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By W. Gardner Selby May 6, 2011

Kathie Tovo says one of Randi Shade's biggest donors is lobbyist for racetrack

Kathie Tovo, among challengers to Place 3 Austin City Council Member Randi Shade, says in at least two recent mailers sent to voters that despite a city budget crisis, the council might give $4 million a year for 10 years to subsidize a racetrack.

That’s referring to possible council action designating a portion of estimated city sales and use tax revenues to cover costs related to future Formula One races on the track planned southeast of Austin.

Here, we’re not delving into whether such spending would be a subsidy. We’re wondering about what Tovo adds in her mailers: "And one of (Shade’s) biggest contributors is the racetrack lobbyist."

Tovo’s campaign manager, Mark Yznaga, told us in a telephone interview the lobbyist is Richard Suttle, a partner in the influential Austin law firm, Armbrust & Brown.

Yznaga conceded that Suttle has personally given Shade’s campaign only $25, the maximum any lobbyist working City Hall can give per election. But, he said, lawyers and spouses connected to the Armbrust & Brown firm accounted for 51 firm-connected contributions, 45 for $350, six for $25, for a total $15,900 from late December through April 4, the end of the latest reporting period.

Nudged about Suttle’s tiny donation, Yznaga replied: "You’re being silly. It’s quite well known in the city that (Suttle) is the lobbyist who does a lot of Armbrust & Brown work."

Yznaga noted that 16 members of the firm, which lists 21 lawyers on its website, contributed the maximum allowed, $350. And he pointed out that David Armbrust, among the firm’s founders, is listed on Shade’s finance filings as a bundler, which the city defines as anyone who has solicited and obtained contributions for the candidate adding up to more than $5,000 during a finance reporting period. Armbrust, like Suttle a city-registered lobbyist, gave $25.

Suttle is a familiar figure at City Hall, where he frequently represents real estate developers. He has reported 55 clients to the city, including Circuit of the Americas, which is building the racetrack.

Next, we reached Suttle, who called the characterization of him as one of Shade’s biggest contributors "a stretch. It’s old-school campaign lies." The city ordinance limiting individuals who lobby the city to $25 donations means he couldn’t be a top donor.

"I have to chuckle," he said, adding that he told his wife, who also donated $25 to Shade’s campaign: "I guess 50 bucks gets us on the big contributors list now."

In a telephone interview, Shade’s campaign manager, Katherine Haenschen, pointed out that the money donated by the Suttles accounted for a minuscule share of more than $168,000 Shade raised from November through April 4.

She said by email: "By my calculations, our average donation is $208. Suttle's $25 is
about 1/8 of that. Furthermore, the last time I checked, there are only 10 individuals who have donated LESS than Richard Suttle!"

That may be true. But donors connected to Armbrust & Brown accounted for 9 percent of Shade’s contributions through April 4. Shade’s finance reports show 9 bundlers other than Armbrust accounting for 15 percent of her campaign contributions through April 4. The next-most-successful single bundler raised about $6,300, less than half Armbrust’s haul for Shade.

Armbrust’s bundling is surely appreciated by the incumbent and signals the firm’s lawyers, including Suttle, want her to win a second term. But Tovo overshoots when she spears the racetrack lobbyist. Other members of his law firm are responsible for sending far more money Shade’s way. We rate the claim Barely True.

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Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

Our Sources

City of Austin, brochure, "CANDIDATE AND OFFICEHOLDER BROCHURE," November 2008

City of Austin, lobbyist and client list, Richard Suttle; Randi Shade campaign finance report filed Feb. 28, 2011 and 30-day pre-election finance report, filed April 14, 2011, Randi Shade (accessed May 4 and 5, 2011)

Telephone interview, Katherine Haenschen, manager, Randi Shade campaign, May 3, 2011

Telephone interview, Richard Suttle, lobbyist and lawyer, Armbrust & Brown, May 3, 2011

Telephone interviews and list, donations to Randi Shade connected to Armbrust & Brown, Mark Yznaga, manager, Kathie Tovo campaign, May 2 and 3, 2011

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Kathie Tovo says one of Randi Shade's biggest donors is lobbyist for racetrack

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