Houston City Councilwoman Helena Brown has repaid the city nearly $3,000 in taxpayer money she spent on refrigerator magnets that the Texas Ethics Commission says amount to campaign swag.
City Attorney David Feldman, who had asked Brown to reimburse the city before the commission issued its opinion Thursday, said Brown cut the city a check for $2,989.96 on Friday, the full amount at issue.
Feldman and Brown each said they had sought an opinion from the commission on what invoices show are roughly 13,000 magnets bearing a photograph of Brown and her office phone number, email address and postal address.
The ethics commission sided with Feldman.
“In our opinion, the refrigerator magnet is a self-promotion of a public officer because the name and photograph of the public officer appear in an unduly conspicuous way and the three-item list promotes the public officer’s priorities,” the opinion stated. “The refrigerator magnet at issue constitutes ‘political advertising.'”
See here for the background. I’d link to the TEC’s opinion so you could read it yourself, but it doesn’t appear to be posted yet – a search on their opinion search page (which says “Last revision: November 8”) comes up empty, and the advisory opinions page was last updated in April. At the time I thought this wasn’t that big a deal, but looking at the image of the magnet again now, I think the TEC got it right. You might have thought that CM Brown, of all people, would have wanted to pay for something like this herself rather than let the taxpayers cover the cost, but that’s the way it goes. This is the end of the matter, since there was no complaint filed and the money has been paid back.