Zimmerman also said that not paying his wife for work could open him up to ridicule and criticism, because he paid men to do less effective work.

When he spoke to the Monitor, Zimmerman highlighted problems he had with the logic of the law.

“If I had not married my wife, and she was simply living with me, then there would be no prohibition on paying the woman that lives with me,” said Zimmerman. “But if I pay the woman that’s my wife, it’s illegal?”

“It raises some crazy questions that I am struggling to answer,” said Zimmerman.

In an email to Zimmerman’s attorney and campaign treasurer, Stephen Casey, Aleshire addressed why he filed the complaint against Zimmerman, saying Zimmerman’s statements to the press that he wished he had paid his wife more (which he reiterated yesterday to the Monitor) were “reckless and arrogant.”

Aleshire wrote, “The reason is not political, particularly considering that I often agree with Mr. Zimmerman on issues of wasteful spending of tax dollars. The reason I filed it is my observation of how threatening Mr. Zimmerman gets to people who report on or criticize him publicly. His reputation might scare off some critics, but if he is going to try to bully someone this time, he’ll have to try to bully me.”

Aleshire also said that Zimmerman violated Austin City Code by failing to file a complete year-end campaign finance report and omitted the required bank reconciliation and debt reports.

Casey did not respond to the Monitor’s request for comment before publication.

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