Both city council candidates who allegedly took illegal campaign contributions said Tuesday they did so without knowing they were breaking the law.
Marcus Fernandez, a candidate for District 1 in Saturday's city elections, and James Glen Carrigan, who is running for the District 3 seat, said they became aware they had possibly taken illegal contributions when Big Spring Mayor Tommy Duncan came under fire last week for accepting campaign contributions from two local corporations, Quad A Inc. and Hydro Dynamics.
According to a campaign finance report filed with the city's secretary, Fernandez accepted a donation of $1,000 from Quad A Inc., P.O. Box 2216 in Big Spring, and a $200 donation from Hydro Dynamics, 4312 S. Highway 87 in Big Spring.
“After reading the article I contacted my campaign treasurer and requested a complete review and audit of all contributions made to my campaign,” Fernandez said Tuesday. “Upon review my treasurer discovered a donation from Quad A Inc. in the amount of $1,000 and a donation from Hydro Dynamics Inc. for $200, which was reported during our first financial report as required by state law.”
Carrigan said he, too, became aware of the contributions in question shortly after the Texas Rangers announced an investigation into Duncan's campaign finances had been launched.
“We discovered the contributions when the allegations against Mayor Duncan came out. We realized we might have accepted contributions from the same people,” Carrigan said. “We are now in the process of correcting the situation by returning the money.”
Carrigan reported he had received $1,000 from Quad A Inc. and $400 from Hydro Dymanics.
Both men insist they were unaware it was illegal to receive campaign contributions from a corporation at the time the funds were accepted.
“No, I wasn't aware it was illegal,” Carrigan said.
When filing for an elected position, candidates for Big Spring City Council, including the office of mayor, are required to fill out and sign various forms, one of which details appointment of a campaign treasurer. That document includes the statement “I am aware of the restrictions in title 15 of the Election Code on contributions from corporations and labor organizations.”
Both men signed the affidavits saying they understood the state law governing campaign contributions. However, both men now say they didn't understand it.
Fernandez maintains, however, that legal counsel provided to him since the alleged violations were discovered indicates it's the Texas Election Code, not him, that is in violation of the law.
“I contacted my attorney, Rick Eanes, who informed me of a recent Supreme Court decision which provides that the government may not ban political spending and campaign contributions by corporations to support individual candidates in elections,” Fernandez said.
Tim Sorrells, deputy general counsel for the Texas Ethics Commission, said the Supreme Court decision has changed the role corporations may play in elections, but it hasn't changed one key issue: Donations made directly to candidates by corporations.
“The Supreme Court's decision has changed how corporations can support or oppose candidates through advertising,” Sorrells said. “However, the prohibition on corporations or unions donating money to individual candidates is unchanged. It is still illegal by Texas law for a candidate to accept campaign contributions from a corporation.”
Duncan has openly campaigned for Carrigan and Fernandez, who are seeking to defeat longtime incumbents in Saturday's elections. Fernandez is trying to unseat Stephanie Horton while Carrigan is attempting to oust Joann Staulcup. Also seeking the District 3 seat are Shannon Thomason and write-in candidate Oscar Velasco.
Also on the ballot Saturday is a measure which would set term limits for council members — something Horton and Staulcup have opposed but the mayor has championed.
While investigating the finance reports of Fernandez and Carrigan, the Herald also looked into the reports of the other candidates in this weekend's elections but found no irregularities.