La Joya school board candidates failed to file campaign finance reports

Four of the six candidates who campaigned for the La Joya school board last year didn’t properly disclose political spending.

The four candidates — school board Trustee Nereyda Cantu, who won the November election; former school board Trustee Johnn Alaniz, who lost the November election; former school board Trustee Frances A. Salinas, who lost the November election; and former school board candidate Pamela “Coach” Flores, who lost the November election — didn’t submit their semi-annual campaign finance reports Tuesday.

LJISD LogoReports filed on Tuesday include donations and spending from Oct. 28 to Dec. 31, a key period that includes the week before Election Day.

“This is as basic as it gets,” said Austin-based attorney Fred Lewis, an advocate for tougher campaign finance laws. “The public has got to be able to timely and fully see who is funding these campaigns.”

Just two candidates on the November ballot — Mary T. Hernandez and Espie Ochoa, who both won seats on the board — filed campaign finance reports by the deadline.
State law requires candidates with campaign treasurers to file semi-annual reports every January.

“Local candidates and officeholders who have a campaign treasurer appointment on file MUST file the semiannual report even if there is no activity to report,” according to a bulletin posted by the Texas Ethics Commission. “However, local officeholders required to file with local filing authorities who DO NOT have a campaign treasurer appointment on file AND who DO NOT exceed $500 in political contributions or political expenditures for the reporting period are not required to file the semiannual report.”

Candidates must disclose all campaign donations, spending, loans and political expenditures from personal funds.

Alaniz, who served three terms on the school board, said he forgot about the campaign finance report. After losing the election, he stepped back from local politics.

“It wasn’t a lot at the end,” Alaniz said, adding that he didn’t recall the details. “It was, to be honest with you, the meals. Making sure everything was there. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Flores, who self-funded her campaign, said she mistakenly thought the report was due Jan. 25. She plans to file next week.

“I’m a schoolteacher. I live on a budget,” Flores said, explaining her low-cost, grassroots campaign. “And I don’t believe in taking money from individuals. Because in the end they will expect something in return.”

Neither Cantu nor Salinas could be reached for comment.

Ochoa, a former school board trustee who returned to the board in November, filed her report Monday. She spent nearly $2,650 on a last-minute phone bank.

The report also included $250 to rent Reyna’s Crown, an event venue in Palmview, on Election Day. Ochoa said she split the cost with Cantu and Alaniz, who ran with her as Team Un1ted. They didn’t file campaign finance reports, making the total cost unclear.

Hernandez, a businesswoman who made transparency a key part of her campaign, filed her report Tuesday. She spent $60 on Facebook ads and $600 on campaign labor.

“Disclosure is the lowest level of campaign finance laws. Disclosure is the minimum,” said Lewis, the Austin-based attorney. “If you don’t have disclosure, it’s the wild west because you don’t know anything.”

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