Victoria County candidate amends financial report to adhere to state law

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Feb. 26, 2014 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 26, 2014 at 8:27 p.m.

A Victoria County candidate released the names of three financial backers Wednesday after they had been listed anonymously on her financial campaign report.

Lisa Hernandez, a Republican county treasurer candidate, cited three donations totaling $2,100 as "anonymous" in financial reports dating to November, which is a state law violation.

Hernandez, 51, said the donors requested their names be kept private.

"It's because they're Democrats," she said. "I'm laughing, but it's true, they're not Republicans."

Initially, Hernandez would not release the names of the three donors even after the state law was brought to her attention Wednesday.

"I'm not going to give that to you," she told the Advocate. "I'm just honoring their wishes."

After being notified Wednesday that her report did not follow state law, Hernandez consulted with the county elections administrator and her campaign treasurer, Kim Moore, of Victoria, who Hernandez said had prior election experience. Moore had advised reporting anonymous donations was legal, Hernandez said.

Hernandez filed a correction with the county elections administration Wednesday afternoon and released the names of the donors: $1,000 from Ralph Letsinger, of Victoria; $1,000 from Terri Teinert, of Harlingen; and $100 from Erin Garner, of Victoria.

Hernandez is running for the Republican nomination in the March 4 primary election against two-term incumbent Sean Kennedy.

According to the Texas Election Code, "Texas law does not allow anonymous contributions."

Candidates must disclose the actual source of contributions, including name and address, for donations exceeding $50.

Natalia Luna Ashley, interim executive director of the Texas State Ethics Commission, said if the candidate knows who the donor is, there is a legal requirement to disclose that information.

The law is written "so voters can make an informed decision about candidates as they go to vote," Ashley said. "In addition, I think it is not only to allow voters to make informed decisions but to ensure the public's confidence and trust in the elections and in its government."

Elections Administrator George Matthews said as far as financial reporting goes, "the instructions are pretty straightforward."

"If it's over $50, you must give name and address of the person, whether cash or in-kind (donation)," Matthews said.

If a candidate receives a contribution from an anonymous source, the candidates must give it to a recognized tax-exempt charitable organization, said Ashley, the ethics commission director.

Hernandez's opponent, Kennedy, said the reporting laws "are important for helping keep elections open and honest."

"I reported my campaign finances fully, and I don't understand why my opponent seems to be trying to conceal thousands of dollars in campaign contributions," he said. "As county treasurer, I've always been a strong believer in transparency, and I've worked to increase transparency in county government."

Republican Party Chairman Michael Cloud said the local party does not have any direct involvement with the financial reporting process.

"We encourage all our candidates to comply with ethics laws," he said.

John Griffin, a local attorney and former Democratic Party chairman, said Hernandez's report is "inexplicable."

"You don't ever see the word anonymous on financial reports because it's so totally contrary to the election code," he said. "State law makes it pretty clear that voters are entitled to know who is supporting candidates for public office, be they Democrats or Republicans."

Hernandez said she reviewed the law but had not "memorized it."

Griffin said the law does not include any language "that ever gives anybody the notion that anonymous contributions of this size are appropriate."



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