Tuesday, June 26, 2007

ON POLITICS - Greeting the season by closing loopholes

By KRISTEN MACK - Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle - Jan. 27, 2005

With this year's city campaign season looming, City Council closed — or at least narrowed — a loophole that some believed gave certain candidates a head start in campaign funding.

[Houston] Council this week put a $10,000 cap on the amount that people who hold non-city elective offices can transfer from campaign coffers for those offices to fund city races.

Candidates in November's [Houston] city election cannot begin raising money until Tuesday. Council set the cap out of concern that non-city elected officials who have raised money previously for those offices could transfer unlimited funds into city campaign accounts.

Councilman Gordon Quan, who chairs council's ethics committee, said the changes specifically were prompted by the candidacies of Herman Litt, who is running for District C, and Jay Aiyer, who is running in at-large Position 2. Both are Houston Community College System trustees.

Aiyer held a fund-raiser this fall for his HCC seat, and at least one of his council opponents complained that he would use the money for his council run.

Under the new rules, Quan said, committed contributors can always write checks for the city races.

"It's more honest that way," he said. "Give it to them for what they are running for, rather than false pretenses."

Aiyer said he doesn't believe the change targeted him.

"It is not a problem for me," he said. "Folks that contributed in the past, I assume will be contributors in the future."

Whatever their funding sources, candidates already are declaring for four seats that term-limited members council members will have to vacate at the end of this year.

And a fifth seat may open up if M.J. Khan, first-term councilman in District F, runs for the at-large Position 2. His political consultant, Spencer Neumann, expects Khan will announce this spring that he will be running for the citywide seat.

Some council members see at-large positions as more alluring because they allow them to focus on higher-profile citywide issues instead of con-
stituent-based concerns.

Council members who jump from district to at-large seats still are subject to the city's three-term limit.

Quan, a Chinese-American who is term-limited in Position 2, said he is concerned that Khan and Aiyer, both South Asians, will split the Asian vote.

But Aiyer said the growing Asian community still isn't big enough to swing an election anyway.

Houston Independent School District Trustee Kevin Hoffman, who was eyeing the Position 2 and District B seats, has decided not to run.

Architect Peter Brown is trying to position himself as the front-runner for at-large Position 1, being vacated by term-limited Councilman Mark Ellis. Brown, a Democrat and urban planning advocate who also ran for council in 2003, officially declared in May that he would run again.

Earlier this month Brown began circulating a letter asking people to join his campaign effort. The letter was signed by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, real estate developer Ed Wulfe, attorney Michael Solar and engineer Terry Cheng — covering several ethnic and political bases.

Businessman Jeff Daily, Brown's ideological opposite and also a 2003 City Council candidate, said he still is mulling whether to run for Position 1.

Attorney and former University of Houston track star Jolanda Jones, who along with Brown challenged Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs in 2003, has said she also intends to run again, probably for Position 1.

Jones was a contestant on the CBS reality show Survivor, which airs beginning Feb. 17. A confidentiality agreement prohibits her from revealing whether she won the $1 million jackpot when the show taped last year.

If she did, it might help her survive an expensive council race.

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