The "Friends of Gary Griffith"

Original website disclaimerWho, or better yet what, are (or were) the "Friends of Gary Griffith" and what did they do with "the money?"

Because, until today when Dallas mayoral candidate Gary Griffith changed his website (likely in response to a letter from Dallas.Org ) all of Griffith's letters, yardsigns and other advertising attributed its source to the "Friends of Gary Griffith."

Griffith's original home page can be viewed here .

So what's wrong with this?

"Friends of Gary Griffith" doesn't exist, at least not in a manner that would seem to comply with State Election Laws.

According to Texas Ethics Commission lawyer Tim Sorrells, "advertising must reflect where the money's coming from or who's getting the money," explained Sorrells.

In order for the "Friends of Gary Griffith" to collect money, they must be registered as a Specific-Purpose Action Committee or "S-PAC". This requires filing paperwork with the City Secretary's office.

As an example, Sorrells pointed us to a flyer on the Ethics Commission's website regarding political advertising, and directed us to one particular quote:

The advertising should not be attributed to entities such as "Committee to Elect John Doe" unless a specific-purpose committee named "Committee to Elect John Doe" has filed a campaign treasurer appointment with the Ethics Commission or a local filing authority.

So according to the Texas Election Code , before an "S-PAC" can begin collecting or spending money, it must file a treasurer's report.

If it does not, the "S-PAC," or more accurately the treasurer of the "S-PAC" can be liable for 3 times the amount of money collected or spent.

In addition to that, there's a wild-card in this election, that hasn't been present in previous elections, but we're going to save talking about that for last! So read on!

The "Friends of Gary Griffith" began advertising as early as April, 2006 according to a copy of the earliest letter we were able to locate.

Gary Griffith's July, 2006 campaign finance report shows that Griffith began making payments to web development firm Corporate Citizen's Group in April, 2006 as well.

According to the report, Griffith spent $5,384 with Corporate Citizen's Group between April 19 and June 29, 2006.

Griffith's January, 2007 report shows another $3,879.19 paid to Corporate Citizen's Group for website work.

Corporate Citizen's Group is the group listed, on the footer of Griffith's website, as the developer of garygriffith.com--the same site that, until today, bore the disclaimer "Paid for by Friends of Gary Griffith" (view the page as it existed on April 2 here).

According to Griffith's campaign finance reports he and the "Friends of Gary Griffith" share the same address: "P.O. Box 190179-444, Dallas TX 75219".

Fundraisers, Advertising and Pledge Cards

Griffith Yard Signs"Friends of Gary Griffith" held numerous fundraisers for Griffith including one sponsored by former Dallas Republican Party Chairman Nate Crain.

Another letter advertises a "Bowling For Gary " party and fundraiser for Griffith to be held on April 10, 2007. The letter solicits funds for the "Friends of Gary Griffith."

The group began placing yard signs, and distributing pledge cards (view a pledge card here) all urging that checks be made payable to the "Friends of Gary Griffith."

Griffith's web page, until today, requested online contributions be made to the "Friends of Gary Griffith" (view the previous contribution page here ).

All of Griffith's yard signs displayed the following disclaimer:

Griffith Yardsign Disclaimer

But what if the disclaimer is wrong?

The Political Advertising Flyer from the Texas Ethics Commission answers the question regarding what a candidate must do when he or she discovers their required political advertising is missing or wrong. According to the Commission:

"If you learn that a political advertising sign designed to be seen from the road does not contain a disclosure statement or contains an inaccurate disclosure statement, you should make a good faith attempt to remove or correct those signs that have been distributed. You are not required to attempt to recover other types of political advertising that have been distributed with a missing or inaccurate disclosure statement."

So we'll be keeping an eye out for those replacement yard signs, and future advertising.

The Wild Card

Remember that wild card we promised?

How much money has the "Friends of Gary Griffith" raised, and where did the money go?

According to the City of Dallas, there were no required S-PAC campaign filings for "Friends of Gary Griffith" at the City of Dallas as late as last week. So what about money collected by an "S-PAC" that doesn't seem to exist?

The website change from "Paid for by Friends of Gary Griffith" to "Paid for by Gary Griffith" may indicate that the money solicited by "Friends of Gary Griffith" went directly into the Griffith campaign.

An attorney, familiar with Texas Election Laws, pointed us to the definition of a Direct Campaign Expenditure in the Texas Election Code, then to this section which talks about Unlawful Direct Campaign Expenditures and Unlawfully Making and Accepting Contributions.

Both sections say that "an offense under [each] section is a Class A misdemeanor."

Did any of this cross the line?

