A bipartisan trio of Dallas County officials thwarted a scheme by the county executive that would have directed hundreds of thousands in coronavirus grant money to a private organization for questionable election-related marketing.

At special meeting on Friday, Dallas County commissioners stopped Judge Clay Jenkins’ plan to sub-grant $800,000 to a third party to spend on ads promoting “safe” voting, targeted to certain parts of the county.

“What the judge was trying to push through with Communities Foundation would have been in direct violation of Texas election law,” Commissioner J.J. Koch said after Friday’s meeting:

As soon as we opened court to start discussing the Communities Foundation and their potential role in rolling out targeted advertisements to certain ZIP codes—a huge no-no—Commissioner Price opens up with a motion to close it down.

“The legal department knew it [was a violation of Texas election law]. Everyone knew it. And there were people that were having to protect themselves legally within the administration because of the way Judge Jenkins was ruthlessly pushing forward,” Koch added.

The Democrat-dominated court voted 3-2 not to pursue Jenkins’ plan.

Koch, the lone Republican on the court, joined Democrat Commissioners John Wiley Price and Theresa Daniel in voting down the scheme.

“I don’t think there’s any disagreement about the importance of what this was trying to do,” said Daniel. “I do have very serious questions about whether this can be accomplished.”

Friday’s meeting was a continuation of a special session convened Thursday to discuss giving grant money to a “qualified third-party administrator for elections-related communications deployment.” Jenkins’ preferred third party, Communities Foundation, is a Dallas-based nonprofit that manages charitable funds across North Texas.

“Judge Jenkins is trying to shove through $800,000 right to his favorite folks over at Communities Foundation, and I don’t understand why,” Koch said after Thursday’s closed-door session. “Our attorneys have told us there’s criminal liability and civil liability in pushing this money out to a private entity that’s going to be doing advertising that we don’t have control over.”

“This is just another reason people do not trust Dallas County government,” he added.

The $800,000 is part of a $15 million COVID-19 response grant the county elections department received from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, funneled through left-leaning nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life.

Zuckerberg and his wife have committed $300 million for election offices across the country to “promote safe and reliable voting” during the Chinese coronavirus outbreak.

According to their grant proposal to CTCL, Dallas County’s Elections Department plans to spend about a third of their money—$4.72 million—to “promote ballot by mail and early voting ahead of the November election by printing, providing postage and sending absentee voting information mailers to every household in Dallas County.”

Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole, who is retiring at the end of November after a controversial nine-year tenure, is a member of CTCL’s advisory board.

Citizens who called in Friday to object to Jenkins’ $800,000 marketing scheme also questioned how the rest of the CTCL grant is being spent.

“We need to have some serious scrutiny on this,” Dallas County resident Lynn Davenport told commissioners during public comments. “Complete transparency.”

Citizens with questions or concerns can contact their Dallas County representatives.

Judge Clay Jenkins: DCJudge@dallascounty.org | (214) 653-7949

District 1 – Theresa Daniel: Theresa.Daniel@dallascounty.org | 214-653-7473
District 2 – J.J. Koch: JJ.Koch@dallascounty.org | 214-653-6100
District 3 – John Wiley Price: John.Price@dallascounty.org | 214-653-6671
District 4 – Elba Garcia: Elba.GarciaDDS@dallascounty.org | 214-653-6670

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.