Three Houston mayoral candidates—U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, State Sen. John Whitmire, and local attorney Lee Kaplan—illicitly accepted campaign funds during a period prohibited by city law.

Houston campaign finance law dictates that after the city awards a contract, Houston political candidates may not accept donations from the awarded contractors for 30 days.

However, Whitmire’s campaign received $21,500 from contractors. Notably, $5,600 came in three payments from proxies of Locke Lord, a law firm that previously employed Whitmire and is currently fulfilling a $757,000 two-year contract with Houston. 

Another $5,000 came from Precision Task Group President Massey Villareal. The firm has raked in $7.7 million in contracts from the City of Houston.

Similarly, proxies from FCM Engineers—which has received around $6.2 million from city contracts—illegally donated $5,000 to Whitmire.

Kaplan also received money from Locke Lord during the prohibited period for a total of $500.

As for Lee, her campaign accepted $21,000 in donations during the prohibited period. 

Lee received $10,000 total from two attorneys with Baker Wotring, a firm that has earned $8.6 million from city contracts. 

As reported by The Houston Chronicle, the two attorneys have close connections with current Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner: 

One of them, Earnest Wotring, was appointed as a trustee on the Houston Firefighters Relief and Retirement Board by Mayor Sylvester Turner. The other, Debra Tsuchiyama Baker, was part of Turner’s transition committee and traveled with him to Japan last October as a city delegate.

Additional prohibited donations Lee received include:

  • $1,000 from the founder of LaneStaffing, which has received $14.9 million from city contracts.
  • $5,000 from a proxy of Reytec Construction, a long-time Houston contractor that has netted more than $200 million in contracts.
  • $5,000 from FCM Engineers, the same contractors that illicitly donated to Whitmire.

Large donations have become an increasingly important commodity during this election cycle—especially for Lee and Whitmire, as they are tight competitors for the mayorship.

A recent survey by the University of Houston showed 34 percent of voters intend to vote for Whitmire, and 32 percent intend to vote for Lee. 

Despite having the second-largest war chest in the race, Kaplan is considered a low threat with only 2 percent of voters’ support. 

Local law allows candidates to dodge legal charges if they “unknowingly accept” these disputed funds, so long as they return them within 10 days of receiving them.

Both Whitmire and Lee have promised to return the donations, with Kaplan announcing his team would review paperwork to check whether his received donations violated city ordinance before refunding. 

Charles Blain, president of the Urban Reform Institute, told Texas Scorecard, “The city of Houston hasn’t been known to take its ethics rules seriously. The council committee designated to oversee these issues hasn’t even met in a year.”

He pressed citizens to investigate such matters, urging “the public to do due diligence and uncover issues like this, because we know the city won’t.”

Micah Rice

A summer writing fellow for Texas Scorecard, Micah has an interest in spreading the truth about Texas politics.