Houston mayoral candidate Bill King on Thursday criticized Mayor Sylvester Turner for accepting about $50,000 in campaign contributions from donors who own or are linked to strip clubs in the city, which King called “a new moral low for our city.”
In a news release, King listed 24 contributions to Turner’s campaign from 14 donors, including the spouses of club owners, between June 30, 2015 and Dec. 10, 2018, totaling $49,800. He painted the donations as an attempt from club owners to “buy influence.”
“As we all know, Houston has a reputation for being the capital of human trafficking in the United States, and so it is incredibly inappropriate for our mayor to be taking contributions from this industry,” King said at a news conference Thursday.
“It’s sad to watch Bill King politicize this serious issue while Mayor Turner is advancing real solutions,” Davis said, calling Houston’s standards and policies “the model for the fight against human trafficking.”
King, while flanked by anti-trafficking advocates, told reporters that among Turner’s campaign donors are the owners of Treasures, an adult entertainment club sued by the city and Harris County in 2012 for allegedly harboring prostitutes, drugs, illegal weapons and sexual assaults.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo returned contributions from one of the club owners last year, King noted. He further tied Turner’s contributions to a 2013 settlement in which the city agreed to stop enforcing a 3-foot rule between dancers and customers, while allowing dancers to be fully topless.
In exchange, the clubs contribute more than $1 million a year to fund a unit in the police department that investigates human trafficking. King alleged the club owners were seeking to ensure “the lax regulation of their businesses will continue” when the agreement expires in 2020.
Davis in a statement said the city is “building on the progress” of that settlement, which was brokered by then-mayor Annise Parker.
“These clubs have joined the fight against human trafficking, funding the Houston Police Department’s human trafficking unit with a million dollars a year,” Davis said. “The businesses also train employees on human trafficking awareness, report all complaints of prostitution, indecent exposure and drug use to police and eliminated private VIP rooms and areas within the clubs.”
King’s news conference marked the second attack this week that prompted Turner to respond to his mayoral foes. On Monday, candidate Tony Buzbee began airing a 30-second TV ad titled “Hogs In Charge.”
“Turner gives millions in wasteful city contracts to the donors who fund his campaign,” the ad narrator says. “…But Turner’s allies don’t care. They’re just hogs fighting for a place at the trough.”
In response, Davis said in a statement that Buzbee “has no vision for Houston, no ideas and no plans to improve our city.”
“What Mr. Buzbee does have is a big case of hypocrisy when it comes to conflicts of interest and campaign contributions,” Davis continued, pointing to campaign donations Buzbee, an attorney, has made to judges assigned to his cases. Buzbee responded to the statement on Twitter by alleging that his campaign had found Turner’s donors were more likely to receive city contracts than non-donors.
Both Buzbee and King have made City Hall corruption central to their campaigns, alleging cronyism and a “pay-to-play” atmosphere give political donors too much influence over city business.
Before now, Turner largely had ignored his opponents, addressing their critiques without mentioning them by name. Earlier this week, however, Davis dug into the claims made in Buzbee’s ads.
“Mr. Buzbee knows that the city has a rigorous procurement process, along with limits on campaign contributions, that protects against conflicts of interest in determining who gets a city contract,” Davis said. “These are the same practices and procedures that have been in effect since the administrations of Mayor Annise Parker, Mayor Bill White and previous mayors.”