San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 6th, 2010
San Marcos council nixes contribution limits

010510councilaSan Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, left, and City Councilmember Fred Terry, center, listen while Councilmember John Thomaides talks about campaign finance limitations for San Marcos city council campaigns. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

Associate Editor

The San Marcos City Council talked about directing the staff to draft an ordinance limiting individual  campaign contributions Tuesday night, then decided in a deeply split vote to drop the matter.

The discussion at times turned personal for San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, who raised $100,000 for her successful 2008 re-election campaign. At moments, the council’s drift appeared headed for a 4-3 vote to draft an ordinance, but Councilmember Kim Porterfield decided to vote against the action after Narvaiz voiced staunch opposition.

The council voted, 4-3 to not draft the ordinance. Councilmembers Fred Terry and newly seated Councilmember Ryan Thomason voted with Narvaiz and Porterfield to oppose the direction. Councilmembers Gaylord Bose, Chris Jones and John Thomaides voted to pursue an ordinance limiting individual political contributions.

“The citizens should have the right to determine how much they want to give,” Narvaiz said. “… For me it is personal because (campaign contribution limits) didn’t arise until after (reports of campaign contributions for the 2008 San Marcos city elections came about).”

In her 2008 re-election, Narvaiz took in $14,500 from entrepreneur Terry Gilmore alone, plus several $5,000 contributions from individuals, including some from out-of-state.

An agitated and somewhat heated Narvaiz alluded to recent headlines highlighting her campaign contributions, including opinions from former San Marcos mayors.

Last fall, the San Marcos Local News (then known as Newstreamz) ran a series of stories illustrating that recent mayoral campaigns in San Marcos tend to be more expensive than such campaigns in comparable Texas cities, with Narvaiz reaching a high-water mark for fundraising in 2008.

Narvaiz went on to say that if limits were approved, she would work hard to produce broader legislation to include limits on in-kind contributions, phone banking, volunteer time and expenditures.

Thomaides said several San Marcos citizens urged him to encourage campaign contribution limits. Thomaides and Bose placed the item on the agenda. Items can be placed on the city council agenda either by the city staff, the mayor, or any two councilmembers in tandem.

“This is by no means generated at us or any former councilmembers,” Thomaides said.

Thomaides said his interest in the proposal came about because there isn’t any legislation regulating campaign contributions in San Marcos. Thomaides said he also wished to diminish perceptions of undue influence on city council votes. Thomaides proposed capping contributions by any one person to $2,500, much like the federal standard that stands at $2,400 by an individual. Thomaides said he would also be in favor of capping the amount at $500.

“I don’t believe in limiting what one person can donate,” Thomason said in his first meeting after beating academic advisor Lisa Marie Coppoletta in a run-off election last month.

Porterfield initially said she was “not opposed to it” if the limit stood at about $2,500 for an individual, even suggesting that councilmembers do research on the matter and not put it on the backs of staff. Later Porterfield said she no longer wanted any discussion on campaign contribution limits if the legislation weren’t to include the aspects Narvaiz suggested, such as in-kind contributions, phone banking, volunteer time, and expenditures.

Jones said he doesn’t believe there is any corruption in San Marcos city government, though he cautioned that certain councilmembers cater to specific groups in town, “and typically, if you follow the money trail, they (the group being catered to) are the ones funding (the councilmembers when candidates for office) … I am in support of (limits) and it helps with perception issues. It will have a positive impact in the future.”

Jones said contribution limits would help candidates for office expand their base, “instead of having five or six friends fund campaigns.”

Narvaiz said limiting campaign contributions limits freedom and San Marcos residents do not support the notion, pointing to the lightly attended 2009 city election for evidence.

“The person who campaigned on (limiting campaign contributions) the most didn’t even make the run-off,” Narvaiz said about Shaune Maycock, who drew 23.91 percent in the three-way Nov. 3 election that resulted in Thomason and Coppoletta advancing ahead of him to the December run-off. Thomason took 960 of 1,924 votes in November, finishing three votes short of winning the election outright.