According to the opinions and orders on the Texas Ethics Commission's website, and past experience, the Commission has been fairly lenient when a candidate makes a good-faith effort to replace inaccurate yard signs, and correct false advertising.

However, an unregistered "S-PAC" possibly collecting funds directly for a candidate, we're told, may well be new territory for the Commission.

But the Commission, according to the attorney, has never subpoenaed a document or a witness; nor has it referred any matter for criminal prosecution. It has relied totally on sworn responses from candidates or officeholders in making its decisions--and its punishments are usually limited to civil penalties (sometimes none at all).

But the wild card here is Dallas County's newly-elected District Attorney Craig Watkins.

Will Watkins, unlike his predecessor, decide to investigate the behavior of candidates, officeholders, PACs and S-PACs he suspects may have broken the law?

Watkins, according to the attorney we spoke with, (and others like Travis County Attorney Ronnie Earle have demonstrated) doesn't need the Texas Ethics Commission's permission to investigate the matter himself.

So how the "Friends of Gary Griffith" situation plays out is anyone's guess. Was it a "fast one" or just a big mistake?

One thing is for certain: the next stop for the whole affair will be the Texas Ethics Commission!

[Note: The Griffith Campaign never responded to our request for an explanation or clarification. If they do, we'll post their response here.]

Poor Gary. He is just... cheesy?

Poor Gary. He is just trying to show that he has some friends.

Has anybody else noticed how "cheesy" his website is?

Friends of Gary Griffith

I have always been a supporter of Allen and what he does for www.dallas.org.

I truly value many things he does and researches. Obviously, I am a "Friend of Gary Griffith's."

I contributed to his campaign and still firmly believe he is an honest, true leader for Dallas.

That being said, to pick at people's signs is really petty.

Another candidate did it to someone running for city council district 9 because the word "FOR" was not displayed.

Come on, for goodness sake. Let the people running for office run.

Pulling whatever you can find to tarnish their image and reputation is uncalled for.

That is called dirty politics and I am sad to see that you did that, Allen.

I will continue to support you and only say/write encouraging thing about you. It is so easy to criticize those you don't like or support, but so hard to find good things to say.

Well, there are plenty of good things Gary has done for East Dallas.

[Ed Note: You're completely missing the point here. The point is it has nothing to do with signage, rather an unregistered PAC (or S-PAC) collecting and distributing funds. That's a "Bozo No-No" according to the Ethics Commission--and, depending upon who you talk to, it could be serious. Gary, given his tenure in political office should know better.

Did you read the material in the Ethics Commission's links in the story?

That being said, for some reason, Gary seems to believe I think he's all bad or "good-for-nothing." Nothing could be further from the truth. I know he's done some good things for Lakewood and East Dallas, and I know he doesn't like crime any more than you or I. I know he's a friendly guy who wants to be a coalition-builder.

But he's either saying and doing some questionable things (or getting some extremely bad advice) that he simply needs to answer for--and those answers have not been forthcoming.

If he'd just called me and chatted, rather than turning me over to C.P. Henry (or even written an email explaining himself), both the stories I've written might have looked completely different--with his explanations justifying the quotes!

You'll notice that I freely post comments, like yours, that are critical of me on Dallas.Org. Gary is free to blog here if he asks, and I'll post his material unedited (except for grammar and form, which I do for pretty much everyone--that's an editor's job!).

Back to the issue: the matter of the S-PAC needs to be addressed by the Ethics Commission.

Correcting the signs, on the other hand, is simply a matter of printing up a few stickers to correct verbage.]

Signage language

As a citizen in Dallas, I would like to think that a candidate can follow the rules in the language on signage.

If they can't even get that straight, what sort of details will they over look in Council business. That lack of attention to detail has led this city into lawsuits.

Do you really want someone should serve who thinks they can write their own rules.

The Republican judges found they were in a lawsuit over ignoring the little word "for".

[Ed Note: Yes, but I'm much more interested in what happened to the money!]

Just Inept or Criminally Inept?

Thanks for the heads up what kind of Mayor Dallas can expect if wannabe mayor Gary staffs Dallas with his "friends" of cutting edge minor league inept nincompoops at best, or criminally inept at worst.

This can't bode well for the good citizens of Dallas.
But on the other hand, for the bad citizens I suppose it's just another day at the office.

[Ed Note: I think it was probably just a "hey, let's do this" sort of thing. But as a friend of mine pointed out: Griffith is no rookie. His campaign staffers aren't rookies either. So, in the words of Paul Harvey: "I want to know the rest of the story!"]

Griffith's a Campaign Consultant?

I thought Gary was a campaign consultant? Isn't he supposed to know how to comply with campaign laws?