Spending is one-sided in Austin’s Prop B election

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Over the next three weeks until the close of Election Day, voters who reside in Austin city limits will decide whether to reinstate the city’s camping ban.

The Save Austin Now PAC is trying to get Proposition B passed. If it does, camping would be made illegal in any public area not designated by the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. The proposition would also criminalize and create a penalty for those sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk or sleeping outdoors in and near the downtown and University of Texas areas.

The campaign has been driven by big spending — primarily by Save Austin Now.

We went through hundreds of pages of campaign finance documents and found the PAC has raised around $437,000. Political Action Committees are required to disclose donations and spending by 30 days before an election.

By far, the largest donation — $100,000 — came from an investment firm owned by businessman Phil Canfield. Two auto dealers each donated $10,000.

Canfield could not be reached by phone Monday.

But outside of large donations, Save Austin Now has hundreds of other donors, according to financial disclosure forms. Mackowiak says including those who helped gather signatures to put the petition on the ballot, Save Austin Now has had more than 1,000 volunteers.

“It is true the business community has stepped in in a number of industries,” said Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of Save Austin Now. “It is true that average Austinites across the city have stepped in.”

Records also show the PAC has spent around $319,000. More than half the spending was on consulting fees, but the PAC also paid for fundraising software, social media ads and mass text messages to potential voters.

By comparison, there’s hardly any big money on the other side.

Homes Not Handcuffs is a PAC opposed to the Prop B.

“We’re always the small guy,” said Catina Voellinger, who is with the group.

According to financial disclosures, Homes Not Handcuffs has raised about $23,000 — mostly from small donations.

The PAC has spent more than $400.00, going to an online vendor who accepts the payments.

Voellinger says volunteers are going door to door, making their case to voters.

“We have conversations with folks at the door, saying what is the next time? I want to go out and inform my neighbor,” said Voellinger.

But Mackowiak says this election is not about big money vs. a small volunteer effort.

“I don’t think it is simply a question of money,” he said. “I do think it’s a question of the campaign you run and how effective your campaign is.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he’s concerned about the money discrepancies between the two sides.

He opposes Proposition B — saying it will simply re-criminalize homelessness.

“Prop B doesn’t do anything to get anybody into a home or services,” he said Monday. “It just criminalizes things.”

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