Councilmembers in opposition to the measure mentioned concerns that campaign contribution limits would only benefit incumbents seeking re-election. Narvaiz said political newcomers spend a lot more money making themselves recognizable in city politics, adding that contribution limits would only unlevel the playing field, benefitting any incumbent in a race.

“If anyone wants to make a $25,000 contribution to an incumbent or non-incumbent, I don’t think that’s okay,” Thomaides said.

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0 thoughts on “San Marcos council nixes contribution limits

  1. HOw could you have contribution limits without also limiting in-kind, phone banking, etc.?? At least with monetary contributions it is clear (and open to the public) who is supporting whom. I agree with the mayor and Porterfield, either limit all categories or none. Any other option smacks of backroom politics, hidden from public and media scrutiny.

  2. If I understand the Mayor’s position, it’s limiting freedom if I can’t buy an election, but it’s not limiting freedom if I can’t volunteer. Sorry, but that dog don’t hunt.

  3. Well, this is a very interesting vote. From multi-million dollar incentives to retail developers, to special zoning exemptions for real estate developers, to paying council members, to increasing our long-term financial obligations, to keeping campaign contributions unlimited … While we appreciate the time our council members invest in their roles, I think there is a larger unrest and distrust of government at all levels these days than they realize or want to acknowledge.

  4. I do not trust that this council can draft contribution/volunteering limits which do not violate Constitutional freedoms. I do believe they can draft recusal rules which prevent a councilmember from voting on any proposal that directly benefits or harms one of their major donors. It seems like this would prevent the perception that donors benefit from favor after their candidate is elected.

  5. Exactly right John, and I don’t think any council (or lawyer) could draft legislation that limits volunteering. However, the issues of both in-kind and phone banking should be treated with equal regard and restrictions as monetary donations otherwise you will create a bigger problem as the money is diverted to those endeavors and then the public is kept in the dark.
    And as to Steve’s point, perhaps an even bigger issue than mistrust (certainly a valid one in all levels of government and both major political parties) is that the focus should be on economy and quality of life for citizens first and foremost at this time especially in our history.

  6. “Narvaiz went on to say that if limits were approved, she would work hard to produce broader legislation to include limits on in-kind contributions, phone banking, volunteer time and expenditures” At best the Mayor sounds like a spoiled brat.

    There is a huge difference in volunteering/phone banks and cash. The volunteer/phoner generally doesn’t expect anything in return for their time. But I never seen someone drop a grand or two and not expect a favor. As for in kind contributions, most jurisdictions require disclosure.

  7. Winchester, a phone bank IS an in-kind contribution….it costs somebody money (phones, electricity, room, furniture, etc.) That is why a phone bank in a real business operation can deduct a mirad of costs via the IRS—it simply isn’t free! And yeah, they will expect ‘something in return’ just like other in-kind donors, money donors, and even most volunteers(it’s called ‘networking’ ). Ever heard the old saying, ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours?’

  8. I am against compaign contribution limits.. However, I do want to know who has made the conrtibutions before I step into the voting booth. Information about how much Tery Gilmore and others contributed to Mayor Narvaiz did not come out until after the election.

  9. Depends on how the phone bank is set up, some are more accurately phone trees. It’s only in kind if donated. The distrust you exhibit for volunteers, the majority of whom expect nothing in return, should be aimed at the $5K donors, who I guarantee expect favors.

  10. Winchester, you misunderstand–I don’t “mistrust volunteers”, never said that. True, most expect nothing in return. Believe it or not, there are many donors of all amounts who also don’t expect anything in return—except the same good government and wise leadership that the volunteers are expecting. A few bad apples (in each case) can spoil the bunch. But I prefer “open government” or “sunshine” as some call it. That means disclosure of ALL in campaigns. Why do you want to hide the phone bank stuff so bad? (And there is STILL a cost that SOMEONE is bearing no matter how it is set up. Want it explained? OK. Electricity is not free. The “housing” for either the individual or group is not free. Cell phone with unlimited use? Well, duh, there is still a percentage cost (ask an accountant or the IRS). And so forth. But again, why the urge to hide phone banks???

  11. “Campaign finance reform” should never include include limits on phone banking,volunteer hours, etc. Not only is it nigh-impossible to quantify and qualify, probably unconstitutional, but to equate giving time to a campaign with giving thousands of dollars; I’m sorry but that’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard Mayor Narviaz say.

    There’s an argument to be made for FINANCE reform at all levels because of the real possibility that some of that cash could end up in the candidate’s personal hands. But understand that when people want to support a campaign they either give cash or time. The ones who give time (phonebanking, blockwalking etc) are generally the ones without huge pocketbooks. So if you were to limit campaign volunteering you’d be drastically limiting the political power of people making below $40k a year (i.e. over half of San Marcos). As if we didn’t already have a problem with voter motivation.

  12. Well for someone who wishes to correct another, please quote my deisre to hide phone banks. Personally on all the campaigns I’ve been associated with, professioanally and as a volunteer, the phone room, if therere was one was in the campaign office, and was paid for by the candidate, so the funds were disclosed. My point was, and is, phone banks are very seldom donated in kind.

    Now if we want to dicuss the Mayor’s desire to derail disclosure of donations, that’s another story. What of the accounting nightmare disclosure of volunteering would create?

    Adam your first post supported limiting volunteering, which at least your second post realizes is almost certainly not going to pass constitutional muster.

    Personally I don’t support limitations, but would welcome full and timely disclosure.

  13. How about this idea.. Mandatory recussal. You take cash/in kind donations and vote on an issue directly affecting the donor, you are immediated disqualified from office.Two sided sword, prevents the office holder form doing anything questionable, and prevents a donor from buying a governing body.

  14. Sounds like Mayor Narvaiz took this whole thing more than a little personally… well she should have. It was her campaign that directly inspired this whole discussion.

    Unfortunately, instead of choosing to take the public outcry – and this Council action that resulted from it – as a call to action and/or a message that the public wasn’t happy with her actions, she chose to circle the wagons and blow off the entire issue as political grandstanding.

    That’s not the kind of behavior I hope for in an elected official. Dismissing the will of the people as ‘petty’ (admittedly not her word, but the sentiment is clearly there) is a clear danger sign in an elected official.

    Since the only people who actually vote in this town are Susan fans, though, I doubt it will really make any difference in the long run. Sad, but true.

  15. “The citizens should have the right to determine how much they want to give,”
    I guess she means not just the citizens who actually live in San Marcos, but builders from out of town that want certain votes? Take for example James Bigelow of Bigelow Homes based out of IL. He donated 5,000 to her campaign, and she voted to change the zoning at Blanco River Village from Single to Multi family so they could put in their courtyard homes. Have the builers from San Antonio that recently got their zoning change near stagecoach dontated a large sum yet?

  16. I am totally disgusted by Mayor Narvaiz. She is personally motivated which has been evidenced by her support for the unnecessary pay increases to Police and Fire, an obvious political maneuver for campaign support or some kind of corrupt “pay back”- god love the poilice and fire depts but this was the wrong time to hand them such a substantial increase. The Mayor’s hand picked City council candidates (Thomasson and Garcia) were supported by Police and Fire, which I site as further evidence of the depth of her corruption. This vote and the Mayors “staunch opposition” was just an attempt to protect losing the benefits of the deals she’s been working with Police and Fire and many others I am sure. God Bless Thomaides. He is the only person on Council fighting for the good of this town. How people can actually support our back room dealmaking, corrupt Mayor is beyond me. As a community we should oust the snakes which have been nesting in our government.

