Some Houston mayoral candidates are having to give back money after receiving too much

Nick Natario Image
Thursday, July 20, 2023
Houston mayoral candidates have to return some campaign contributions
Some Houston mayoral candidates are having to return money after errors found in financial reports.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Some Houston mayoral candidates are having to give back money after errors found in financial reports showed they took too much or received funds from a dead person.

What was found inside a campaign finance report for Houston's mayoral bid isn't a good look to some political experts.

"I'm sure they've endured the wrath of Congresswoman (Sheila) Jackson Lee, who isn't happy with this embarrassment," Rice University Political Science Professor Mark Jones said.

Jones said that what was found in Sheila Jackson Lee's finance report was an obvious mistake.

"It's a bad look because the treasurer or whoever filed Sheila Jackson Lee's campaign statement should've noticed that you had $25,000," Jones explained.

Mayoral candidates aren't allowed to receive more than $5,000 from a person, and $10,000 from a group. ABC13 found five instances where her campaign broke those rules. It wasn't just that. About $1,000 came from someone who died months ago.

Jackson Lee's campaign said it was a mistake, and that the money came from the dead woman's daughter.

Her campaign sent ABC13 the following statement:

"Our campaign is committed to transparency and accuracy, which is why the donations were flagged by the campaign in a letter to the city when we submitted our campaign finance report. Our reports have been filed correctly to reflect this commitment to transparency, and the excessive donations are being refunded."

But she's not the only one who had errors. John Whitmire took $5,000 extra from the police union, and Lee Kaplan took an extra $160 from a donor.

When ABC13 reached out to Kaplan's campaign, we received this statement:

"We will refund the small excess contribution amount to the one donor. And we hope that Senator Whitmire will consider refunding the millions of dollars of excess contributions from his state senate account since all the Mayoral candidates should be held to the same $5,000 per individual and $10,000 per PAC contribution limit for the current election cycle."

Whitmire's campaign money includes cash raised for political office that wasn't Houston's mayor. Political experts told ABC13 it's unclear if he's able to use that money for the mayor's race. However, he has claimed it on his mayoral campaign finance report.

Whitmire's spokesperson sent ABC13 a statement regarding the extra money his campaign received:

"We overlooked it. The money has been refunded. A correction is being filed. John Whitmire is proud to have the support of rank and file police officers," Communications Director Sue Davis said.

The candidates have time to fix the mistake and return the money. The reports also gave a glimpse into how the race is going.

Four candidates have more than $1 million on hand. Whitmire has about $9.9 million. Gilbert Garcia $2.9 million. Kaplan has $1.4 million, and Jackson Lee has a million.

Experts believe Whitmire and Jackson Lee are the favorites, but don't count out others.

"I would say the ones who are leading there are the ones with better resources, such as Gilbert Garcia and Lee Kaplan," Jones said. "I don't think we would want to count out Robert Gallegos or MJ Khan yet."

With only a few months to go, money experts say will be key. But some campaigns will find themselves having thousands less after errors were made.

"There's no penalty for taking that money, they simply need to return it to the donor and file an amended campaign finance return," Jones explained.

These are actions the campaigns told ABC13 they plan to do.

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