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The race for political contributions

By Gabe Semenza
Feb. 27, 2010 at 11 p.m.
Updated Feb. 27, 2010 at 8:28 p.m.

Ron Reyna

To view a breakdown of all candidates' finance reports, see Page B7.

OnlineTo view every campaign finance report by candidate, visit www.VictoriaAdvocate.com and click this story.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Many of the attached PDFs, while compressed, remain large, multi-page files. Please be patient. Some candidates' campaign finance reports might take a few moments to open.

Come Tuesday, the Democratic nominee for county judge can, with a knowing smile, point to a piggy bank.

Incumbent County Judge Don Pozzi raked in the contributions and by far outpaced his opponent, as well as every other contested candidate.

Challenger Ron Reyna didn't accept a dime.

No other primary race better illustrates the differences some maintain about campaign funding, and just where a candidate's election money should come from.

FOREGOING CONTRIBUTIONS

Reyna, 49, is a longtime businessman who operates electrical and information technology companies. He positions himself in this political race as the hard-working common man. If elected, he vows to lead via his real-world experience.

Reyna claims that experience compelled him to avoid campaign contributions, which he did altogether as of the Feb. 22 elections finance reporting deadline.

"I fund my own campaigns. I don't want to be in the position where I'm indebted to anyone," Reyna said. "I need people's votes more than I need their money."

Pozzi, on the other hand, amassed a war chest of 125 contributions worth $51,809 in political capital, as of the same reporting deadline.

Pozzi's contributions come from friends, doctors, lawyers and other well-known names from the area. A handful of Pozzi's contributors, however, do business with the county. Don Krueger, who owns Krueger Construction, and Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, an Austin tax collection firm, represent just two examples.

The Krueger family and the tax collection firm contributed $1,250 and $1,500 to Pozzi, respectively. They also contributed to other contested commissioners court incumbents, including Commissioners Kevin Janak and Wayne Dierlam.

"I don't want to be in a position to take money from someone I might be doing business with on the county level," Reyna said. "That's not illegal, but I think it's unethical. It's kind of odd that people the county does business with every year are donating to his campaign."

Dave Levinthal is spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks money in state and national politics, as well as its effect on elections and public policy.

"When a person makes a donation and they do business with the very county the recipient is running to represent, the public needs to be aware there's a money connection there," Levinthal said. "That doesn't mean necessarily that anything torrid is going on. But often times, if you're in business and make a donation, you're not necessarily doing it out of the goodness in your heart. You might be doing it for something in return."

IN POZZI'S DEFENSE

Pozzi is in his eighth year as county judge. The 66-year-old views the $51,809 he received in campaign contributions differently than does his opponent.

"I think it indicates I have an awful lot of support in this community," Pozzi said. "I'm not ashamed of anything I've done in office. I think I've represented this community very well, regardless of what the dissenters say. I don't feel I owe any favors to anyone. The vast majority of my contributions came from friends of mine."

He accepts contributions from people and companies who do business with the county only if a potential conflict, such as an upcoming bid, doesn't loom, he said.

"For example, if we were in the process - and we're not - of opening bids next week, yeah, then I'd have to step back and say, 'Wait,'" Pozzi said.

Pozzi also said the commissioners court doesn't initially review bids. First, the county auditor's office, engineers and architects review bids from outside companies and then submit recommendations to the court, he said.

The county's lawyer reviews the bid before the court votes to accept it.

"If it's the lowest and best bid, that's the one we go with," Pozzi said. "There have been bids Krueger Construction has won and bids Krueger has lost. When I make decisions, the thought never, never enters my mind to think about what party you belong to or whether you give me any money. That's ridiculous. I represent the people of the county and not just the 100-plus who contributed to my campaign."

Reyna discusses the county's judge's campaign contributions, Pozzi said, because the challenger must resort to these measures to gain ground against a popular incumbent.

"I appreciate the people who contribute to my campaign and I'm glad I have their support," Pozzi said. "If they expect something in return, they don't need to give me money. If someone doesn't believe that, just call me. I'll sit down and talk to anybody about it."

Reyna, meanwhile, said that while he expects to win the party's nomination on Tuesday, he faces an uphill battle because of his choice regarding contributions.

"I'd be crazy to say otherwise. The more money you have, the more you can do," Reyna said. "Going into this, I knew good and well what I was up against. We're doing what we can with what we have."

CAMPAIGN FINANCE TIDBITS

Joseph Garza, a candidate for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 3, failed to file a full version of his campaign finance reports, according to records at the Victoria County Elections Office. Candidates were required to report finances on three occasions - by Jan. 15, Feb. 2 and Feb. 22. Garza filed just one report on Jan. 21.

A summary of all contributions and expenditures across nine contested races show candidates raised $153,205 in contributions and spent $131,986 as of Feb. 22, the last reporting deadline.

The race for County Court-at- Law Judge No. 2 between Daniel Gilliam and Travis Ernst became expensive. The two candidates garnered $50,000 in contributions and spent $56,000. They began accepting contributions in mid-to-late 2009, according to records.

Candidates for Republican Party chairperson are not required to file finance reports with the county elections office, and thus those reports were unavailable. Because party chairpersons do not affect the county tax rate, the state does not require them to report contributions, said George Matthews, county elections administrator.

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