On 3/29/15 I filed a complaint with the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) Trustees over their USE OF OUR LOCAL TAX DOLLARS TO SUPPORT DEMOCRAT CAMPAIGNS.
Agenda items (8A/9A)
A brief history
HCDE established a 501(c)(3) called The Education Foundation of Harris County (EFHC) to “support” HCDE, and uses Harris County property tax funds to supply EFHC free:
- Office space
- Meeting facilities
- Six figure salary to their CEO
- Website support
- IT services
- Auditing services
- Record storage
- Grant writing services
EFHC Leadership includes:
- a CEO paid with HCDE tax funds
- HCDE Superintendent serving as Board Secretary
- an HCDE Board Trustee serving as a liaison member
EFHC’s Board meets six times per year. Their meeting minutes are distributed via HCDE’s tax funded email system and stored by HCDE employees. At three of those meetings held at HCDE facilities with HCDE Board and Administration participating, the minutes show Douglas Kleiner (EFHC President/CEO) allowed:
- HCDE Board Member Diane Trautman to report on political campaigns involving HCDE Trustees and
- Support the Democrat candidates for public office
Quotes from EFHC’s official meeting minutes:
9/26/13: …We need to make sure we have a competitive candidate to fill that slot and most importantly one who supports HCDE and its programs. Also, in 2014, Debbie Kerner is up for re-election, and we need to support her.
3/27/14: The primary elections are over and the two candidates for HCDE Trustee positions I would ask you to endorse and vote for in the upcoming November election are Debbie Kerner, current HCDE board vice president and Melissa Noriega, former Houston city councilwoman and administrator at HISD. The opponents for both of these women support the abolishment of HCDE, Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners.
5/22/14: …Trautman also noted that she was elected Board of Trustees Vice President, taking Debra Kerner’s place. She also reminded the Board that elections are this fall. Two candidates will be on the ballot for HCDE Trustee positions that she feels are most supportive of HCDE’s mission: Melissa Noriega and incumbent, Debra Kerner.View the documents: here
EFHC has filed with the IRS as a 501(c)(3). The IRSwebsite reads:
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.
Thus, EFHC is not in compliance with the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.
Texas Ethics Commission Opinions read:
Section 255.003 of the Election Code states that an officer or employee of a political subdivision may not knowingly spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising. “Spending” of public funds includes the use of political subdivision employees’ work time, the use of existing political subdivision equipment, and the use of facilities maintained by a political subdivision. Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 443 (2002) (EAO 443).
We also caution that government resources generally may not be used for campaign purposes. See Penal Code § 39.02.
A Short Guide To The Prohibition Against Using SchoolDistrict Resources For Political Advertising In Connection With An Election pamphlet produced by the Texas Ethics Commission states:
An officer or employee of a political subdivision may not spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising.
”Political advertising” is a communication that advocates a particular outcome in an election
The prohibition applies to any “officer or employee of a political subdivision.” In other words, if a school district employee makes a decision to use district resources in violation of the prohibition, the employee could be fined by the Ethics Commission or held criminally liable. School board members, as “officers”of a school district, are also subject to the prohibition.
A school district board member or employee would violate the prohibition
by “spending or authorizing the spending of public funds” for political advertising.
Also, it is not permissible to authorize the use of the paid time of the school district employees to create or distribute political advertising. For example, school district staff may not copy, staple, or distribute political advertising on work time.
Another provision of the Texas Election Code prohibits a school board member for employee from using or authorizing the use of an internal mail system to distribute political advertising. An internal mail system is a system operated by a school district to deliver written documents to its board members or employees. A violation of this prohibition could also lead to the imposition of fines by the Ethics Commission or to criminal prosecution.
View supporting documents: here
Not a Simple Mistake
A mistake is something happening one time. Someone beginning to speak in support of a candidate in a local election before being stopped by the CEO of a 501(c)(3) reminding the board that by law they can’t discuss candidates or campaigns.
But these minutes show the activity was not only routine, it is so acceptable at EFHC that it was included in their OFFICIAL MEETING MINUTES! Two out of six meetings in 2014 means 33% of their meetings included political campaign activity. That is no simple mistake.
The political activity by the EFHC is a repeated and blatant violation of both the Internal Revenue Code and Texas Election Code. Because HCDE is supporting this activity with Harris County taxpayer funds I urge HCDE to immediately:
- sever all ties between HCDE and EFHC including removal of EFHC and all EFHC documents from HCDE property and servers
- initiate legal action to force EFHC to refund all public funds it received from HCDE since 9/26/2013
- approve a public censure of HCDE Trustee Diane Trautman for using her position as EFHC liaison for political purposes
- issue a public apology to the Republican Party of Harris County for allowing the use of public funds to promote Democrat candidates for County School Trustee
Voice your opinion
You may voice your opinion to the HCDE Board via email:
Angie Chesnut, President
Kay Smith, Vice President
Erica Lee Carter
You may voice your opinion to the HCDE Board via phone message: 713-694-6300
You may also speak in person during the Open Forum at the HCDE Board meeting
Location: HCDE AdministrationRonald W. Reagan Building
6300 Irvington Blvd.
Houston, TX 77022