New political action committee invests $70,000 in Tarrant Appraisal District race

Less than a year ago, residents had no say in who sat on the Tarrant Appraisal District board of directors. Now, days before voters go to the polls on May 4 for a historic election, a new political action committee has spent more than $70,000 to boost a slate that supporters say is ready to make big changes.

Tarrant Taxpayer Advocates was incorporated on March 28, according to Texas Ethics Commission documents. Since then, it has received $62,265 in contributions and spent $71,092 in support of Eric Morris in Place 1, Callie Rigney in Place 2 and Matt Bryant in Place 3. The trio has received support from District Judge Tim O’Hare and other local leaders of the Republican Party.

Nearly 87% of the PAC’s funding comes from the same candidates it supports, according to an analysis of eight days of campaign finance data by the Fort Worth Report. Rigney and Morris did not respond to requests for comment. In a written statement, Bryant said it is important that voters are aware of the election and that there is a slew of candidates who want to work for taxpayers.

“The fact that our campaign raised the most money is an encouraging sign that voters are behind our message to reduce the tax burden and pass much-needed TAD reforms,” Bryant wrote.

He did not answer specific questions about whether the candidates jointly formed Tarrant Taxpayer Advocates. The three new positions on the review board, created as a result of the constitutional elections in November, are unpaid. It is the first time in history that voters themselves – instead of taxing entities such as cities or school districts – can elect people to the board.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said it’s rare to see so much money spent on smaller municipal races.

“While this is a rare event, the fact that every election matters to these candidates and to these parties means they have to go all in,” he said. “So I think that’s what’s happening here, the need to say that a party or a certain ideology is winning this election.”

Although the positions on the review board are nonpartisan by law, seven of the eight candidates who filed identify as Republicans — including the entire roster of Tarrant Taxpayer Advocates. In that sense, Rottinghaus said, it is strategically important for the slate to unite under a PAC.

“Having an outside organization makes it sound like there is a loftier ideological goal,” he said. “The fact that they’re all connected through the same PAC is another way for voters to have shortcuts in terms of who they can select.”

The stakes are high for Republicans looking to reshape the review district, which has been mired in controversy for years. Former chief appraiser Jeff Law resigned in September after a recording was leaked of a district IT manager suggesting staff should mislead the media about the Tarrant Appraisal District’s technology problems. Most recently, the district was hit by a ransomware attack in March, leaking tax information onto the internet.

Statewide, lowering property taxes has been in the legislative crosshairs for years. Despite legislative intervention over multiple sessions, residents continued to feel the financial strain of rising assessments, putting pressure on local elected officials to reduce property tax rates or increase tax exemptions.

Tarrant Taxpayer Advocates argues that the candidates it backs can make transformative changes, such as limiting the rise in home appreciation. The county’s chief appraiser has said limiting appraisals is not allowed by law.

The creation of the PAC has divided opinion among some residents, who have been discussing its funding and purpose in local Facebook groups. Jared Ross, a North Richland Hills resident and former City Council candidate, said he is concerned about the lack of transparency behind the PAC.

“They create these PACs so all these candidates can dump money into these PACs, and then they use that PAC money to pay themselves for the marketing,” he said. “I absolutely hate PACs. They’re just shady.”

Joshua Blank, the research director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said that candidates from different places who are aligned on a particular set of issues occasionally come together to form a PAC for themselves and other like-minded politicians. finance. But it’s unusual to see that setup at the local level.

“Given that this is a new elective that is dependent on voters at an unusual time in the election calendar, and in a race that is likely to have very low turnout, I think anything that would provide voters with some form of guidance , is likely. have a greater impact than we would expect under normal circumstances,” said Blank.

With the majority of contributions coming from the candidates themselves, the remaining $8,135 of PAC funding comes from Republican consulting firm Edgerton Strategies and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD trustee Shannon Braun.

Edgerton Strategies’ involvement is not limited to contributions. Tarrant Taxpayer Advocates also paid the consulting firm $50,630 for text messaging services and mailings, and is owed $9,827 for consulting services, according to campaign finance filings. Edgerton Strategies has provided advice on a number of campaigns in North Texas, including O’Hare’s 2022 race for district judge.

“By pooling resources and essentially creating one ad for three candidates, you ultimately get more bang for your buck,” Blank said.

Mailers sent on behalf of the PAC touted O’Hare’s endorsement of Morris, Rigney and Bryant. His involvement in the review district races has come under fire from candidates he did not support, who raised concerns that O’Hare was both accepting candidate applications and making endorsements in the same election. O’Hare previously nominated his campaign treasurer, Vince Puente, for a seat on the review board. Puente is now chairman of the board.

Andrew Charlton is listed as the PAC’s treasurer. Records reviewed by the report show that the address Charlton lists on campaign finance forms matches Edgerton Strategies’ mailing address. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The PAC also paid the DFW Conservative Voters PAC $10,635 for ads, according to campaign finance reports. DFW Conservative Voters produces what is known locally as the “Green Card,” a list of endorsements for area races. Bryant, Morris and Rigney were each endorsed by the DFW Conservative Voters PAC. According to the website, recommendations are made after candidates are interviewed.

Rottinghaus said that while Tarrant Taxpayer Advocates PAC’s financial investment may seem large without context, it also serves as an investment in candidates’ political futures.

“This is a position that is easily a stepping stone to other positions,” he said of the assessment district’s role. “That is why these candidates are fighting so hard for it and why the parties invest so much time and effort in selecting candidates and convincing voters to vote.”

The Tarrant Taxpayer Advocates list runs on a platform to limit appraisals to every three years and limit home appreciation to 5%. Candidates disagree on whether such a move is legally possible without legislative action.

If candidates can’t accomplish that while on the review board, experts say it could spell doom for a reelection effort — or pave the way for a new campaign.

“That’s where promising something you can’t deliver actually makes sense if your strategy is long-term,” Blank said. “You say, ‘This is what I wanted to do. I can’t do this here because it’s so backwards. I need to run for higher office to make the change I want to make.’”

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