Joined at the Pocketbook
It has always been hard to figure out where Carrie Schindewolf's presence at City Hall stopped and her husband Jimmie's began. Now that she's running for the At-large Position 2 seat on City Council, the task gets no easier.
When Jimmie was the powerful public works director and co-chief of then-mayor Bob Lanier's staff, Carrie got a mayoral appointment to the city planning commission. Till then she had operated a boutique called Scarlet's. Now Jimmie has moved on to the Houston Sports Authority to become a highly paid consultant on the downtown baseball stadium project. And Carrie's Council campaign has received a $90,000 injection of cash initially reported as a loan from Jimmie.
City campaign regulations limit contributions from individuals to a candidate to $5,000, making a hubbie-to-wife loan illegal. After an opponent complained to the city attorney, Schindewolf's campaign amended the report to claim that the money came from the joint bank account of Jimmie and Carrie, and was actually a gift from the candidate to herself. City ordinance mandates that she cannot repay herself more than $15,000. That means she and Jimmie cannot retrieve $75,000 of that amount whether she is elected or not.
Opponents were quick to cry foul.
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"We're very disappointed in the Schindewolfs," says Nancy Sims of Quantum Consultants, a firm working with Schindewolf rival Gordon Quan. "We think they're trying to circumvent campaign law. It's hard for us to believe that they are truly putting $90,000 of their personal money at risk."
Sims contends that Jimmie's HSA connection makes the maneuver doubly suspicious.
"Of course it does," says Sims, "especially when you look at the other contributors on the Schindewolf report and see that many of them do business with the Houston Sports Authority." Sims did not mention that the largest outside contribution to the Schindewolf campaign was $5,000 from former mayor Lanier.
Jimmie Schindewolf did not respond to an Insider phone inquiry, but Carrie's campaign consultant, Cynthia Miller, was quick to dismiss questions about the loan as "silly."
"Just like [former mayor] Lanier could give as much as he wanted to himself, she can give as much money as she wants to herself," says Miller. "It is from an account she shares with Jimmie. It is her money."
Miller says the initial campaign filing was in error. "I told Carrie when they faxed the report, 'You guys, this is confusing. You should have listed Jimmie and Carrie, or just Carrie.' "
Jimmie and cousin Ken Schindewolf, Carrie's campaign treasurer, didn't help matters when they gave differing versions of the transaction after it became public. According to Assistant City Attorney Paul Bibler, Jimmie initially told him that the money was a loan that he and Carrie had taken out at a bank. Ken Schindewolf told the Insider that "Jimmie lent Carrie the money," but then added that "it was community property." He did not explain how someone could lend his wife money that they already jointly owned.
Carrie Schindewolf says she and Jimmie took out the $90,000 loan from Guaranty Federal Bank on September 23, using a certificate of deposit in their names as collateral. They deposited the cash in a joint checking account and wrote a check for the same amount to her campaign. According to the candidate, the loan was for the sole purpose of boosting the campaign.
If the Schindewolfs got a bank loan and then deposited it in their joint account with the aim of transferring it to her campaign, the loan must be reported in detail, opined Texas Ethics Commission attorney Karen Lundquist.
Carrie Schindewolf says there was no intent to hide anything. "You have to understand, I've never done this before," she explains.
Assistant City Attorney Bibler indicated he was satisfied with the Schindewolfs' amendment to the report and would not pursue the matter further.
"I hadn't been planning to make a federal case out of this," says the lawyer. "I've known Jimmie for a long time, and I've never known him to be untruthful with me. I'm not really sure even if it had been a loan from Jimmie to his wife that it would make any difference, because he said he doesn't have any money that isn't also his wife's money."
The candidate bristled when asked whether she would be independent of her husband's money and influence if she were elected.
"I think that's a really sexist view," declares Carrie. "I'm a woman. I'm a very independent person. I love my husband. He and I talk about things, but he certainly does not make decisions for me, and he didn't when I was on the planning commission."
She also struck a brash note about her chances of winning.
"I really do have the best interests of the city at heart, and I would like for you and I to have some dialogue and communication," says Carrie, "because I think it's important that elected officials talk to the press."
It's amazing what $90,000 can do for a candidate's confidence.
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