Save Austin Now, the nonprofit that’s gathering signatures to reinstate the town’s ban on homeless tenting, confronted an ethics grievance ultimately week’s Ethics Overview Fee assembly. The grievance, introduced by political guide Mark Littlefield, alleges that the group overstepped the bounds of its 501(c)(4) standing by partaking in unauthorized political exercise and failing to reveal donors.
“All of us knew what they had been doing and why they had been doing it,” Littlefield stated. “We knew that they had been beginning with the nonprofit so as to not disclose their donors.”
In final week’s preliminary listening to, the fee’s job was to guage whether or not the grievance merited a closing listening to.
Donna Davidson, counsel for Save Austin Now, requested dismissal, arguing that the fee didn’t have jurisdiction to rule on the standing of the group. “Whether or not Save Austin Now could be a political committee will not be a call that may be made by this fee,” Davidson stated.
Commissioners disagreed. “I don’t purchase the jurisdictional argument,” Chair Luis Soberon stated. Commissioner Jaustin Ohueri stated that the fee can use the “information and circumstances” of the case, simply as a federal courtroom would, to find out whether or not the group is a 501(c)(4) or a political motion committee and whether or not it violated metropolis code.
In line with federal regulation, solely a few of a 501(c)(4) group’s exercise may be political. Davidson insisted that Save Austin Now does extra than simply advocate for the poll measure; it tries to supply assist for the homeless and work with different teams that achieve this.
“Simply because solely a slice of what Save Austin Now has been doing has been extremely publicized, doesn’t imply there should not different efforts to teach, to tell, to work in the direction of the betterment of the town of Austin,” Davidson stated.
Federal regulation additionally limits the quantity of political expenditures a 501(c)(4) could make. “We argue that we haven’t met that threshold,” Davidson stated. Littlefield claimed that Save Austin Now had paid individuals to gather signatures. Davidson refuted the cost: “I don’t imagine any volunteers had been paid.”
Littlefield, who stated he misunderstood the aim of the assembly, offered little proof of the alleged violations. When requested to offer extra proof, Littlefield stated: “You understand it if you see it.” Commissioner Betsy Greenberg questioned whether or not the grievance merited a closing listening to, given the dearth of proof. “We want higher proof than ‘you realize it if you see it,’” she stated.
Regardless of Greenberg’s reservations, the fee determined unanimously to carry a closing listening to. “We should study extra at a closing listening to,” Commissioner Ohueri stated. “Whether or not Save Austin Now could be a PAC is a reality query; I don’t suppose we now have sufficient information.”
Littlefield promised to deliver witnesses to again his allegations and previewed his request for Save Austin Now’s monetary data. Davidson wished to see all communications between Littlefield and Mayor Steve Adler, Council Member Greg Casar and different political figures.
Earlier than a closing listening to can happen, each Littlefield and Save Austin Now should work collectively to find out what information to deliver to the desk. The fee will conduct an evidentiary listening to at its subsequent scheduled assembly in February. It is going to then schedule the ultimate listening to.
Save Austin Now’s petition to place a poll measure earlier than voters in November 2020 was invalidated after the town clerk found improper signatures, leaving the petition with fewer names than the required 20,000. The nonprofit pushed once more for signatures this winter. If the group gathered the required 30,000 names by the Jan. 18 deadline, the town clerk will then confirm the signatures, a course of that may take three to 5 weeks.
If the petition is legitimate, Davidson stated they might then type a common goal committee that “can be the political arm” of the 501(c)(4) for the following poll measure.
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