Austin leaders vow not to accept police campaign donations, data shows some have before

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Amid nationwide protests against police brutality and calls to defund police departments, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and all City Council members have pledged not to accept donations from police organizations.

But while city leaders will no longer collect checks from police groups, many have accepted money from — or been supported by — the Austin Police Association (APA) in the past.

Over the last six years, APA has spent over $19,350 supporting Austin candidates.

APA spent the bulk of the $15,000 on mailers for Adler’s 2014 mayoral run. The money was not a donation, however. Adler said the money was spent independent of his campaign, and he is barred by law from requesting or coordinating with APA on such an expenditure.

The other contributions are listed below.

Three current council members took no APA donations: Alison Alter, Ann Kitchen and Paige Ellis, according to a KXAN analysis of Texas Ethics Commission data.

KXAN found no record of current candidates for City Council: David Chincanchan, Vanessa Fuentes, or Pooja Sethi, accepting contributions from APA.

These current candidates pledged not to take police contributions, according to the No Cash for Cops website.

Donations and support

  • Mayor Steve Adler: $15,008 in an independent contribution spent on 2014 mailers
  • Council Member Greg Casar: $1,200 total donations from 2014, 2015, 2016
  • Council Member Delia Garza: $700 total donations from 2014, 2016
  • Council Member Leslie Pool: $700 total donations from 2014, 2016
  • Council Member Sabino “Pio” Rentria: $700 total donations from 2014, 2018
  • Council Member Jimmy Flannigan: $350 total donations from 2014
  • Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison: $350 total donations from 2014
  • Council Member Kathy Tovo: $350 total donations from 2014
  • Council Member Alison Alter: $0
  • Council Member Page Ellis: $0
  • Council Member Ann Kitchen: $0

Discord over donations

APA sent a letter Thursday to Casar saying his “No Cash From Cops” pledge was “appalling” and he should return $1,200 to the Association’s political action committee.

No Cash From Cops is a campaign made by the ColorOfChange political action committee, which is a national racial justice organization, according to its website. The campaign calls on elected officials nationwide to reject political donations from the Fraternal Order of Police.

Casar, in response to APA, said he would not return the money but would donate that amount to Austin Justice Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization that supports people of color.

Garza also responded to APA.

“It’s just another bullying tactic by APA to ask for the money back, and I’m not giving that amount back just for them to bully other elected officials,” Garza said in an email. “I donated the $700 to the Austin Justice Coalition, Texas Fair Defense Project, and Texas Appleseed.”

Adler said he has never, in all his campaigns, taken money from a PAC.

“It has been my long standing policy not to take financial contributions from any PACs, including the APA PAC. Given the moment, however, and the Council’s present consideration of re-imagining policing, I thought it was important that the community know of my independence,” he said.

Regarding the possibility of returning the APA money spent on 2014 mailers, Adler said he never received any donation and never asked for the mailers to be made.

Flannigan said the $350 donation he took from APA changed nothing he did on city council.

“When we’re taking this pledge, we are responding to the demands from the public to say this is important right now,” Flannigan said in an interview. “But it’s also unfair, given the system that we have that what we ask of candidates is to go out and beg for money in order to retain their jobs.”

Donald Baker, with APA, said council members’ refusal to accept APA donations was wrong.

“You’re attacking law enforcement. You’re attacking the police profession,” Baker said. “You’re attacking the fantastic men and woman who keep on working for your city and now you’re saying, ‘You’re no good.”

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