Politicians accuse each other over Austin track

Austin's mayoral race went from testy to nasty Monday, with both major candidates accusing the other of some form of dishonesty about the Formula One racetrack being built just east of the city.

Brigid Shea accused Mayor Lee Leffingwell of hiding at least 24 campaign contributions, totaling at least $8,300. Shea said the donations had been "bundled" by local backers of the controversial track but not listed as such, as she contends city rules require. Shea has made both the racetrack and Leffingwell's contributions a centerpiece of her campaign.

Leffingwell's campaign denied the allegation of subverting the campaign-finance laws, then accused Shea, an environmental activist, of vehemently opposing the track only after failing to land a job with race organizers as a paid consultant.

That claim, which she denies, was supported by Richard Suttle, an Austin lawyer working for the local promoters; by Ian Davis, an environmental activist; and by a spokeswoman for Steve Sexton, president of the Circuit of the Americas, the track operator.

The track has been a divisive political issue since last year's City Council elections.

Shea is among those who have voiced a variety of objections to the track, including the council's decision to waive the cost of extending sewer lines and to clear the way for $250 million in state incentives over the next decade.

Supporters counter that the track will bring jobs and generate far more in taxes than Texas gave up in incentives, as well as put Austin on the world stage.

As part of negotiations, the city and local race organizers agreed to a series of environmental steps to be overseen by an environmental officer working for the local race promoters.

This much is not in dispute: Shea sent a memorandum to local race promoters dated July 13, 2011, questioning their commitment to environmental stewardship.

From there, stories differ.

Davis, whose wife works for Leffingwell, said he was trying assemble a team and approached Shea about working with him on the project as a paid consultant. He said that, at first, she declined. Then, after a July 19 meeting in which they talked about the project, Shea said she was indeed interested in a paid job, Davis said.

"At the end of the discussions she said she was interested in a paying gig," he said. "The answer was unequivocally yes."

He said he is now speaking on the matter because Shea has continued to make the track a prominent campaign issue.

Julie Loignon, a spokeswoman for the circuit, also said Shea spoke with Sexton about a job. "She was actively offering her services to Circuit of the Americas in exchange for compensation," Loignon said. "She was interested in a consulting agreement that included a monthly retainer."

Suttle, the local F1 lawyer who said he talked with Shea over the phone about the race's green efforts, said Shea also inquired about a job with him.

Shea said all those recollections are wrong. She said she and other environmental activists met with Davis and said they doubted whether the local F1 organizers' environmental efforts would be legitimate.

Shea said she spoke with Suttle early, after plans for the track were revealed, about bringing together a group of environmental experts. But she said the intent was not to secure a contract for herself.

"I'm really offended by this. They've misrepresented what happened," Shea said. "Everyone had the impression that, frankly, they were trying to use us."

Leffingwell on Monday disputed violating the city's campaign-finance rules.

The rules require naming bundlers, who gather contributions of $200 or more from five or more people and pass them along to campaign.

Shea's campaign contends Leffingwell's regular reports due Friday were missing F1 bundlers.

"The failure to identify bundled donations … suggests a deliberate attempt to hide the controversial F1 donations from the voters at the end of a sharply contested campaign," Shea said in a statement.

Jim Cousar, an attorney working with the Leffing-well campaign, responded: "The checks were given directly to the candidate. That is not bundling." The Statesman

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