  17. Ah, the Susan hate is in full flight. Streams of comments will pour in with innuendo and suggestion, predictably launched by Thomaides/Gregson. Give anyone an online handle and they rip away without any worry for tethering their suggestion to the truth. Susan is a dedicated, strong-willed, public servant. Where is her personal gain? Where is the proof for the innuendo? She isn’t perfect, but her record and the facts from her term show she has done a strong job. The most that can honestly be said is that she is pro-growth, and those who profit on growth appreciate her being Mayor. The fact that she votes for the growth she believes in doesn’t mean she is paying anyone back, correlation isn’t causation. The fact that others on council follow her vote may speak more to the lack of leadership on the other side of most issues than it does to some evil plot.

  18. And then you have THESE types of comments (just above) from those who profit, from “those who profit”, from her “pro-growth” policies, as well.

  19. Those who make allegations should back them up with actual facts “B. Franklin”. Otherwise you are just spreading false rumors which is childish and wrong. “What goes around comes around”.

  20. “Ah, the Susan hate is in full flight. Streams of comments will pour in with innuendo and suggestion, predictably launched by Thomaides/Gregson.”

    Are these the types of allegations and spreading of false rumors that you are referring to, Adam?

    Lemme know.


  21. I personally have no problem with San Marcos citizens being able to spend as much as they want on a local candidate. If there is someone running that they feel this strongly about then by all means, let them. It’s their town too.

    My problem is when outside interests become some of the largest contributors to a local campaign. I could almost understand it if it was a relative or close friend contributing to the cause……but a developer from IL who spends $5K on a mayoral race in San Marcos, TX should raise some eyebrows. If that developer receives a favorable zoning change shortly after the election that allows him to proceed with a pet project, suspicions of impropriety are only magnified.

  22. That was a statement of fact. Thomaides was part of a group who raised the campaign funding limits at Council and Gregson is the owner of this online newspaper which authored the story. Without the activities of these two, this string of posts would not occur. I editorialized the “predictably” modifier, but I think anyone who has observed NS coverage of Susan over the last year would agree.

    Let me give you an example of an allegation — “[Susan’s] support for the unnecessary pay increases to Police and Fire [was] an obvious political maneuver for campaign support or some kind of corrupt ‘pay back.’” Matthew

    Let me give you an example of a false rumor — “And then you have [John McGlothlin’s] comments” and he “profit[s] from ‘those who profit,’ from her ‘pro-growth’ policies.” B. Frankin

    I contributed to the converation because I have an opinion on Susan and the issue, and I happen to disagree with your perspective. My post and opinion is not the result of any profit on my part, and since I post under my real name, anyone that knows me would find your innuendo laughable if not slanderous. Note, that even though I disagree with you, I try to remain respectful of you, your perspective and your motivations.

  23. You know Dano, what you simply stated above is as plain as day, to any individual who does not have a vested interest in denying the acknowledgement of those clear facts.

    Those incredulous posters however, who insist on defending this type of obvious corruption, and blindly carrying the torch for our Mayor and her sycophants, most certainly have some type of personal or monetary gain in perpetuating the present reign and status quo in our city (which could apply as well to both our state and federal) government.

    When one’s principles are for sale, one’s “loyalties” will almost certainly go to the highest bidder,

    especially when that bidder is able to finance a personal and political agenda by appropriating and spending your hard earned tax dollars, on those special favors which are then doled out to certain select “friends” and “supporters”.

  24. Another issue with listing volunteering as donations is the chilling effect it might have. How do you list the volunteer hours? Is it just the number of hours volunteers work? If so, it’s a worthless proposition. To make it work, you have to name names, hence the chilling effect.

  25. The lip service given to “listing volunteering as donations” was merely a red herring, thrown in to give Porterfield an “opportunity” to take pause, and then “change” her vote.

    There was NO WAY that this was ever going to happen, but it sounded good enough to serve that purpose, at that time.

    And thus we have it; yet another 4 to 3 majority vote, carries on City Council.

  26. I’m not Thomaides I’m just a fan. I’m not Gregson whoever he is. I am however, a concerned citizen without any special interest other than making this a better community to live in. I’d ask who you are but, I’m not really interested- respectfully, I will make my assumptions about you (as you have made about me), privately.
    What you have said about the mayor regarding “those who profit from growth” may very well be true. I’m sure she does. But that’s worse than growth for growths sake. That’s growth to pad someone’s pockets. And it stinks.

