An Austin judge ordered the Associated Republicans of Texas PAC to stop taking, spending, or soliciting any corporate money until after the November 2 election. If the ruling holds — ART is appealing it — it'll mean money from corporations and unions can't be used for any purpose by political action committees that aren't affiliated with them, either directly or through a trade group. And the ruling could have implications in ongoing grand jury investigations of campaign finance in the 2002 elections that put the first Republican majority in the Texas House since Reconstruction.
State District Judge Paul Davis Jr. issued a temporary restraining order barring ART and Norman Newton — who heads the group and is listed as the PAC's treasurer — from collecting, spending, or soliciting any corporate or union money until he's had a hearing on the matter. He scheduled the hearing for November 3, the day after the elections.
Democratic House candidates David Leibowitz of San Antonio and Bob Glaze of Gilmer filed the suit, saying Texas law prohibits so-called "unaffiliated PACs" from accepting or spending corporate and union contributions. What typically happens — one ethics lawyer we know calls this the "folk law" — is that non-affiliated PACs use corporate money for non-campaign expenses like administration and lawyer fees, but not directly on support for campaigns. ART, for instance, covered some of the huge Republican legal bills from congressional redistricting. Since those expenses weren't related to a particular political campaign, they used corporate money for it.
But lawyers for the Democrats in this case say only affiliated PACs can do that. A political action committee affiliated with a particular company or union, or with a trade group made up of several corporations, can accept corporate contributions. Those PACs are limited in how they can use the money; it still can't go into a campaign to elect this person or that one.
ART, the Democrats argue, isn't affiliated with a particular corporation or union, or trade group of corporations or of unions. ART's Pat Robbins says the PAC's bylaws make a member of anyone — or any corporation — that gives $10 or more. But PAC membership alone, with no other business purpose, might not meet the legal standard for affiliation. She says the group's corporate monies are never used in campaigns and says the group's use of corporate money for overhead and other non-campaign expenses has been minimal. One exception she notes: ART used corporate and other contributions to pay the lawyers who handled congressional redistricting for the Republicans over the last two years. "No group in the history of politics has ever been more careful," she says.
At the moment, she says, ART only has about $3,000 in corporate money in its accounts, and the TRO won't affect what the PAC is doing during the current election cycle. "It is in absolutely no way going to affect the money we put into races this year," Robbins says. Later, talking about Glaze and Leibowitz in particular, she amended her comment a bit: "Don't be surprised if quite a bit of money goes into those races in the next few days."
If Davis' ruling stands, it'll mean unaffiliated PACs like Texans for a Republican Majority — the Tom DeLay-founded outfit that's getting so much attention right now from Travis County prosecutors — can't touch corporate money. It could form the basis for complaints that those groups, and others like them, shouldn't have been using corporate money in past efforts that were covered by the same laws. Robbins isn't buying the argument, but like campaign finance reformers who tend to be on the other side of the argument most of the time, ART would like to see a clear line drawn. "If this forces a definitive answer for everybody, that would be great."
Politics, Politics, Politics
Early voting started on Monday, Oct. 18, and Texans are voting like crazy. In the state's top 15 counties, 505,171 people voted in the first three days they could do so (the numbers include both in-person voting and mailed in ballots). It took six days of voting to get that many Texas ballots four years ago, when George W. Bush was on the national ballot for the first time. The three-day total then (voting started on a Saturday in some counties) was only 169,709. The five-day total four years ago for the 15 biggest counties was 393,298.
It's hard to tell how much of that is attributable to growth. The Texas Secretary of State doesn't have a solid count of how many Texans are registered to vote this year (it'll be out in a couple of days), so there's no way to know whether the percentage turnouts are different from those in previous presidential elections. You can watch the daily totals at www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/ earlyvoting.
• Late Hit: U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, was served with a subpoena in a civil suit four days after early voting started and asked to appear for a deposition eight days before Election Day. That's connected to a lawsuit filed by state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, alleging state leaders abused their powers when looking for the House Democrats who went to Oklahoma last year to stall a vote on congressional redistricting... DeLay's Democratic opponent, Richard Morrison, lucked into a cancellation during the 7th game of the Houston Astros-St. Louis Cardinals playoff and got his commercial on air during that game. He's been on cable some, with positive ads. DeLay has been on more, and third-party groups are helping each candidate. The Club for Growth is promoting DeLay, while Democracy for America is boosting Morrison.
