Two leaders of a Houston-based political action committee have been fined a combined $45,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission, accused of violating the state election code by operating without a campaign treasurer, failing to file required finance reports, and possibly selling endorsements to local candidates. The TEC accused Terrence Shanks and Darnella Wilkerson, the president and the director of finance of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats – Harris County of accepting $20,319 in contributions and making $15,486 in expenditures while the organization legally was inactive because it had no campaign treasurer, according to two sworn complaints first filed in 2021. The TEC placed the PAC on inactive status in 2016.
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Political action committees are required to submit semiannual finance reports to the ethics commission. The last time that the PAC filed a report was in 2014. Since then, however, it has continued to carry out political activities, including publishing endorsements lists that often included candidates who have donated to the group, TEC investigators found.
During the March 2020 primary elections, for example, the group endorsed all nine candidates who made contributions to the PAC, most in the amount of $250, with a few larger payments from candidates in higher-profile contested races.
In February, the TEC released its final orders, saying that the extent of the alleged violations, combined with Shanks and Wilkerson's "bad faith" responses to the commission's questions, justified the "heavy" penalties of $27,500 against Shanks and $17,500 against Wilkerson.
“TCBD-HC’s activity presents particular cause for public concern because it appears from TCBD-HC’s 2020 endorsement slate and its banking records that TCBD-HC may be ‘selling’ its endorsements in exchange for financial contributions,” the TEC said in its final orders released in February. “TCBD-HC has avoided potentially unpleasant public inquiry on this unsavory topic by evading its reporting obligations.”
Shanks denied the PAC sold endorsements in emailed response to questions from the Houston Chronicle and said he plans to appeal the TEC’s sanctions.
He said the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats did not report all financial transactions because he was not updated on the TEC’s policies. He also said some small donations were “lost in administrative translation” since the group did not have a campaign treasurer to process them. The PAC, he said, has a panel of members who review and vote on which candidates to endorse.
“The allegations are outrageous and (an) attempt to intimidate. The Republican-packed ethics commission goes against its own rules in trying to make an example of Black people,” Shanks said. “We have (election) deniers who have infiltrated the board to make their voice heard throwing anything political falsehood against the wall to make it stick…We plan to appeal in court and fight back against Republican cronyism.”
Wilkerson did not respond to requests for comments. She also is campaign treasurer of the another political committee called African American Caucus, which TEC investigators said was an instrument of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats-Harris County under Shanks’ control.
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TCBD-HC has put out slates of endorsed candidates on its website and Facebook page for the 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2022 elections. About two dozen candidates and officeholders included contributions to the PAC, ranging from $25 to $750, during that period on their own campaign finance reports.
Jim Sharp, former justice of the First Texas Court of Appeals from 2019 to 2014, donated $500 to the PAC in 2016, and $250 in 2020. He was endorsed by the inactive political committee when he ran for the Texas First District Court of Appeals in 2020.
Jason Luong, former judge of the state's 185th District Court, made six payments to the group totaling $600 from 2018 to 2022, labeled as membership fees and donations. He appeared on PAC’s endorsement lists both times he ran for office in 2018 and 2022.
Four candidates — 11th District Judge Brauchle Hawkins, former District 147 Representative Garnet Coleman, and judicial candidates Grant Harvey and Jand Robinson — reported $500 contributions to the organization while it was inactive. The PAC included all four on its endorsement slates during the election cycle in which the donations were made.
Harvey, Hawkins and Robinson denied any knowledge of the PAC's alleged violations and said they did not purchase endorsements from the political committee.
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Harvey, who ran for the 164th District Court judge in 2020, said he thought the political action committee was “entirely legit.”
“I am sad to hear of these allegations, and I would like to say I am surprised," he said. "But, unfortunately, today nothing surprises me when it comes to politics."
Hawkins was one of the only 13 candidates endorsed by the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats-Harris County in 2016. The list has grown substantially since then, covering more than 90 candidates in the most recent cycle in 2022.
She said she was not aware the PAC was inactive when she made the $500 donation in 2016.
“My contribution was a contribution” Hawkins said.“I have never purchased anything from the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats – Harris County.”
Robinson said she sought and received endorsements from a wide spectrum of organizations when she was a judicial candidate in 2020. She said she had not heard of any allegations against the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats before the Chronicle contacted her.
“When I sought TCBD’s endorsement, I filled out a screening application and sat for an interview in the typical manner as for other endorsements,” Robinson said. “I donated to TCBD because I was impressed with the work TCBD was doing, particularly their efforts to register and engage voters throughout the state of Texas.”
Sharp declined comment. Luong and Coleman did not respond to requests for comments.
The PAC has continued to hold political events and publish messages on its online platforms since the TEC first alleged violations of the election code in 2021. Shanks said he is not going to stop.
“We are not suspending any activities as we will continue to G.O.T.V. and inform, educate and empower African Americans about the democratic process,” he said.
Not dismissing what's written here, the marxists in Harris County have no qualms about breaking election laws, but there are NUMEROUS Harris County republican PAC's that do the exact same thing. The ONLY difference is the republican groups do have a finance chairman.
Every election season, I'll get several "These are the greatest 'conservatives' in history" mailers.
It is a shame the unscrupulous plot LBJ undertook to get the black (he said negroe) population to be tied to the democratic party, like a dog leashed to a post.