Thursday, May 1, 2008

Local Option Liquor Election - Part 1

Secrets and Lies - Lies and Secrets. That's what we've been able to find out about "Local Option Election" Proposition 1 for package liquor sales in Wilmer. Wilmer Public Citizen's special three part investigative report on the backing behind the proposition may relieve some voters' confusion about this election issue. But the entire affair raises a number of questions about secrecy in campaign finances for the May 10 elections.

The first campaign advertising signs appeared about two weeks ago, paid for
by "Texas Petition Strategies, Inc". These advertising signs read "Wilmer-Hutchins" and ask you to vote For "Local Option Election Proposition 1". Many folks thought these were for the DISD Bond proposition on the ballot, because of the reference to "Wilmer-Hutchins". However, these signs refer to the local option election for package liquor sales.
Click Here to view the sign.

Second to appear were signs that read "Vote Yes for Wet" and did not disclose who paid for them, a violation of the Texas Election Code. John Eggen says he volunteered to distribute campaign signs around town in support of the proposition, but says he had no role in producing or financing the signs. Eggen reported that fifty signs were shipped by a printing company in Tyler to "On Time Designs" in Red Oak and delivered to his home. Eggen had previously published letters in a mailing to the voters and an open letter in this publication on March 15.
Click here to view Eggen's March 15 letter.

Finally, over the past weekend a full color four page campaign flyer was widely mailed out to many Wilmer residents. The group responsible for this advertising campaign was listed as "Wilmer & Hutchins Citizens for Better Business" and named Judy Pennington, Treasurer (phone 214-541-8066).
Click Here to view a scan of this mailing.

In an interview on Saturday, Ms. Pennington told this reporter that she "couldn't say" what the name of the group was and that she "hadn't collected a penny" in contributions. Our investigation confirms that Ms. Pennington was not the campaign treasurer when the contributions were received by the previous campaign treasurer Annette Perez of 212 Wilmer-Heights (phone 469-583-4726). Ms. Perez was the campaign treasurer from January until being replaced by Ms. Pennington, according to campaign filings with the Dallas County Elections Board dated April 10, 2008. Pennington's signature was affixed to the documents filed April 10, 2008.

According to campaign finance documents, a total of $38,875 had been collected as of April 10 from three major contributors and disbursed to Texas Petition Strategies, Inc. on the following dates:

1/11/08 Victron Energy Inc. Waxahachie, TX $11,250

2/13/08 Distilled Spirits Council Washington DC $12,500

4/01/08 Tri-Gaz 103 S. I-45 Wilmer TX 75172 $15,125

Victron Energy is described as "The largest Shell distributor in the State of Texas and 2nd largest Exxon distributor in the USA."

The Distilled Spirits Council is "The National Trade Association Representing Producers and Marketers of America's Favorite Brands of Distilled Spirits" - a nationwide lobbying organization.

Tri-Gaz owns both the Exxon/Sonic Drive In and the Shell/Subway/Church's
establishment on the West side of I-45 at Belt Line. Judy Pennington is a management employee at this Sonic Drive In.

Pennington had considered running for city council until she received a handwritten letter that threatened to expose that Ms. Pennington's children attend school in the Ferris ISD instead of Dallas ISD, implying that the children could be ejected from the Ferris ISD schools if Ms. Pennington ran for office. An independent source confirmed the contents of the letter in an anonymous tip phoned to this reporter in early March. A third source, stated that Ms. Pennington's children planned to attend Hockaday and Jesuit Prep School in Dallas next year, but has not been confirmed by Pennington.

It's interesting to note that the mailer in question states "When you get a call, see an ad in the paper or get a letter in your mailbox from some group asking you to vote 'NO' - ask this question - who's really paying for this? Someone opposed to alcohol or someone who doesn't want the competition?"

This brings up some interesting questions: Who is behind the group paying Texas Petition Strategies to manage the campaign? Why don't these people want to be identified? Why all the secrecy?

PART 2 of this Investigative Report Explores the Business Relationships to Provide Some Answers.

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