Lavonta Williams campaign contributions raise a few questions

See end of article for disclosure.

Analysis of the campaign finance report recently filed by Lavonta Williams, current Wichita city council member and candidate for re-election, revealed a few interesting insights about her campaign.

First: The campaign contributions are concentrated from one industry. Of the $16,550 in cash contributions raised by the Williams campaign and disclosed in this report, $10,500 (63%) came from sources that are real estate developers, or from people closely connected to them such as their spouses. These developers are often asking city hall for subsidy or favor.

I asked council member Williams a few questions by email, such as: Can you explain why this industry supports your candidacy so strongly? Do you think there is any linkage between your support for TIF districts and other subsidies that benefit many of these developers and their contributions? (Her answer is reported following.)

Second, this concentration of contributions by one industry may be even stronger than reported above. It appears that $1,050 in contributions are from 14 attorneys (or spouses) that work for one law firm, Hinkle Elkouri Law Firm LLC. This firm has among its clients several of the developers who contributed the 63% reported above. I asked council member Williams if there is any reason for the generosity of this one law firm.

Third, even non-downtown developers are contributing to the Williams campaign. Near the end of June, Kevass Harding and his wife contributed a total of $1,000, the maximum allowed by law, to the Williams campaign. This was right before Harding appeared before the city council in July and August as an applicant for TIF district financing. I asked council member Williams these questions: How did Harding come to make this contribution? How did he know that you were considering a run for office? Was there any connection between the contribution and your advocacy for his TIF district?

I received an email message from council member Williams in response to my questions. Here it is, in its entirety:

Mr. Weeks,

Throughout my 35+ years of service as an educator, neighborhood and community activist, I have met and worked with many people who have given back to this community and made a difference in the lives of Wichitans. Some of them are supporting my campaign, and I am grateful for that support as we continue to work together, in our various ways, to making Wichita a better place.

I think we can say that Ms. Williams chooses not to answer the questions I asked.

Fourth, there are some peculiar aspects of this campaign finance report regarding dates. The cover sheet states the report covers the time period April 1, 2008 through July 16, 2008. A check with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission confirmed that the report should have covered through December 31, 2008, as did the reports for other candidates for city council.

That office told me they had checked with the Williams campaign, and that the campaign said there were no contributions from the middle of July to the end of December. It seems strange that there would be a flurry of contributions to the campaign in June and July, and then nothing — not even one contribution — for the remaining months of 2008.

A curious omission from the list of contributors is anyone connected to Real Development.

It won’t be long before another campaign finance report will be due. It will be interesting to see if council member Williams can broaden the base of her supporters.

Disclosure: I am a supporter of James Barfield, an opponent of council member Williams, and have provided volunteer service to his campaign.


13 thoughts on “Lavonta Williams campaign contributions raise a few questions”

  1. The contributions from the developers are mostly from the Key Construction owners and the Waterwalk folks. They give the money under the name of several people that have never met the recipient and a “bundler” picks up the contributions and gives it to the candidates(s). Mr. Warren, Laham, Slawson, Wells, and Elfuzon, are some of the contributors that have projects in front of the Mayor and City
    Council. They worked very hard to use surrogates to deliver their funds to the candidates. Since they are limited to no more than $500 each they use others to provide the balance of the contributions. It is neat and simple. The media knows how it works, but they will continue to look the other way. Don’t want to lose adverstisers!

  2. I daresay that Ms. Williams’ response was crafted by the infamous Beth King. Why can’t politicians just answer a question specifically? So what if all the donars to her campaign are developers or associated with them. That is not a crime. Acknowledge it forthrightly and move on down the road!
    I have less respect for Ms. Williams for using a crafted pablum response.

  3. Looks to me like Bob is using this blog as a pro bono campaign blog for Barfield. Should we not scrutinize Mr. Barfield’s report to see if this in-kind contribution is listed? I doubt Ms. King wrote that reply. She’s too darn smart. Anyway, I can’t believe Bob is making an issue about developer contributions. He’s starting to sound more like a Socialist than the Libertarian that he is. Developers are Capitalists, generally good Republicans (which Bob is not). They are risk takers. Their activities create economic development opportunities and jobs. So they have money and they lobby, so what? They are risking their dollars to grow the community. What do Libertarians do? Nothing, but accumulate junk cars on their properties and scream against zoning codes as infringing upon property rights.

  4. I think what “Pat” does not realize — or maybe overlooks to make a point not based on facts — is that most of the developers who contributed to Williams benefit from subsidy from the City of Wichita. I said that in the post, didn’t I?

    These subsidies are contrary to any form of capitalism.

  5. Bob, what you have consistently failed to realize is that TIF districts are not a subsidy but are an incentive. There is a difference. That said, the city does a poor job of implementing and administering TIF districts.

  6. Pat, most subsidies are incentives. While I have no comment on what Ms. Williams’ campaign is doing, it is a fact that donors can usurp funds from the taxpayer by indirectly buying public policy. It can legally happen in broad daylight.

    However, if the public perceives that an official’s decision-making isn’t based upon the taxpayer’s best interest, but rather a conflict of interest, they may think twice about electing this official.

    Like I said, I don’t know if this is what’s happening with the Williams campaign or not, but there is nothing wrong with exposing potential conflicts of interest in her decision-making.

  7. Anytime that something is said in this forum about Beth King she goes bananas and immediately writes in under a pseudo name complaining. She is not a dumb woman just vicious. TIF districts are a form of subsidy for certain people in our community. The contributions that these developers are making to Williams and others campaigns while having business in front of the Council is another form of “Pay For Play”.

  8. I can assure you that I’m not Beth King. If you knew Beth King, she’d wouldn’t hesitate to post her comments here using her own name.

  9. From Webster’s,

    incentive “something that incites or has a tendency to incite to determination or action”

    subsidy ” a grant or gift of money”

    A TIF is meant to be an incentive to create new wealth. A subsidy would be to just give ‘em the money. In a TIF, the developer still pays taxes. The only difference is that the incremental increase gets earmarked instead of going into the general fund. If they were getting a subsidy, then there wouldn’t be an expectation to receive anything. An incentive is a quid pro quo. A subsidy is not.

  10. One other thing. I don’t disagree with you that the city has poorly executed or implemented TIF districts; however, just because the city fumbles it, doesn’t mean it’s a subsidy nor does it mean that it doesn’t make good public policy in some instances.

  11. Pat, the definition of subsidy you’ve chosen is very narrow. If a subsidy were merely an incentive-free gift, the government would not make use of them. One broad example is farm subsidies. The government provides incentive for farmers to grow food. The TIF issue is no different, as it is both an incentive and a subsidy.

  12. Todd, good point. Perhaps then, farm subsidies are a misnomer and should be called farm incentives.

    Bob, one I don’t believe that the developers are being subsidized. Nonetheless, I see your point, but it implies that the elected officials will sell their vote for a few dollars. I don’t believe you would if you were in that position nor do I believe that to be the case with any of the sitting council members.

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