  27. I recall that Shaune Maycock first announced the notion that San Marcos was overdue for Individual Campaign Contribution Limits… at the realtors debate for those who don’t know. He carried that torch until his campaign came to end end and was pleased when Thomaides and Bose decided to take it up. I’m not surprised Narvaiz would try to use volunteerism against I.C.C.L because it gives power back to the people and jeopardizes her nice warm place inside the pocketbooks of the Well-to-Do. She recruited Thomason to run again after he lost the last time and surprise he lacks the wherewithal to resist her influence and vote independently. The struggle for power continues in San Marcos. Let’s hope that with the next election we (the little people) can show up and make a difference. I, for one, plan on volunteering ALOT.

  28. “Ah, the Susan hate is in full flight. Streams of comments will pour in with innuendo and suggestion, predictably launched by Thomaides/Gregson…That was a statement of fact. Thomaides was part of a group who raised the campaign funding limits at Council and Gregson is the owner of this online newspaper which authored the story. Without the activities of these two, this string of posts would not occur.”

    John, in the year that I spent as Managing Editor of this publication, Scott Gregson, never, not once, stood over my shoulder, or the shoulder of any other reporter or correspondent, and directed coverage, or exercised any kind of editorial control. Stories were not sent to him for approval. Staff editorials, which were written by staff, were sent to him so he could read them and give feedback, but they would have run despite that feedback anyway. We came to these editorials on our own, and the stories speak for themselves. The reporting is accurate.

    Your assertation that all this criticism has been launched by a conspiracy between Thomaides and Gregson is pure fiction, and an insult to those that have worked hard on these stories.

  29. I think John McGlothlin is a little cynical in his view of this newspaper. If i’m not mistaken, Newstreamz covers city council, not Mayor Susan Narvaiz. If she says some ridiculous comments, they will be written, if she says some intelligent comments they will be written – I have seen both in several articles. I dont see any bias in the coverage of city council meetings, actually if you watch them on TV (as I do) and then read the articles written, they’re actually pretty straight forward and to the point.
    There is no conspiracy here. There is no agenda against anyone of anything here. Just attend the meetings, or watch them on TV and then read the article, I think you’ll be surprised that the Mayor and the other City Council members are portrayed either intelligently or idiotically (depending on their demeanor that day) but always portrayed accurately.
    Just my 2 cents.

  30. “Ah, the Susan hate is in full flight. Streams of comments will pour in with innuendo and suggestion, predictably launched by Thomaides/Gregson. Give anyone an online handle and they rip away without any worry for tethering their suggestion to the truth.”
    OK Mr. McGlothin, sorry to use an online handle, it is one I have used for 10 years now. It has become habit.
    I am not sure if that comment was even referring to me or not….maybe not and I am just too caught up. Either way, what I said in that previous post was neither an innuendo, or suggestion, or a rip away from the truth. It was fact, and a question after. Sorry, maybe you were not even referring to me.
    Either way, my real name is Danny Jackson
    502 Shadowpoint. 78666
    Home owner, voter. and really just a jerk when you ask around.

  31. Mr. osteo4n6;

    San Marcos would most certainly benefit from having around, more “jerks” like you.

    Thank you for taking a stand.

  32. Hey thanks, B. Franklin I do appreciate it. . I would like to be more involved, but unfortunately my work keeps me away from any sort of commitment. Those who know me on here (AndyG, Charles Sims, Billy Moore, RiceisNice, etc) know why I am unable to put forth any sort of commitment to local gov.
    OK, from now on, I will just post under my real name..Danny Jackson (except when I post under the fake name..Dan Jackson).

  33. I hope the citizens will remember this when the VOTE comes around… all too predictable, money talks and morals walk. Is anyone really surprised, from local to state to the federal government, this entire country has been sold to developers, corporations and foreign investors. Those that opposed the limit are the exact ones in the pockets of others. Another shameful day in the history of local politics.

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