• State Rep. Jack Stick, R-Austin, took issue with last week's item about a candidate debate that didn't happen earlier this month. His staff said at the time he'd be there and the Rotary Club volunteers who set up the event thought they had a commitment, but Stick says he had never given them a solid yes. As late as the morning of the event, he thought he could make it, but he was overcome by events and couldn't be there. He wasn't ducking, he says, and says he didn't pin down the engagement for a very good reason: He was getting married the next day. His bride, known until last week as Erica Phillips, was an aide to state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson. She changed her name to Stick on Saturday. On Sunday, she was on television, appearing in a reelection commercial with her new husband on the eve of early voting.
• Gary Polland, the former head of Harris County's Republican Party and the editor of the Texas Conservative Review (he's also a lawyer and consultant), touts the Arlene Wohlgemuth-Chet Edwards congressional race in his latest issue. Polland is in Houston and the contest between the state representative and the congressman covers a district that goes from College Station north through Waco and into suburban Fort Worth, but Polland has been profiling races all over the state. He's behind Wohlgemuth — no surprise there — and says she's more reliable than the incumbent on taxes, spending and social issues. After boosting her and swatting him for a couple of paragraphs, he suggests his readers help Wohlgemuth by sending money out of state, to the Club for Growth, a Washington-based conservative group. That political group was the Burleson Republican's biggest contributor during the GOP primaries earlier this year, and still has the race on its target list.
• Use some salt when you're looking at campaign polls in the closing days, but go ahead and look. Wohlgemuth's campaign says her race is "close, but winnable" and in a statistical dead heat. It's got her in the lead by three points over Edwards, but the margin of error is 5.7 percent. Richard Morrison's campaign cites what they call a "semi-scientific poll" showing their guy only seven percentage points behind U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
A Redistricting Hiccup
The U.S. Supreme Court sent the Texas congressional redistricting map back to the three federal judges who okayed it, saying the locals need to take another look. That's a win for the Democrats, but it won't interrupt Republican plans for a takeover of the Texas congressional delegation.
Elections that started Monday — hours before the Supremes issued their order — will proceed without interruption under district lines drawn last year by Republican legislators.
The ruling approving the Republican maps for congressional races in Texas happened before the Supremes ruled in a Pennsylvania redistricting case. Without saying that the Texas result should have been different in light of the Pennsylvania ruling (the case was styled Vieth vs. Jubelirer), the highest federal court sent the case back to the three-judge panel for another look. One issue in the Pennsylvania case — left unresolved in the Supreme Court's ruling — is whether partisan intentions can be taken to unconstitutional levels when making new maps. The justices said, in effect, that they didn't know where to draw a line between fair and unfair partisanship.
The local panel has plenty of options. One would be to decide they were right the first time. That would make the state happy. Attorney General Greg Abbott said he sees no dissonance between the Texas ruling and the Supreme Court's opinion in the Pennsylvania case. And he said he doesn't think it'll take all that long to get a post-Vieth stamp of approval out of the federal panel. If he gets his wish, the Democrats who appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court the first time would then have the option of appealing again, this time telling the high court that the Texas process was too partisan to be legal.
On the other extreme, the federal panel here could say all bets are off, that the Vieth case explodes the result in the Texas case, and that the congressional map that was put in place after the 2000 census — a map much more favorable to the Democrats — should be used in the next elections (the Legislature had a case of political vapor lock that prevented lawmakers from drawing a new map to reflect the census results; the courts drew one for them and those were used in the 2002 congressional elections). Such a ruling would essentially turn the clock back two years and would almost certainly prompt the Republicans — who went to all that trouble to get the current map — to appeal.
Abbott called the ruling "routine" and found comfort in the court's decision not to hear arguments in the case right away. Democrats took their comfort from the court's decision not to stop the argument. From their standpoint, any action that keeps their appeal alive is positive.
The court-ordered map used in the congressional elections in 2002 sent 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans to Congress. U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Rockwall, decided to become an R-Rockwall, which left the delegation with 16 members from each party. The map drawn last year in special session — after legislative holdouts that saw Democrats in both the House and the Senate leaving the state to prevent a vote — is being used for the current elections. If all goes perfectly for the Republicans and their candidates win every district drawn for them, the congressional delegation from Texas would have 22 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Federal officeholders in the GOP would have a little more breathing room, adding six seats to their narrow majority in the U.S. House.
The court's order adds another ingredient to an already messy political situation in Texas. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, who brokered the legislative deal that finalized redistricting (while Gov. Rick Perry was out of state), was rebuked by the House Ethics Committee three times in the last couple of weeks. One of those backhands was for asking federal aviation officials to track Texas Rep. Pete Laney's airplane when the House Democrats were making their escape to Oklahoma last year.
The redistricting effort would have made no progress at all without a Republican majority in the Texas House. That was accomplished in the 2002 elections, and three DeLay associates have been indicted for their fundraising activities during those elections. A grand jury in the state capital is still working on that case, trying to determine whether corporate money was illegally applied to election efforts and whether third-party groups coordinated their actions — again, illegally — with campaigns of Republicans who were trying to get elected that year.
