Advertisements

In recent days, an online animated file (GIF) was sent to an unknown number of voters in District 5. The GIF targeted incumbent Isabel Salcido, who is running for reelection against two challengers Richard Genera and Felix Munoz. Early polling suggests that Salcido is likely to prevail in the three way race. In addition to the GIF, a mailer was also delivered to voters in the district. The mailer also targeted Salcido. The GIF’s and mailer’s political disclaimer show that the political advertising encouraging voters in district 5 not to vote for Salcido was paid for and created by a Political Action Committee (PAC) named El Pasoans for Truth and Transparency.

Mailer sent to voters in district 5, October 2022, Special to El Paso News
Animated GIF delivered to district 5 voters, October 2022, Special to El Paso News

How money influences the political process has been an ongoing national debate since the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United (2010) that corporations and labor unions had the right to spend money on political campaigns. PACs, in particular, have been accused of using “dark money” to influence an election outcome. Normally, the culprit is thought to be large corporate donations. How money is spent to influence an election remains controversial today especially when the funding is unclear. The local PAC’s funding and who is behind is not transparent.

Who Is Behind The PAC Targeting Salcido?

El Pasoans for Truth and Transparency was created on October 20, 2022. Because the PAC is so new, its paperwork is not yet available at the Texas Ethics Commission’s (TEC) website. However, El Paso News reviewed the TEC’s recent filings and found that the PAC was registered at an address on Terrell Dr. The owner of the residence, according to the El Paso Central Appraisal District, is Selina Aguilar. Aguilar acquired the house from Joe Pickett on March 4, 2020. Pickett had purchased the house on December 4, 2021. Online marriage records show that Aguilar married Conrad Joseph Pickett on December 4, 2021. According to the County’s online birth records, Conrad Joseph Pickett was born in El Paso. Although it is not listed on the online records, it is likely that Conrad Pickett is related to Joe Pickett. The PAC’s treasurer is Joseph A. Telles.

Where’s The Money Coming From?

It is unknown what funding the PAC has and where it came from because the PAC has not yet filed its financial disclosure forms with the Texas Ethics Commission. The PAC is not required to file its expenditure reports with the state until January at the earliest. Because the PAC is not yet required to disclose its expenses and where its money came from for its targeted political activity, voters will not know until after the election who is funding the campaign against Isabel Salcido.

However, El Paso News discovered that, according to Pickett’s July 12, 2022, financial disclosure to the ethics commission, he reported contributing $315,392.54 of his state campaign funds on June 30, 2022, to his campaign for city council. Joe Pickett had filed a campaign treasurer appointment with the City on July 1, 2021. Pickett announced he was running for the district 5 seat.

On August 22, 2022, Pickett withdrew from the city council race.

What happened to the $315 thousand in Pickett’s city council campaign funds will not be disclosed until after the election. However, it is likely that Pickett used all, or part of his city campaign funds to fund the El Pasoans For Truth and Transparency PAC. In his August 22 press release announcing that he decided not to run against Salcido, Pickett wrote that he would be “creating a Political Action Committee (PAC) for the purpose of supporting truth and responsibility to all El Pasoans.”

Because of the lateness in the creation of the PAC and Pickett’s withdrawal from the district 5 race, how much he spends in this election cycle will remain unknown until well after the election. The PAC’s financial reporting will not be due until January.

The 2020 Secretive Mailer

During the 2020 mayoral election a secretive mailer was also delivered to El Paso voters urging voters to keep Dee Margo in office. Unlike the mailer urging voters to oust Salcido, the Margo mailer did not include the required political disclosures reporting who paid for the mailer.

El Paso News investigated the secretive mailer and found that it was created by the Forma Group, a company that works closely with Woody Hunt. To this day who funded the Margo mailer remains unknown.

Although the Salcido mailer carries the required disclosures, it is opaque as to its funding sources and Joe Pickett’s likely involvement in it. The PAC is registered to an El Paso address, that on surface, does not name Pickett. Why Pickett chose to use the Aguilar address is unknown but by not using his home address it raises the question of whether there is an attempt to conceal the source of the mailers and the social media posts until after the election.

As this is a developing story, El Paso News will continue to investigate and report as more information becomes available.

The article was updated to correct an error on October 27. Salcido’s district is 5 not 6.

Disclosure: Isabel Salcido purchased advertising in the El Paso News 2022 Voters’ Guide. Advertisers have no influence over our coverage.

Martin Paredes

Reporting on public corruption, border politics, immigration and public policy in El Paso since 2000.