In part two of our District 1 coverage, we have Monica Richart and Elizabeth Santos. (We covered the pro-testing, ed reform candidate, Gretchen Himsl, last week.)
Monica was first to announce her candidacy for District 1 back in the spring after a lengthy period of exploring support for a run over the prior year. Though Santos has received more endorsements, Richart received an early endorsement and campaign contribution from Texas Latina List.
Texas Latina List is a Fort Worth-based political action committee focused on getting progressive Latina candidates into office in Texas. Its activity this year has been focused in DFW with only two endorsements outside of the Metroplex: one in San Antonio and Richart in Houston. All of Texas Latina List’s contributors this year are from the DFW area except one: Houston ISD board member Anne Sung.
Richart has two other institutional donors of significance disclosed so far.
The first is Theron Strategies which is a newly formed company run by Adrian Garcia. Garcia is the former Harris County Sheriff who resigned to run for Mayor and then later ran and lost against Congressman Gene Green in the Democratic primary. In addition to Theron Strategies, Garcia recently formed Latino Democrat PAC which also endorsed Monica. No donations from this PAC have been registered yet.
The second institutional donation to the Richart campaign is from Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins & Mott which is a large law firm and main competitor to Linebarger, Goggan Blair & Sampson. Linebarger has massive contracts with both Houston ISD and the City of Houston for collection of delinquent property taxes. Linebarger is a ubiquitous campaign contributor throughout the district, city and state and often subcontracts "services" to politically friendly firms such as Mayor Turner's law firm and Marc Campos (campaign consultant to other District 1 candidate, Gretchen Himsl).
Linebarger and Perdue are the two main firms that provide this property tax service in Texas. We’ve seen Perdue lawyers in attendance at Houston ISD board meetings recently, and trustee Manuel Rodriguez attempted to get the board to review and consider changes to Linebarger as its sole vendor when it was up for renewal this past year.
The final notable contribution on Monica Richart’s early campaign finance filing was a personal donation from Jason Spencer. Spencer and his wife live in Houston ISD District 2 and both held at various times the positions of Communications Chief and Chief of Staff under HISD’s last superintendent, Terry Grier. Both Spencers left HISD shortly after Richard Carranza began as superintendent. Jason Spencer now handles communications and government relations for Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales. Helen Spencer is Chief Information Officer for the Harris County Department of Education which is a major partner and vendor for Houston ISD. In the last year, Houston ISD paid Harris County DOE over $3 million for various services.
During the first half of 2017 (the period for which campaign finance contributions are on record), Elizabeth Santos raised significantly more money than Monica Richart, approximately $11,000 versus a little under $6,000. Even while taking in twice as much money, we have found little to note in the contributions to Santos' campaign.
We consider campaign contributions notable when they are from people or institutions with vendor or political connections, as these contributions suggest potential influence in the future by someone seeking to do business with or seeking to influence the policy decisions of the school board. The size of a donation is notable to us when it's $1000 or more from someone other than family. So far, Elizabeth Santos has no contributions from anyone tied to a current or potential Houston ISD vendor, and she has only one non-family individual who has contributed $1000 or more, a parent in District 1 and a Santos campaign volunteer.
In the interest of transparency, we’ll write about one donation that has yet to be disclosed in public filings—ours.
After all of our research and after Elizabeth Santos made public commitments early on to refuse money from HISD vendors, we were compelled to donate and support such an independent campaign. We live in District 1 and have been disappointed in our representation these past few years. After attending almost every board meeting for the last three years, one thing is clear to us—there are significant influences on this board other than parents and students and the average voter. The HISD board has relaxed its campaign finance ethics standards, fired its independent auditor, spent millions of dollars defending a corrupt former trustee and fought endlessly with bond contractors who assert that HISD has a pay-to-play culture. We cannot sit by while trustees and their votes are clearly bought and sold to the highest bidder; we must seize the opportunity to support someone actively pushing back against that influence.
So, when new fundraising disclosures are filed next week, Ben & Sarah Becker will show up as a $1,000 contributor to the Elizabeth Santos campaign. Indeed, we hope that will register as a notable contribution.
This isn’t an accident. This isn’t unrelated to our research and the facts we’ve written about the other two candidates. Anyone can read the public campaign reports and find the same connections that we have found. On the contrary, our contribution is the direct result of what we’ve uncovered. If change in HISD ever had a chance, it will be when we can elect trustees that we can actually trust. And to that end, we’ve put our money where we think that trust lies—in Elizabeth Santos.
To conclude, here’s the District 1 candidates in their own words answering a question about whether they think taking money from HISD vendors is right or wrong. Spoiler alert: only one candidate commits to a higher standard.