The dominant political party in western Hidalgo County spent nearly $60,000 during the past six months without filing campaign finance reports.
Team L1berty — through a general-purpose political action committee called the Liberty Executive Committee — spent nearly $60,000 from January to June, according to a semi-annual campaign finance report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission on July 26.
“I’m happy that they filed it,” said Arminda “Mindy” Garza, who sent a complaint to the Ethics Commission last month, adding that she didn’t think the PAC actually reported all donations and spending. “This is my assumption with this PAC: It’s a money laundering scheme. They’re using this PAC to get money and they’re not reporting it.”
Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales, the former campaign treasurer for the PAC, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Morales, though, did release a statement about the PAC last month, explaining why he missed the deadline to file a semi-annual campaign finance report.
“I resigned from the PAC and committee on May 24th. I was under the impression the PAC would appoint a new treasurer and take care of filing the semi-annual report,” Morales said in the statement. “Since no treasurer appointment form was submitted, I will get a report filed with the information I have available and will then notify the TEC of my resignation. I was not aware I had not been taken off as treasurer with the TEC until after the report was due.”
Members of Team L1berty formed the PAC in July 2017, when they appointed Morales campaign treasurer, according to Ethics Commission records.
The PAC spent thousands supporting candidates during the May 2017 Sullivan City election and the November 2017 La Joya election without filing any campaign finance reports.
Details didn’t emerge until April 2018, when the Ethics Commission threatened to refer the PAC to the Attorney General’s Office.
The PAC quickly filed an annual campaign finance report, but that document didn’t include all donations and spending.
Morales attached the complete report when he asked the Ethics Commission to waive the late filing penalty. That attachment revealed big donations from attorneys, engineers and consultants, which the PAC spent on campaigns.
Similar problems surfaced during the March 2018 Democratic Party primary and the May 2018 Agua Special Utility District election, when the PAC supported candidates without filing any campaign finance reports.
During the Democratic Party primary, the PAC collected thousands from candidates endorsed by Team L1berty.
Eloy Avila, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party nomination for county treasurer, donated $5,000. Hidalgo County Clerk Arturo Guajardo Jr. contributed another $5,000. And La Joya school board trustee J.J. Peña, who won the Democratic Party nomination for justice of the peace Precinct 3 Place 2 and faces Garza in the general election, paid $10,000.
The Positive Program, a company owned by political consultant Mike Robledo and public relations consultant Karina Cardoza, also donated $10,000.
Flush with cash, the PAC paid $12,800 to La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas and $10,100 to Sullivan City Mayor Leo Garcia during the primary.
Salinas said the money paid for standard campaign work.
“I hire some drivers and rent some cars to go get out the vote,” Salinas said. “And provide meals during the lunch time all the days of the early voting.”
Despite supporting at least six candidates, the PAC didn’t file any campaign finance reports during the primary.
The PAC also supported candidates during the May 2018 Agua Special Utility District election.
Team L1berty backed four candidates:
> The PAC donated $2,000 to La Joya police Chief Adolfo Arriaga, who didn’t file a semi-annual campaign finance report.
Arriaga said he left town and didn’t realize the report couldn’t be filed without his signature. He plans to file the report when he returns.
> The PAC donated $1,000 to La Joya school district Discipline Compliance Officer Cesar Rodriguez Jr. He didn’t disclose the donation.
> The PAC donated $3,000 to math teacher Ivan Sandoval, who didn’t disclose the money.
> The PAC made two donations to La Joya school district administrator Lloya A. Loya. He didn’t report a $2,000 donation on April 24. However, Loya did disclose a $1,000 donation on May 25.
Along with donations to utility board candidates, the PAC also paid their supporters.
The PAC paid $5,000 to Maya’s de Oro LLC, a company owned by La Joya school board Trustee Oscar “Coach” Salinas.
Another $3,500 went to Morales, the PAC campaign treasurer, for loan reimbursement and skeet shoot expenses.
While the PAC supported utility board candidates, it didn’t file 30-day and 8-day campaign finance reports during the election cycle.
The campaign spending didn’t become public until July 26, when the PAC filed the semi-annual report — 10 days after the Ethics Commission deadline.