Local Government Watch – San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Some people wondered why Mayor Susan Narvaiz was having a major fund-raising event just three days before the election that would pick her successor. She spent money to place advertisements for the event in the San Marcos Daily Record, and posters were found all over town in advance of the Oct. 30 event to be held at the Maximum Paintball Sports Field just south of the outlet malls in San Marcos.
The schedule for the event was to include paintball games, a barbeque lunch, “DJ Vasquez Ultimate Sounds,” “Family Fun & Entertainment,” and a raffle for a 55 inch flatscreen TV, an Apple iPad, and a $250 cash prize. There was an opportunity, also, for anyone to become a host for the event at a cost of $500 to $2,000. The event was advertised and sponsored by the Susan Clifford Narvaiz Campaign. Tickets to the event were $25 (including a raffle ticket), and additional raffle tickets could be purchased for $10.
A review of the mayor’s history of raising political money shows that her fund-raising ability is impressive. During the year and one-half before her third election as mayor of San Marcos in 2008, Narvaiz spent over $100,000, an unprecedented amount for election to the unpaid position. Narvaiz has continued her fundraising and spending, donating money to many religious groups, charities, community groups, educational institutions, as well as other candidates, including in the current election.
During the first six months of 2010, Narvaiz spent nearly $20,000 before announcing that she would not seek re-election. As of June 30, she reported having less than $100 in her candidate/office holder account. Of course, since she is not a candidate for office in this election, it is no wonder that some people have questioned her need to raise candidate/officeholder money. Narvaiz has claimed that she has campaign or officeholder debts that she needs to satisfy by raising more money, though she will soon be out of office. She failed to immediately send documents showing that debt to a citizen to whom she promised such evidence early last week.
Perhaps the most startling action by Narvaiz in this latest fund-raising gambit was the advertisement of her intent to raffle three prizes as part of her October 30 event.
After I was advised of the raffle, I set out to confirm some of its details. On Thursday morning about 11 am, I bought a raffle ticket for $10 at the Sedona Staffing office at 102 Wonder World Drive, Suite 301, as instructed by Narvaiz’s advertisement in the local print newspaper. (Sedona Staffing is an employment service once owned by Narvaiz that provides temporary help.) Less than an hour and a half later, I received a call from the woman at the Sedona office who had sold me the ticket. She said that the raffle was canceled and I could come back to the Sedona office to pick up my $10. I was unable to do so and was contacted again Friday morning about the $10 refund, which the Sedona staffer said she would mail to me. Around 2:15 pm Friday, I received a call from local attorney Charles Soechting, who advised me that he represented Narvaiz and she would like to send me the $10. I agreed that the money could be sent by regular mail, rather than by certified mail. On Saturday, I received the $10 in cash by mail to my home from Narvaiz, who included a brief letter to me in the envelope.
Narvaiz sent an email to various recipients at 1:40 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 28:
“We are looking forward to a fun event this Saturday. Changes to the event include: Raffle has been CANCELLED. My team was not aware that we were not eligible to host a raffle. Event ticket price will be reduced to $20 which includes a plate lunch and paintball gun, 200 rounds of ammo and great fun to take your best shot! Looking forward to seeing you on the paintball field! Mayor Susan and friends!!!”
What Narvaiz apparently did not know until questions were raised with her about the raffle by a San Marcos resident is that raffles are illegal gambling under the Charitable Raffle Enabling Act, passed by the Texas Legislature in 1999, unless the sponsor is “a qualified religious society, qualified volunteer fire department, qualified volunteer emergency medical service, or qualified nonprofit organization.” Organizations that attempt to influence legislation, or participate in or are involved in political campaigns on behalf of any candidate for public office are not eligible to conduct a raffle. There are other restrictions on what entities can conduct raffles, but these are the primary ones.
Even organizations that may legally conduct raffles have limitations on their raffle activities. For instance, such groups may not use paid advertising to promote a raffle “through a medium of mass communication, including television, radio, or newspaper.”
The Charitable Raffle Enabling Act also requires that raffle tickets include the following information on each ticket sold:
“The following information must be printed on each raffle ticket sold or offered for sale:
(1) the name of the organization conducting the raffle;
(2) the address of the organization or of a named officer of the organization;
(3) the ticket price;
(4) a general description of each prize having a value of more than $10 to be awarded in the raffle; and
(5) the date on which the raffle prize or prizes will be awarded.”
The raffle tickets sold by the Narvaiz campaign included none of this information. The tickets were imprinted with the Office Depot name and included a number found on both the lower and upper half of the ticket, with space on one-half of the ticket for the name, address, and telephone number of the purchaser. That is the half of the ticket the campaign kept.
Another provision of the Raffle Act is that a prize may not be in the form of money, another violation of the Raffle Act that was planned by the Narvaiz campaign.
Illegal gambling, such as that attempted by the Narvaiz campaign, may be prosecuted as a Class A misdemeanor, the same level of offense for a person convicted for a second time of DWI. The ticket that I purchased and was reimbursed for is considered “gambling paraphernalia” under the Texas Penal Code. Narvaiz and all who operated in concert with her violated the prohibition of promoting gambling under section 47.03 of the Texas Penal Code:
“A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly does any of the following acts: … for gain, sets up or promotes any lottery or sells or offers to sell or knowingly possesses for transfer, or transfers any card, stub, ticket, check, or other device designed to serve as evidence of participation in any lottery.” As provided in the Penal Code, a lottery includes a raffle.
A lot of questions remain unanswered at this point:
- Does Narvaiz have a political debt she needs to pay off?
- Did she receive legal advice about the scheme before setting up the raffle?
- Did businesses or individuals contribute the television set and computer that were to be raffled off on October 30?
- Did the Narvaiz campaign have the advertised prizes in its possession?
- Were employees at Sedona paid for selling raffle tickets; that is, did they do so as a part of their jobs?
- Who else besides Narvaiz and Sedona employees sold raffle tickets?
- Who were the other “hosts” for the event?
- Who received refunds of $5 on the full ticket and $10 for a raffle ticket?
- If raffle tickets cost $10, why is it permissible to refund only $5 to purchasers of the full ticket, or charge only $5 less than was advertised for the full ticket?
- Were purchasers of the full ticket who were attracted to the event mainly by the three raffles given an opportunity to receive a full refund?
Learning how to comply with the law is as simple as doing a 10 second Google search for “Texas raffle” to locate the Texas Attorney General’s website at where all of this is explained. Perhaps now that the story is out, San Marcos politicians and their supporters will all know that such raffles are illegal, and such an episode will not be repeated.
©Local Government Watch–San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins