The Texas Ethics Commission has fined Lakeway’s mayor $500 for breaking election ethics laws in connection with several online posts he admitted writing under an admitted pseudonym prior to the city's May 6 election, according to documents filed online.
A complaint investigation found evidence mayor Joe Bain violated election code requiring transparency in political advertising and campaign communication. In April, during a three-candidate race for two open council seats, Bain under the name “John Smart” wrote supportive comments for incumbent candidates Bridge Bertram and Ron Massa and downplaying the experience of newcomer Tiffany McMillan, the Commission found.
“...they actually volunteered for the City and worked hard to make it better, unlike the other candidate that hasn't attended a council meeting for a long time nor has every [sic] done any work to try to improve the city – no committees, commissions or any other volunteer work…” one online post read.
In an email statement to Community Impact Newspaper, Bain said, "I made an error in judgment in May when I posted using a pseudonym. I admitted the error and apologized to the citizens back then. I paid a $500 civil penalty to close the ethics case and am moving on, continuing to do the best I can for the citizens of Lakeway."
In his April 28 online blog post, Bain apologized for posting on Nextdoor.com under the pseudonym “John Smart” and for making statements regarding his position on items in the city’s election—including the two open positions as well as Proposition 1 to fund a new police facility. He stated on the blog post that he closed the account.
At a May 16 meeting, former Lakeway City Council candidate Tiffany McMillan told the mayor, “Your malicious actions have hurt me and my family, damaged my reputation and likely had a significant impact on the May 6 election.”
Amid calls for the mayor’s resignation, city staff said Lakeway's city charter provides for the removal of a sitting mayor through a recall election. Such a special election requires residents file a petition requesting the recall and have it signed by 10 percent of the registered voters. That never happened.
Members of the TEC concluded after their Sept. 27 meeting, Bain not only misrepresented his identity, an election code violation, “credible evidence indicates that the respondent, with intent to injure a candidate or influence the result of an election, knowingly represented in the campaign communications that the communications emanated from a source other than their true source, a second violation.
And the TEC ruled the fourth post from Bain "constituted political advertising because it was a communication that supported and opposed candidates for election to public office and appeared on an Internet website."
Bain was required but failed to include a political advertising disclosure statement because the communication contained express advocacy by asking citizens to vote for two specific candidates.