The Texas Ethics Commission issued an order of dismissal in the complaint against Big Spring Mayor Tommy Duncan, saying there was insufficient evidence a violation of law or rules administered by the agency had occurred.
The complaint was filed with TEC by local resident Joyce Crooker after a Big Spring Herald report uncovered Duncan — along with District 3 Councilman Glenn Carrigan and District 1 Councilman Marcus Fernandez — had all accepted campaign contributions from corporations. Under the Texas Ethics Commission Title 15 Election Code, candidates seeking to hold office are not allowed to accept campaign contributions from corporations.
According to the campaign report submitted by Duncan, he accepted a $300 political contribution from Hydro Dynamics Inc. and a $500 political contribution from Quad A Inc. during his bid for mayor in 2010.
According to reports issued by TEC, Duncan submitted a sworn statement claiming he did not receive or deposit the corporate checks in question.
“I do not believe I personally received or deposited the contributions in question,” Duncan's statement reads. “I do assure you I did not recognize any contribution to my campaign as coming from a corporation. In May of 2011, after first becoming aware of the source of these contributions and understanding I could not accept them, I repaid both corporations in full.”
The TEC report states Duncan also swore, “Please note the 'Deposit Only' notation on the back of these checks is not in my hand and was not made by me.
“I do not know who wrote 'deposit only' and (the campaign bank account number) on the back of the checks in question. I can assure you I did not. I assume it was either a bank employee or my campaign treasurer. She cannot remember if she deposited those specific checks or not.”
Duncan's sworn statement to TEC comes as a stark contrast to the statement he issued to the press in May 2011 after the illegal contributions were brought to light.
“I did not realize those checks were coming from corporations but the buck stops here. I will accept responsibility for that,” Duncan said. “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.”
According to the commission's findings, the evidence in the case failed to meet necessary requirements.
“The evidence is insufficient to show the respondent knowingly accepted the contributions in violation of Chapter 253 of the Election Code,” the report reads. “Therefore, there is insufficient evidence that the respondent violated Sections 253.003 (b) or 253.094 (a) of the Election Code.”
The dismissal of the complaint against Duncan comes after fellow council members Fernandez and Carrigan were both fined $200 by the state commission for identical infractions of the Election Code.
Carrigan signed an assurance of voluntary compliance June 29 after waiving his right to a hearing before the commission or an administrative law judge. According to the campaign report submitted by Carrigan during his 2011 bid for the District 3 seat, the councilman reported receiving $1,000 from Quad A Inc. and $400 from Hydro Dymanics.
Fernandez was sanctioned by the Texas Ethics Commission in late November as a result of the complaint filed against him.
“After considering the nature, circumstances and consequences of the violations described under Sections 3 and 4, the sanction necessary to deter future violations, the commission imposes a $200 civil penalty,” the TEC notice reads.”
Similar campaign finance reports filed with the city's secretary during the 2011 municipal elections show Fernandez accepted a donation of $1,000 from Quad A Inc. and a $200 donation from Hydro Dynamics.
Crooker said she was less than pleased with the commission's dismissal.
“With the complaints against Carrigan and Fernandez, the TEC held them responsible for their actions, and I feel like all of our politicians — whether on a local level or state and higher — should be held accountable,” Crooker said. “However, to turn around and dismiss the exact same complaint against Duncan is ridiculous.
“Regardless of who wrote what on those checks, Mayor Duncan signed an affidavit saying he understood the law and would abide by it. Ultimately, he is responsible and should be held accountable. The people of Big Spring deserved better than this.”