The Big Guy
Go back to the campaign finance reports for the primaries and look for the Good Government PAC and what they were up to. That Corpus Christi political action committee's biggest contributors are trial lawyers, including the Watts Law Firm, the Edwards Law firm and solo practitioner Mauricio Celis. It's run out of the Watts firm's offices. The PAC provided much of the firepower against Rep. Jaime Capelo, D-Corpus Christi, helping knock him off in this year's Democratic primary.
One of the big contributors on Capelo's side was Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the sworn foe of trial lawyers in Texas and the most aggressive of the state's tort reform groups.
Now, however, TLR and the Good Government guys are working on the same side, trying to win the reelection of the top budget-writer in the House, Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston. Heflin raised $270,151 in July, August and September, including $55,000 from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and his wife Doylene Perry, $6,900 from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, and $5,000 from the Good Government PAC, which is affiliated with a Corpus Christi trial lawyer firm that is not ordinarily affiliated with tort reformers like the Houston Perrys and TLR. Heflin spent $127,478 and ended the period with $234,880 on hand.
The TLR folks say they don't mind Heflin getting money from their opposites and generally didn't want to talk about it. The Good Government PAC's treasurer didn't return calls, either. One connection worth mentioning: Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, Heflin's vice chairman on the House Appropriations Committee, is one of Mikel Watts' law partners. They're from different parties, but the link is obvious.
The Texas Trial Lawyers Association isn't playing directly in the race, either with Heflin or against him. Texas Democrats have had Heflin on their target list for months and the trials and the Democrats usually line up on these things. Not so far. Hubert Vo, the Democrat who's challenging Heflin, raised $56,419 during that same July-September period, spent $19,816, and had $19,816 on hand at the end of the reporting period. His biggest contribution was also unusual, and we've reported it previously: $10,000 from Dallas investor Albert Huddleston, who's usually on the GOP side of the ledger.
• While we're on the subject of Houston and money and politics, Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs is not on the ballot this time, but she's raising money faster than many of the people who are. Her camp says she raised more than $160,000 at a Houston funder this month at the home of builder and tort-reformer Leo Linbeck. She's got her eye on the comptroller's office, on the theory that Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn won't run for reelection two years from now. Strayhorn hasn't said that, but has said she's receptive to supporters who think she should run for governor. Combs hasn't said what her plans would be if Strayhorn decides to stay put in 2006.
Representations About Taxation
Several of the congressional Democrats put at political risk by the state's new redistricting maps are closing their campaigns with attacks on Republicans who've endorsed a national sales tax.
Some Republicans have endorsed proposed legislation that would get rid of federal income taxes and replace them with a national sales tax. The Democrats have latched onto studies from the Brookings Institute and others that conclude the rate on such a tax — if it really did replace all of the nation's other tax revenues — could add 30 cents or more to a $1 purchase.
That makes for easy advertising, if you apply that high number to the prices of things like groceries, washing machines, cars and houses. U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, started the wave in press release wars against U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, and has moved the battle to television. He's got an ad running that concludes the Republican wants to add $8,000 to the price of a pickup truck. U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, is hitting U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, with radio ads on the subject, which first came up in a debate in that race. It's tuned for a different audience; the pickup in Stenholm's ad becomes a car in Frost's, and the tax is only $7,000.
It's an issue in the Central Texas contest between U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, and state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson. It arose there in a debate, though Wohlgemuth fought back harder than her confederates in Dallas and in West Texas. And an ad on the topic sponsored by the Democratic Party was pulled from a couple of TV stations after she raised a stink about their accuracy. Her camp says she supports a "fair tax" that would kill federal income, estate, gift, and employment taxes and replace them with a sales tax, with rebates to cover food and clothing.
The Brookings study put the needed sales tax rate for replacing federal income taxes at 26 cents, and said it could cost as much as 60 cents in sales taxes to replace all federal taxes. One of their sources is a paper by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound. If you've already forgotten, he's a conservative economist and a leading proponent of a flat income tax who used to teach at the University of North Texas. The legislation in question has ten Texas co-signers, including Neugebauer, according to the National Retail Sales Tax Alliance, which is lobbying on the issue. Among them is Armey's successor as Majority Leader, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
Tony Proffitt, 1942-2004
Tony Proffitt, an accomplished political and legislative wizard with four decades of Texas politics behind him, died from a combination of diabetes and cancer a few days before his 62nd birthday.
