Donors who support Team L1berty spent $10,000 on signs for Agua Special Utility Board candidates last month — twice what Team Agua SUD spent during the whole campaign.
Four people affiliated with the city of Peñitas purchased campaign signs for the Team L1berty candidates, according to campaign finance reports filed on April 5.
Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero, who owns a consulting company called Government Asset Services; Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales, who owns a consulting company called RGV Redlight; Peñitas Volunteer Fire Chief Jonathan Sakulenzki, an insurance broker; and Chris Wilson, who works for Romero at Government Asset Services, paid $2,500 apiece.
“We’re a team,” Morales said. “We stick together.”
The campaign pits Team L1berty, which holds a majority on the seven-member utility board, against Team Agua SUD, which recruited candidates to run against them.
With four seats on the ballot, the winning team could take control of the utility district, which provides water and sewer service to more than 15,000 customers in western Hidalgo County.
Thanks to support from Peñitas, the Team L1berty candidates — math teacher Ivan Sandoval, La Joya police Chief Adolfo Arriaga, school district Energy Management Director Lloyd A. Loya and school district Discipline Compliance Officer Cesar Rodriguez Jr. — blanketed U.S. 83 with signs.
They also accepted money from L&G Investments, which donated $1,000 to Sandoval; and MG Xtreme Electronics, which donated $400 to Rodriguez and $400 to Lloya.
Arriaga borrowed $5,000 from the La Joya Area Federal Credit Union, but hadn’t spent any of the money by March 31, according to his campaign finance report. La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas said he cosigned the loan.
Meanwhile, the candidates backed by Team Agua SUD spent nearly $5,000 from January to April.
Team Agua SUD — businessman Julian Peña, union organizer J.J. Luna, Pharr police Sgt. Juan Gonzalez and businessman Eric Sanchez — depended on friends and family for donations.
Gonzalez accepted about $1,500 from his sister-in-law, Ruby Ontiveros; and Peña accepted nearly $1,600 from his brother, Osvaldo Peña Jr., who works for Hidalgo County Precinct 3.
Meanwhile, Sanchez self-funded his campaign, spending about $1,500 on signs, T-shirts and food.
Reports filed by both Team L1berty and Team Agua SUD, though, raised questions about campaign spending.
Team L1berty candidates for the utility board and South Texas College held a campaign event at the La Joya Youth Center on March 27.
They paid $250 to rent the building for three hours, according to city records, which include a copy of the receipt and rental form signed by Arriaga.
Neither Arriaga nor any other candidate listed the rental fee on campaign finance reports.
Morales said the Liberty Executive Committee, a general-purpose political action committee, paid the rental fee. All four utility board candidates disclosed $170 in-kind contributions from the Liberty Executive Committee on March 25, lumping all expenses from the event together under the description “meals.”
Two candidates on the Team Agua SUD ticket filed campaign finance reports showing support from specific-purpose political action committees called the “Juan F. Gonzalez Campaign Fund” and the “Juan J. Luna Jr. Campaign Fund.”
No such political action committees registered with the utility district.
Asked about the political action committees, Gonzalez said he followed Luna’s instructions. Luna said he filled out the form incorrectly and meant to disclose regular spending from the campaign account.
Independent candidate Noe Garza of Peñitas failed to file a campaign finance report by the deadline and didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Early voting started Monday. Election day is May 5.