County Judge accuses Armstrong of concealing campaign finance info

Sheriff endorses candidate with DWIs

County Judge accuses Armstrong of concealing campaign finance info

EL PASO, Texas - County Judge Veronica Escobar has filed a complaint against City Council candidate Michael Armstrong, accusing him of keeping important campaign finance information from voters.

The complaint, being reviewed by the Texas Ethics Commission, revolves around automated phone calls voters received in January, when Escobar was running for County Judge.  The robocalls featured a voice telling voters Escobar didn't want people to know there was an election coming and that she planned to tear down the County Jail, as Steve Ortega tore down City hall.

The calls were paid by the 'We the People' Political Action Committee. According to County election records, Armstrong registered as the Treasurer of the PAC. The PAC's purpose was to oppose Escobar, according to its treasurer form.

Though the claim made by the robocall was false, Escobar said she expected a PAC to form against her. "I'm totally okay with opponents. That's democracy. Even funded opponents. That's democracy."

Escobar said, however, that Armstrong failed to disclose the two forms required by law that show contributions and expenditures by the PAC.

"I received a lot of calls the morning after that first phone message because it was kind of a scary message, with a very disguised voice meant to frighten people. And people want to know who was this, who was paying this, who's behind this? We still don't know completely. The only name we know is Mike Armstrong but he hasn't bothered to show the public who else was aligned with him on that."

County election records show the PAC did not turn in the required 8-day and 30-day pre-election disclosure forms.

Armstrong on Wednesday initially said he'd be available for an interview, but through text messages later said he was too busy. He sent a message that partly said "I have spoken to an ethics attorney with the Texas Ethics Commission about this. If a committee does not spend or raise more than $500, they are not required to file anything with the Texas Ethics Commission. I will be responding to the complaint in the required time frame."

The Texas Ethics Commission rules clearly state a PAC that raises less than $500 can choose to file a treasurer form. But once it does, as 'We the People' did, "the campaign treasurer must begin filing reports of contributions and expenditures," which Armstrong failed to do.  
"When he first announced, he (Armstrong) talked about that he was running because he wanted transparent government. Well this is kind of a fundamental component of transparent government," said Escobar. She added she had planned to file a complaint but hadn't gotten around to it until she learned of his campaign and felt it was important to let voters know of the lack of disclosure.

Armstrong in a text message, said "My supporters and I will not be intimidated by Veronica Escobar."

The claims of intimidation detract from the fact Armstrong didn't follow campaign finance laws and concealed valuable information from voters, said Escobar. "For him to blame this on intimidation is a perfect example of thinking he's exempt from the law. And that's a very dangerous trait for someone running for City Council."

The Ethics Commission is reviewing Escobar's complaint and could potentially impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 to Armstrong's PAC.

Armstrong said the PAC only received a $350.00 in-kind donation from "Victor Contreras for robocalls."

Review of various campaign expenditure forms show the average set of automated calls cost about $350, but campaigns must usually purchase the voter data to make the robocalls, which costs about $2,500.


Armstrong has had a checkered legal trajectory.

Record show the former owner of the Three Legged Monkey bar owes about $267,000 in federal taxes.

He was also twice convicted of Driving While Intoxicated in 2011 and served probation.

"His actions in those cases are unacceptable. And like other citizens who have found themselves in those situations, he was held accountable - arrested and booked and he addressed those situations in the courts," said Sheriff Richard Wiles, one of Armstrong's most visible supporters.

He and City Reps. Eddie Holguin and Lily Limon attended Armstrong's campaign kickoff on Tuesday. Also on the guest list, former Congressman Silvestre Reyes and County Commissioner Sergio Lewis.

Asked how he'd respond to voters who may be disturbed the top law enforcement official in the County publicly endorses a twice convicted DWI offender in a community with a high incidence of drunk driving, Wiles responded: "We have to look at, 'are we a community that feels that people can redeem themselves when they get involved in situations like that.' I can't condone what he did. I stand against DWI and I encourage people not to engage in that kind of behavior, but he is a human being and he did it and took responsibility for his actions. And now he is saying that he's learned his lesson and he's grown from that."

comments powered by Disqus