With less than a year before Houstonians head to the polls to elect a new mayor, city council, and a host of other citywide offices, early candidates are starting to throw their names in the ring vying for these respective positions.
Among these early candidates are Chris Bell and Trebor Gordon, who both filed lawsuits contesting the City of Houston’s fundraising ordinance which gives an unfair advantage to officials currently in office. The ordinance prohibits candidates from soliciting and receiving funds until the February prior to their election day.
Some have found ways around this “blackout period.”
After the first of February, incumbents and non-city office holders can transfer funds, raised by other means, to their campaigns in the City of Houston. One person taking advantage of this is State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who raised over $400,000 for re-election despite being unopposed. Ethics rules prohibit Turner from raising funds to his state house account while the legislature is in session when other mayoral candidates will be courting donors during the first half of 2015. A Houston newspaper stated that Turner plans to transfer the first $5,000 from each donation to his state campaign account to his mayoral campaign once the blackout ends.
One major concern raised about Houston’s ordinance is that it encourages these kind of shadow campaigns for some, while other candidates sit idly by, waiting until they are allowed to begin their operations. From the start, non-incumbents and political newcomers have the deck stacked against them.
Chris Bell was the first to file suit contesting the city’s fundraising ordinance. He argues that Houston’s Attorney, David Feldman, should limit Turner’s transfers from his officeholder account to $10,000 total, so as to not exceed the city contribution limit for groups. Bell believes that the account should be treated as one large fund instead of dividing it into an unlimited number of individual $5,000 donations.
The second suit comes from Trebor Gordon, a candidate for one of the five at-large seats on Houston City Council. Gordon’s lawsuit claims that the ban violates the First Amendment, and “presents an unconstitutional barrier for candidates that are not already elected officials.”
While City Hall said they will review the complaint, Feldman has stated that he believes it comes down to a difference in interpretation of the law and does not intend on changing it.
Houston’s ban is just another way to allow the existing political guard to stay in power, while keeping fresh ideas and new faces out. Demanding an end to this crony-style protectionist scheme would be a good first step for Houstonians to take in order to end the cycle of elitist rule in City Hall once and for all.