An investigation into the alleged acceptance of illegal campaign contributions will go forward, the district attorney has confirmed, while the official in question — Mayor Tommy Duncan — said he will accept responsibility for making a mistake.
“I met with the Texas Rangers and requested they investigate this matter throughly as to the mayor and the corporations,” District Attorney Hardy Wilkerson said during a press conference Friday afternoon at the Howard County Courthouse.
The press conference reiterated what the Herald had reported in its edition earlier that day — that the newspaper had turned campaign finance reports over to the Howard County Sheriff's Office that were filed during Duncan's May 2010 mayoral bid. The reports indicated Duncan had accepted contributions of $300 from Hydro Dynamics Inc. and $500 from Quad A Inc. According to the Texas Ethics Commission, it is a violation of the Election Code for a candidate running for mayor in Texas to accept campaign contributions from a corporation.
The information had been turned over to investigators with the Texas Rangers Thursday afternoon after Sheriff Stan Parker contacted the state law enforcement agency, a decision he said was normal protocol when a local elected official is being investigated. He reiterated Friday that his office would not be the agency investigating the case.
Later Friday, Mayor Duncan told the Herald he had accepted the checks from individuals and hadn't realized they were from corporations.
“I did not realize those checks were coming from corporations but the buck stops here. I will accept responsibility for that,” said Duncan. “Both of those people have called me and apologized, saying they should have written the checks on their personal account. They both said they would be willing to reimburse this out of their personal account or do whatever it takes to make it right.”
What it takes to “make it right” will fall back to the district attorney following the investigation by the Texas Rangers.
The alleged violations are considered third-degree felonies and could be punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000, according to the Texas Election Code.
“As the investigation really hasn't even begun yet, I believe it would be premature for me make further comment,” Wilkerson said.
Information for the allegations was uncovered after the Herald received a report from a confidential informant regarding the illegal contributions. The Herald had an attorney request the campaign finance reports for all candidates running in the 2010 municipal elections from the city of Big Spring. Duncan's were the only ones which indicated irregularities.
“It is very odd to me that this is coming up during the last weekend of an election in which two people I am supporting are candidates,” Duncan said, speaking of District 1 candidate Marcus Fernandez and District 3 candidate Glenn Carrigan. “I think it is an effort by a confidential informant to throw mud at me in hopes that it will bounce off and slander those I support.”
Fernandez is running against incumbent Stephanie Horton while Carrigan is running against incumbent Joann Staulcup and Shannon Thomason as well as write-in candidate Oscar Velasco. Early voting continues through Tuesday at the county courthouse. Election day is Saturday, May 14.