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Lubbock District 5 candidates question Wilson’s campaign finances

District 5 sig
Sarah Self-Walbrick / Texas Tech Public Media
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Election Day is Saturday, May 7, and four District 5 candidates in Lubbock are raising concerns over the Lubbock Professional Firefighters Association's campaign contributions to candidate Dr. Jennifer Wilson.

Four candidates for the Lubbock City Council District 5 seat are questioning the contributions from a political action committee to Dr. Jennifer Wilson, one of the candidates for the position.

According to recently filed campaign finance expenditure reports, the Lubbock Professional Firefighters Association has given Wilson more than $120,000 since she announced her candidacy in February.

The four opposing candidates - Chase Head, Bill Felton, Keri Thomas and incumbent Randy Christian - held a joint news conference Tuesday to discuss the financing.

“The four of us are all here because we care about Lubbock,” Head explained. “We may not agree on everything and how the city ought to be run, but we truly care about Lubbock. In this case, we feel that there’s deception that’s happening in her campaign, not including the $41,000 that was reported.”

The association is the labor union for Lubbock firefighters. The group endorsed three candidates in this year’s municipal election, including Wilson, whose husband is a deputy chief with Lubbock Fire Rescue. Wilson has mentioned publicly that she would not recuse herself from matters involving LFR if she’s elected.

Wilson’s campaign expenditure report shows a direct contribution of $41,000 given to her campaign from the association’s political action committee. However, the political action committee’s state expenditure report shows the PAC also provided $79,000 to support Wilson. While those expenses are not given directly to Wilson’s campaign, the line items specifically state they are to promote Wilson.

“That makes this one of the highest expense campaigns in Lubbock history, if not the highest, for a Lubbock City Council race,” Head said. “With the conflict of interest that already exists there, and then you see these exorbitant numbers being spent on it, I think that’s something that every voter needs to know.”

The other two candidates who were endorsed by the PAC did not receive the same kind of financial support as Wilson - the association paid $2,692.37 for Wilson’s campaign announcement, about $4,550 on renovating a vintage fire truck that Wilson has been drove around in while campaigning. One of the larger charges is listed as “Lubbock District 5 block walker contract,” which cost the association $24,210 in April.

There are also some smaller charges that covered food, gas and pay for people who were putting out political signs, though all those purchases specifically mention it as marketing for Wilson’s campaign.

“As someone who’s been involved in politics and political campaigns for more than 30 years,” said Christian, “I could tell by the volume of campaign materials, yard signs, lapel pins, driving down the neighborhood streets in an old fire engine, you could tell big bucks were supporting her.”

The campaign gifts are perfectly legal, but Wilson’s opposing candidates say they are unethical.

“It might not be illegal, but it definitely appears that you’re trying to buy a seat or influence a City Council position,” said Thomas at the press conference. “Any one entity having so much power it detrimental to the election process, thus making it hard for we the people, ordinary people like me and my fellow candidates, and you, to run for any political office.”

Thomas added: “There is no way any ordinary people that want to serve their city will be able to compete with a large money machine from a large union.”

Felton said that the news about Wilson’s campaign finances are coming out late in the game, as the press conference was held on the last day of early voting.

“I like [Wilson] personally, but she’s had some very bad advice,” Felton said. “I think she’s personally a person of integrity and a great future, but she’s got to do away with this being manipulated by money.”

Wilson planned on holding a press conference in response to the allegations, but later said the allegations against her were undeserving of that kind of response. In her statement, Wilson called the claims a dirty political trick and stands by how her campaign has been run. She added in an email that “the amount reported during the press conference reflected advertising provided to multiple candidates in different races by LPFFA.”

The Firefighters Association said in a statement that their interest is public safety in Lubbock and they support candidates with similar views. They did not directly address the accusations or why Wilson has received significantly more financial support than the other candidates they endorse.

In a recent op-ed for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, the association’s President Joseph Wallace called for pay increases for Lubbock firefighters. The issue will likely come up during the city’s budget sessions this summer.

Sarah Self-Walbrick is the news director at Texas Tech Public Media, where she leads the news team and focuses on underreported stories in Lubbock. Sarah is a Lubbock native and a three-time graduate of Texas Tech University. She started her career at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.