Posted inLocal Government

Not all City Council candidates promise to fight fair. Here’s why

Only six of the 30 Fort Worth City Council candidates pledged to follow fair campaign practices during the 2023 election cycle.

An analysis of campaign filings by the Fort Worth Report found only a single incumbent — District 6 council member Jared Williams — signed a voluntary form to disavow dishonest or unethical campaign practices, like character defamation or appeals to prejudice based on a candidate’s race, sex and religion. 

Five newcomers, spread out across Districts 6, 9, 10, 11 and the mayoral seat, also agreed to running a clean campaign. 

Who filed a fair campaign practices form this year?

  • Jeanette Martinez (District 11 candidate)
  • Brandon Jones (District 10 candidate)
  • Chris Reed (District 9 candidate)
  • Tonya Carter (District 6 candidate)
  • Jared Williams (District 6 candidate)
  • Adrian Smith (Mayoral candidate)

Under Texas election code, agreeing to play fair is optional but encouraged. But the benefits of signing such a form are murky — as are the consequences for any violation of the form’s promises. 

“It’s a nice thought,” City Secretary Jannette Goodall said. “It would be wonderful if all candidates complied. But I would assume because it’s not a requirement, that most of them just skip past it.”

Decades-old form governs fairness in campaigning

The state legislature amended Texas election code in 1997 to add a chapter on fair campaign practices, intended to “open discussion of issues and candidate qualifications and to discourage practices that cloud the issues or unfairly attack opponents.”

When a candidate files with their local election authority, they are given a code of fair campaign practices form and a copy of the chapter in election code governing such practices. The election authority must tell the candidate that signing the form is voluntary. 

“Our role is fairly limited,” Goodall said. “I am required to provide this form to candidates, and accept them if they decide to file them, but beyond that, that’s really the only responsibility that is laid out in the election code for me regarding these forms.”

If they sign the form, a candidate agrees to adhering to the following:

  • Conducting the campaign openly and publicly and limiting attacks on opponents to legitimate challenges to an opponent’s record and stated positions on issues.
  • Not using or permitting the use of character defamation, whispering campaigns, libel, slander, or scurrilous attacks on any candidate or the candidate’s personal or family life.
  • Not using or permitting any appeal to negative prejudice based on race, sex, religion, or national origin.
  • Not using campaign material of any sort that misrepresents, distorts, or otherwise falsifies the facts, or using  malicious or unfounded accusations that aim at creating or exploiting doubts, without justification, as to the personal integrity or patriotism of an opponent.
  • Not undertaking or condoning any dishonest or unethical practice that tends to corrupt or undermine our system of free elections or that hampers or prevents the full and free expression of the will of the voters, including any activity aimed at intimidating voters or discouraging them from voting.
  • Defending and upholding the right of every qualified voter to full and equal participation in the electoral process, and not engaging in any activity aimed at intimidating voters or discouraging them from voting.
  • Immediately and publicly repudiate methods and tactics that may come from others that the candidate has pledged not to use or condone. The candidate shall take firm action against any subordinate who violates any provision of this code or the laws governing elections.

Benefits, drawbacks of signing form unclear 

Candidates who sign the fair campaign practices form can say as much on their political advertising, to signal to voters that they’re committed to fair campaigns. But there’s no civil or criminal penalty listed in the election code for signing the form and then discarding the promises made.

That lack of clarity around potential consequences could have a chilling effect on filling out the optional form, Goodall said. 

“It’s not really clear what would happen if someone accused them of violating it,” she said. “You’re being asked to comply, but you don’t really know what the outcome could be. Not being a candidate, I’m only venturing a guess.”

Goodall couldn’t remember a time she’d seen a candidate use their signing of the form as a political strategy. 

“How many people would even know what it was or what it meant?” Goodall asked.  

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via TwitterAt the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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