Texas Ethics Commission finds Starr County judge violated campaign finance rules

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Starr County Judge Eloy Vera

The Texas Ethics Commission has ruled that Starr County Judge Eloy Vera committed several campaign finance violations, including using county resources to produce a video that constituted political advertising.

The TEC issued the orders and agreed resolutions on June 29 and fined Vera a total of $2,000 in civil penalties for the four violations.

Most of the violations center around the late filings of campaign finance reports and the appointment of a campaign treasurer.

In the late filings of campaign finance reports, Vera told the TEC that the late filings were oversights.

As for the campaign treasurer appointment, Vera said the standard practice in Starr County was that the appointment would be filed with the local Democratic Party.

“In response to the complaint, the respondent swore that he filed his campaign treasurer appointment with the Starr County Democratic Party chair on November 18, 2021,” the order stated. “The respondent included a copy of a campaign treasurer appointment that was dated November 18, 2021, but did not have a date stamp to indicate when it had been filed.”

The TEC, however, found Vera failed to file the appointment with the proper local filing authority.

As for his reelection video that was produced with county resources, Vera swore that “the video was recorded and produced entirely at his expense and that there was no cost or any expense to the county for the recording or production.”

That video was posted to the Starr County Texas Facebook page on Sept. 12, 2022, with a caption reading: “Your Starr County | Historical Growth | Accountable Governance: Information video from Starr County Judge Eloy Vera.”

“In the video, the respondent makes use of both Starr County facilities and equipment,” the order stated. “The respondent appeared in his office, in a chair that appeared to be embossed with the county logo, wearing a shirt with the county logo, and behind a desk that included his name plate.”

The video was posted on Facebook with a “check mark” logo used in political advertising.

“In the video, the respondent states ‘I am very happy today that thanks to God and with your help, the citizens of this County, we have been very successful in building a lot of things in our community. From the Medical Plaza, different things that are going on, your unemployment, just the quality of life in our community,’” the order stated.

Texas Election Code prohibits officials from knowingly spending or authorizing the spending of public funds for political advertising.

The TEC found that Vera filmed the video in his office, which is a Starr County facility and determined that county equipment was visible throughout the video.

“Therefore, it is clear that the respondent spent public funds in the creation of the video,” the order stated.

That video was posted on Sept. 12, 2022, at 9:57 a.m.

“Access to post on that page is restricted to employees of Starr County, and the video was posted on a work day, during work hours,” the order stated. “Therefore, in addition to the facilities and equipment used in filming the video, the respondent also spent public funds by using or authorizing the use of paid employee work time to post the video online.”

Furthermore, the TEC found that Vera detailed the successes of Starr County while using his logo and picture as they appear in his political advertising, which makes it clear that the video is political advertising.

Separately, the TEC also found that Starr County Justice of the Peace Pct. 1 Jesus “Chuy” Alvarez also violated campaign finance rules by not filing his campaign treasurer appointment; by not filing semiannual campaign finance reports; and for not providing a political advertising disclosure statement on political advertising signs.

The TEC fined him $1,000.

All of these complaints were filed by ProjectRedTX, a Republican group that has been in the Rio Grande Valley scrutinizing elected Democratic officials for campaign finance violations.