Puttin’ on the Ritz

Wendy Davis used campaign funds to pay for luxury apartments, records show

Wendy Davis / AP
February 4, 2014

Embattled Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis has spent more than $131,000 in campaign funds to pay for luxury apartments in Austin, Texas, since her election to the Texas State Senate in 2008, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis.

While such use of campaign funds is legal in Texas, the amounts involved and properties rented may undermine Davis’s campaign persona of a working class single mom, observers tell the Free Beacon.

Davis, whose permanent address is in Fort Worth, lists government accountability as a primary issue on her campaign website, which says she opposes elected officials who "have turned state agencies and programs into their own personal piggy bank, granting favors to their friends, rewarding donors, and furthering their own interests."

First elected to the Texas State Senate in 2008, Davis has expensed upwards of $2,000 in monthly rent each legislative session.

Davis lived at the Monarch during the 81st session, from January 13, 2009, to June 1, 2009.

The residence is described as a "luxury community," with "five-star resort amenities." The total amount of rent and utilities paid to the Monarch during the session was $13,882.07.

Additionally, a maid service fee appears on Davis’ 2009 semi-annual report. The company, "Maid at your service," received $240 for "cleaning services."

Davis continued expensing rent and utilities at the Monarch between August and December of 2009 and in February and May of 2010, though the legislature was no longer meeting in Austin.

During that time, Davis expensed an additional $22,280.14.

"It’s an intractable problem in politics," political analyst Jay Cost told the Free Beacon. "How do you get representatives to be good stewards of public trust? There have been gaps in the law—there have always been gaps in the law. We close gaps and then new gaps open up."

Davis’ use of campaign funds for rent is not due to a lack of financial resources.

As a partner at the firm Newby-Davis and a lawyer "of counsel" at Cantey Hanger LLP, Davis earned $275,271 for legal work in 2012.

In 2010, Davis made $33,346 for her work with Newby-Davis. In 2011, she made $52,961 and by 2012 her salary had nearly tripled to $154,212.

From January 01, 2011, to May 28, 2011, Davis lived at the Ashton, where her monthly rent was over $3,000.

The lavish apartment complex, located in the "posh 2nd Street District" with views of Lady Bird Lake, has "beautiful hardwood and travertine flooring, an open kitchen with European-style cabinetry and stainless steel appliances, bedrooms large enough for a king size bed, and spa-inspired bathrooms with soothing soaking tubs," according to its website.

Davis’ expense report shows that the total rent and apartment fees, including parking, cost $21,784.52.

In 2011, the legislature held a special session from May 31, 2011, to June 29, 2011. Davis expensed $5,258.13 in rent and utilities to the Ashton that July.

Davis began to expense rent at the Ashton apartment complex in 2010, spending $12,274.44 from February to June and $16,036.74 from July to November.

The state legislature did not officially meet in 2010.

During the 2013 legislative session, from January 8, 2013, to May 27, 2013, Davis spent $14,720.48 to live in Gables Park Plaza where monthly rent was $2,913.

Gables Park Plaza, according to its website, has "interior features [that] surpass today’s most upscale dwellings," including a concierge, "roof top swimming pool and Sky lounge," and a theater room.

Gables Park Plaza appeared on the January and July semi-annual reports covering  2012 expenses. Though the legislature did not meet in 2012, Davis expensed $25,444.99 in rent and utilities.

According to O’Connor & Associates, a Houston-based real estate service company, the average monthly rent for an apartment unit in Austin during May of 2013 was $906.02. Depending on quality, the ranges of rent averages were from $692.49 to $1,050.61, making Davis’s rent well above average.

"The problem with people who do stuff like this," Cost said, "is it facilitates and it justifies public cynicism. The public can walk away thinking that even the people who claim to be against this stuff are actually doing it."

The legislature in Texas only meets during odd-numbered years. Though special sessions may be called, the regular session begins "at noon on the second Tuesday in January" and cannot last more the one hundred forty days.

During that time, lawmakers must be physically present in Austin, where the legislature meets at the State Capitol.

Legislators receive a salary of $7,200 and are paid during both odd and even numbered years, making $14,400 in a two-year period. Legislators are also given a $150 per diem for each day the body is in session to ease the financial cost of traveling to and living in the city of Austin.

Davis’s campaign did not return requests for comment.

Last week, an ethics complaint was filed against Davis, alleging that she neglected to disclose lobbying associations and "failed to report on her personal financial filings more than $25,000 in interest and dividends she made between 2010 and 2012."

Published under: Wendy Davis