The Team Un1ted candidates for La Joya school board collected more than half their campaign cash from attorneys.
Team Un1ted — incumbent school board Trustee Johnn Alaniz, former school board Trustee Espie Ochoa and businesswoman Nereyda Cantu — reported donations worth about $71,000 from Aug. 27 to Oct. 29, according to campaign finance reports filed with the district.
“People have opened up to us and said ‘Hey, how can we help out?’” Alaniz said, adding that Team Un1ted accepted financial and in-kind donations from many supporters, including attorneys.
Donations from the attorneys, however, provided a major boost.
Attorney Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz, who represents the school district, is the biggest donor to Team Un1ted since August, according to the campaign finance reports. He forked over $13,000.
Along with advising the school district, Muñoz serves as justice of the peace for Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Place 2. He declined to comment on the donations.
Amarillo-based law firm Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins and Mott, which collects delinquent property taxes for the school district, donated $12,500 to Team Un1ted.
“We support good government,” said attorney Hiram Gutierrez, a partner at the firm. “And we believe those candidates will be good for the school district.”
Perdue competes with Austin-based Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson for delinquent tax collection contracts. Both firms make hefty campaign donations, attempting to curry favor with school board trustees.
Linebarger made in-kind donations to Team Un1ted, according to the campaign finance reports. The law firm donated signs worth nearly $5,000 in September and spent about $3,300 on a mailer for the Team Un1ted candidates in October.
“They’ve been friends of ours over the years,” Alaniz said, adding that an attorney from Linebarger called and asked how he could help.
Other attorneys made smaller donations to Team Un1ted.
Austin-based law firm O’Hanlon, Demerath and Castillo, which represents the school district, donated $3,000 to Team Un1ted candidates. Attorneys for the firm handle public information requests and issues that require expertise in education law.
Team Un1ted also attracted significant financial support from political consultant Mike Robledo and public relations consultant Karina Cardoza. They donated $5,000 through a company called Absolute Business Consulting Group and another $3,000 worth of advertising through a company called The Positive Program.
RGV Redlight, a consulting company owned by Peñitas Chief of Staff Andy Morales, donated $7,000.
“Campaigning down here is costly because of the signs, the literature, all that stuff,” Alaniz said. “But I can tell you that in the previous campaigns — I don’t know the numbers exactly, but I don’t think we’ve spent what’s been spent in past campaigns.”
The donations provided Team Un1ted with a major advantage over businesswoman Mary T. Hernandez, who’s self-funding her campaign.
Hernandez spent about $35,000 from her own pocket during the past two months, according to her campaign finance reports.
“I’ve been very blessed by God and my businesses, and now I have the opportunity to give back to the community,” Hernandez said. “I’m doing this, my fundraising, on my own,”
Hernandez said she’s troubled by Team Un1ted accepting money from attorneys and vendors who work for the school district.
“I just see it as wrong,” Hernandez said, adding that the school board needs to focus on students and teachers, not how the district awards contracts.
The two remaining school board candidates, Frances A. Salinas of La Joya and Pamela Flores of Palmview, didn’t properly disclose campaign donations and spending.
Salinas missed both the 30-day and 8-day deadlines to file campaign finance reports.
Flores also failed to file a 30-day campaign finance report. Her 8-day report, which purports to cover the whole two-month period, listed just $74.66 in spending.