Pharr city candidate may have violated Texas ethics code

Influential slate paid filing fee ahead of treasurer’s appointment

PHARR — A candidate for city commissioner here may have violated the Texas Ethics Commission campaign finance guidelines when the mayor’s specific purpose political action committee, or SPAC, paid her filing fee, according to documents obtained by The Monitor.

Itza Flores filed an application on Feb. 15 for candidacy in the May 4 municipal election for the Place 6 seat on the Pharr City Commission. Her $1,000 filing fee was paid for by the Pharr Forward SPAC, according to the receipt.

Pharr Forward was created to fund the 2015 campaigns of Mayor Ambrosio “Amos” Hernandez, Place 1 Commissioner Eleazar Guajardo, Place 5 Commissioner Ricardo Medina and Dr. Ramiro Caballero, who unsuccessfully ran for the Place 6 seat. The SPAC had a balance of approximately $50,000 in political contributions as of its Jan. 16 campaign finance report, and more than $484,000 in outstanding loans.

Texas Ethics Commission’s rules on campaign contributions may have been violated when Pharr Forward paid Flores’ fee before she filed her campaign treasurer appointment with the city clerk, which was completed Feb. 19, according to documents provided by the city.

Per the ethics commission, “the law provides that you must file a campaign treasurer appointment form with the proper filing authority before you may accept a campaign contribution or make or authorize a campaign expenditure.” The filing fee is considered an expenditure, according to the state’s election code.

Flores did not return a call for comment.

Pharr Forward, which in 2017 backed Place 2 Commissioner Roberto “Bobby” Flores’ re-election campaign and the campaigns of Caballero, who successfully ran for the Place 3 seat, and Place 4 Commissioner Daniel Chavez, also paid the filing fees for Hernandez, Medina and Guajardo, who all filed for re-election Feb. 15.

The fees for the four Pharr Forward candidates were paid within minutes of each other, according to the receipts. Flores’ was paid at 4:14 p.m., Hernandez’s at 4:13 p.m., Guajardo’s at 4:12 p.m. and Medina’s at 4:11 p.m., all of which were accepted by City Secretary Hilda Pedraza, who was out of the office Friday and unavailable for comment.

The candidates running in the May 4 election, with the exception of Flores, filed campaign treasurer appointments with the city on or well before Feb. 15, when all filed for a spot on the ballot.

In addition to the Pharr Forward slate, political newcomers Lorena Singh and Daniela Zuniga are running for Places 6 and 1 on the Pharr United slate.

With the exception of one inquiry, Eliza Alvarado, the campaign treasurer for both the Pharr Forward SPAC and Mayor Hernandez, did not respond to questions about the ethics violation and instead issued a prepared statement supporting its candidates.

Asked what role the treasurer plays in ensuring that state law is followed in these cases, Alvarado wrote: “Pharr Forward has a treasurer, accepts political contributions, makes political expenditures to support candidates that are aligned with our vision, and complies with state reporting requirements.”

Failing to file a campaign treasurer appointment is one of the most common sworn complaint violations the Texas Ethics Commission receives, according to its website.

Anyone can file a sworn complaint, which “sets in motion a process that may include a preliminary review as well as informal or formal hearings,” according the website, and complaints sometimes result in a fine against a candidate.

“Just about every complaint that the commission addresses is initiated through the public,” Ian Steusloff, general counsel for the Texas Ethics Commission, previously told The Monitor.

The commission does not disclose or confirm when a complaint is filed.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include remarks from the Pharr Forward campaign treasurer.

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