Michelle Barrientes Vela raised $1,600 for sheriff campaign, loaned self $61,000

Campaign finance report is first look at controversial candidate’s campaign

Michelle Barrientes Vela (KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – Former Bexar County Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela raised $1,600 in political contributions and loaned herself more than $60,000, according to a campaign finance report made public Wednesday.

The report — the public’s first glimpse at the viability of her controversial campaign for sheriff — spans from the time she appointed a treasurer in mid-October until Dec. 31. She was removed from her position as constable in September after triggering the state’s resign-to-run law and having her office and home raided by the FBI and Texas Rangers, whose investigation remains open.

She’s challenging incumbent Sheriff Javier Salazar, whose report shows that he raised more than $77,000 in contributions in the last six months, along with three other Democrats in the March 3 primary election. The deadline for reports to be filed with the county is 5 p.m. Wednesday.

According to the report, Barrientes Vela received six individual contributions totaling $1,630. Of that total, $1,415 came from one person.

With relatively few individual contributions, Barrientes Vela loaned her campaign $40,000 and her husband, Carlos Vela, loaned the campaign $21,675, for a total of $61,675 in campaign loans, according to the report. Carlos Vela, who was caught up in one of the ex-constable’s controversies, also serves as the campaign’s treasurer.

The campaign loan means that she’ll be out tens of thousands of dollars unless she’s able to raise enough to cover her expenditures and repay the loan.

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Scott Braddock, editor of Quorum Report, a longstanding political newsletter at the Texas Capitol, told KSAT that the campaign finance report, on its face, suggests that Barrientes Vela doesn’t have much support in the community, but that there could be caveats.

“The fact that a candidate is mostly self-funded doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t enjoy support in the community,” said Braddock, an elections expert. “But when no one else steps up with resources, it puts pressure on the candidate to find other ways to demonstrate he or she can really compete.”

Those could include releasing an internal poll that shows support or racking up political endorsements from community leaders and activists, he said.

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The former constable has spent just more than $50,000 on signs, events, advertising and supplies, the report shows.

More than $33,000 of those expenditures went to 3-D Screen Printing in Somerset. The business is owned by Harold Orosco, according to the campaign finance report and his LinkedIn page. Orosco is also a city council member in Somerset, according to the city’s website and Orosco’s LinkedIn page.

Campaign records show Barrientes Vela also spent $6,000 on advertising with Sign Busters, a San Antonio company that helps distribute and put up campaign signs and was tied up in one of the ex-constable’s controversies last year.

In November, people hanging political signs on behalf of Barrientes Vela confronted a store owner along NW 36th Street after one of his employees took the sign down because Barrientes Vela didn’t have permission to put it there, according to multiple sources familiar with the incident. Her attorney told KSAT at the time the people hanging the signs worked for Sign Busters and not her campaign.

The sign hangers entered the store demanding to know why it was taken down and then a second group of people showed up, sources told KSAT. At least one of the people told its owner that they would shut it down, according to sources.

The store owner declined a request for an on-camera interview and asked that the Defenders not reveal the name of his store, out of concern that people associated with Barrientes Vela’s campaign would vandalize it.

That leaves her with nearly $18,000 cash-on-hand with three months before the March 3 Democratic primary, according to the report. Early voting begins Feb. 18.

By comparison, Salazar spent $85,000 on his campaign in the final six months of 2019, records show.

Another Democratic candidate for sheriff, Jose Trevino, raised more than $13,000 and spent more than $7,000, records show.

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KSAT 12 investigative reporter Dillon Collier contributed to this report.

About the Author:

Kolten Parker is digital executive producer at KSAT. Previously, he worked at the San Antonio Express-News and the Texas Observer.