Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says one of Dallas County's top officials has been crossing a line by soliciting money from some of her department's largest vendors.
A WFAA investigation has uncovered emails documenting Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole urging vendors for "financial support.”
State ethics laws are clear when it comes to the relationship between public officials and vendors. It says officials "should not accept or solicit any gift, favor or services," especially if they have a say in selecting and keeping the vendor.
The email exchanges uncovered by WFAA-TV are with some of the biggest vendors doing business with the Dallas County Elections Department.
Over the past two years, Dallas County has paid them or their subsidiaries $3.5 million dollars for software and services.
As Dallas County Elections Administrator, Toni Pippins-Poole recommends to the Commissioners Court which vendors get hired.
But WFAA has learned that Pippins-Poole's relationship with vendors goes beyond just doing Dallas County business.
Emails obtained by WFAA-TV indicate she's not shy about asking those vendors for money.
This past summer, Pippins-Poole was campaigning for the role of Secretary for the International Association of Government Officials, or IGO.
She wanted her Texas delegation to look sharp for the national conference this summer and ordered 150 lapel pins.
But it appears she didn't want to pay for them.
In a June 7 email, she asks a county employee... "Have you checked with [vendor] ES&S to sponsor the Texas Delegation pins for IGO or the shirts?"
The next day, a representative from ES&S emailed Pippins-Poole regarding paying for the lapel pins.
He writes... "In the past we simply wrote a check to Toni..." He adds..."We can send a check made out to you (Toni) for the $1500 amount...."
"For an elections administrator to solicit contributions from a vendor is troubling,” said Joe Kulhavy, a former staff attorney for the Texas Secretary of State’s elections division who looked at Pippins-Poole’s emails at WFAA’s request.
“Reading an email exchange like that, a person naturally is drawn to the potential conclusion that a vendor is offering direct off the books payment to the person who has final supervisory control over that vendor's contracts,” he said.
Again, state law says public officials "should not accept or solicit any gift, favor or service that might reasonably tend to influence the officer.”
WFAA also found solicitation letters from Pippins-Poole to six elections company vendors, asking them to donate $500 to $800 to a charity on behalf of her IGO Texas Delegation.
We made several attempts to contact Pippins-Poole, but she declined to answer questions on camera.
We showed the email exchanges we found to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
“There will no longer be solicitation of vendors by the elections department,” Jenkins told WFAA. “We don’t want our vendors approached for solicitations.”
WFAA contacted all of the vendors who had been solicited by Pippins Poole, but only two responded. Both said there was nothing wrong with being asked for donations.