A couple of judicial candidates for the 247th Family Court in Harris County have had problems with campaign finance this year.
One of those cases has been well documented and exploited by her opponents. Judge M.L. Walker accepted contributions from family members of a person who, unbeknownst to her, had a pending divorce case in her court. She immediately did the right thing and the case was assigned to a different court. When it was further pointed out that in judicial elections, an individual and their spouse are considered one, thus limiting their total contributions to any judicial candidate to $5,000 instead of $10,000, Judge Walker again immediately returned the amount above $5,000.
Although Judge Walker displayed complete integrity with the immediate responses, her opponents had already mounted a smear campaign, with one local blogger questioning whether or not justice was for sale in her court.
Compare that episode and the way it was handled with this one. I sent the following to candidate John Schmude Wednesday evening.
Hi, John,I’m am looking at your campaign finance reports. I noticed a loan to your campaign for $10,000 on 10/22/13 from Richard Schmude. It is for two years at 4.5 percent interest. Using an online financial calculator (http://www.bankrate.com), the payment will be $436.48.And in fact, your end of year campaign finance report (http://22.214.171.124/public/
600272.pdf) shows a payment on 12/25/2013 of $436.48 to Richard Schmude for Loan Repayment/Reimbursement. Your campaign finance report for the time period of 1/24/2014 through 2/22/2014 (http://126.96.36.199/public/ 606341.pdf), commonly referred to as the “Eight day out report” shows a second payment on 1/29/2014 of $436.48.
A judicial candidate or officeholder who accepts one or more political contributions in the form of loans, including an extension of credit or a guarantee of a loan or extension of credit, from one or more persons related to the candidate or officeholder within the second degree by consanguinity, as determined under Subchapter B, Chapter 573, Government Code, may not use political contributions to repay the loans.Will you help me understand why your campaign chose to pay the loan back in a way that appears to violate this section of the code? I have copied your treasurer and one of your consultants as well.Thank you in advance for your help,David Jennings
John emailed saying that he would look into matter the next morning. And he did and determined that the loan repayments were a technical violation and then talked to the Texas Ethics Commission about the best way to handle it. He told me that he will be filing an amended eight day out report and his father will repay the campaign for the two payments.
See how easy that was? No need to write a sensational headline and get people worked up. I have found that candidates will almost always do the right thing if they are given the opportunity to do so. And if they don’t, then you can take them to task.
Both candidates should be applauded for their integrity and immediately correcting their campaign finance violations, not smeared for it.