He was best known for his work for former U.S. Rep. J.J. "Jake" Pickle, D-Austin, and for Bob Bullock, the late comptroller and lieutenant governor. He advised several others along the way, notably Carole Keeton Strayhorn, now the comptroller, in her first run for mayor of Austin, former Gov. Bill Clements when he was seeking a second term, former Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong, former state Treasurer Warren G. Harding, and former Insurance Board Chair and state Sen. Joe Christie. For the last several years, Proffitt worked as a lobbyist and consultant, tinkering with the country house he built and tending to the chickens whose brown eggs he liked passing out to friends and acquaintances.
Proffitt had a weird knack for being in the middle of everything without becoming the center of attention. He was a hub for information, an archetype of the political op who always knows the answer to the next three questions that'll come up. Often the guy with the best line in the room, he was more often the quietest guy around, watching and listening and getting his bearings. He had uncanny bearings, terrific political instincts.
In an era when many political consultants and aides edge into the spotlight themselves, seeking profiles about how they had personally shaped mud into clay, Proffitt kept the attention focused away from himself. He was quoted in news stories all the time, but it's hard to remember him becoming the subject instead of just an informed, bemused and funny observer. Another way to say it: His ego was in check at all times; he never threatened to step between the cameras and whomever he was advising. In a business steeped in a continuing clamor for attention, that's a rare thing.
Political People and Their Moves
Former State Board of Education member Monte Hasie of Lubbock was accused in federal indictments of bank fraud, making false statements to a bank and money laundering. Prosecutors accused him and three others of lying about stock used as loan collateral...
James Jonas III is leaving the law firm that bears his name. Jonas left Loeffler, Jonas & Tuggey, to "be closer to a family business" and to do some lobbying on his own. His father-in-law, who was founder and chairman of Concord Oil Co., died in August and Jonas said in a statement he wants to spend more time on that concern. Jonas has worked with former U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler, since 1987 and was the Austin half of that state and federal lobbying team...
Press Corps Moves: Reporter Shelley Kofler and longtime photographer Paula McCarter were given pink slips and the Austin bureau of Dallas' Channel 8 will be closed as a result of cost-cutting by Belo Corp. Kofler has been with WFAA-TV since December 2000. McCarter is a fixture in the station's news operation in Austin. She worked with the late Carole Kneeland, who opened the Austin bureau in 1981, and with former Channel 8 reporters Robert Riggs and Alan Berg, who covered Texas government for the Dallas station in the years between Kneeland's departure and Kofler's arrival...
Lara Nehman, an attorney with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, leaves for the Texas Rural Water Association, where she'll be Legal Services Director and part of the lobby team...
Rick Sookiasian, who's been running the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, is leaving that to head a new organization called the National Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs. That bipartisan group will start with six states signed up in addition to Texas: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, and New York. The idea started when caucus chairs from several of those states met for dinner at a convention of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials...
Cindy Reed is the new executive director of the state's Building and Procurement Commission. She's been the acting director since Randall Riley left to open a car dealership. Reed joined the commission from the State Auditor's Office and was one of Riley's deputies...
Brad Livingston, the chief financial officer for the state's prison system, will fill in as interim director of that agency while the board looks for a new director. Gary Johnson announced his retirement from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice earlier this month...
Appointments: Gov. Rick Perry tapped Jose Cuevas Jr. of Midland for a spot on the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Cuevas, a former Midland city councilman, is the founder and owner of Jumburrito Mexican restaurants and, in spite of his name, is not the founder of a fermented cactus juice company. He replaces John Steen, whose term expired.
Quotes of the Week
Courtney Baxter, wife of Rep. Todd Baxter, R-Austin, on his opponent, in a message to a neighborhood email list that was shared with the Austin American-Statesman: "I knew kelly white was a lying male hating liberal, but I did not know we were living across the street from one as well."
Democrat Kelly White, replying: "My husband and sons would be most surprised to hear that."
Pat Robbins of the Associated Republicans of Texas, after a judge ruled that her group can't solicit, collect or spend any corporate money until hearings are held after the elections: "Lawsuits are Democrats' way of throwing temper tantrums."
Republican Louis Gohmert of Tyler quoted in the Houston Chronicle on his challenge to U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall: "Things seem to be going well, but I have three weeks to blow it."
Gov. Rick Perry, quoted in the Midland Reporter-Telegram on falling numbers in CHIP: "We want to see people go off of the Children's Health Insurance Program because it says they're getting a job."
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, telling a crowd how his wife, Maria Shriver, a Democrat from the Kennedy clan, reacted to his endorsement of President George W. Bush at the GOP national convention: "There was no sex for 14 days. Everything comes with side effects."
Texas Weekly: Volume 21, Issue 19, 25 October 2004. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2004 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email biz@ texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@ texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.