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Following the Money

Democrat Chris Bell is suing Republican Rick Perry and the Washington, D.C.-based Republican Governor's Association over the provenance of $1 million in campaign money in last year's gubernatorial election.

Democrat Chris Bell is suing Republican Rick Perry and the Washington, D.C.-based Republican Governor's Association over the provenance of $1 million in campaign money in last year's gubernatorial election.

Bell's suit, filed in Travis County, says the Perry campaign reported $1 million in contributions from an RGA political action committee that wasn't registered to operate in Texas, and thus hid the actual contributor of the money from voters before the elections.

According to the suit, RGA accepted more than $1 million in contributions from Houston builder Bob Perry before making the contribution to Gov. Perry (no relation). But because of the way the donations operated, there was no way for voters to know that before they voted. The lawsuit implies the money was earmarked, but offers no proof of that.

Perry reported receiving the money, according to the suit. But RGA didn't make a Texas filing, so there was no way for voters to follow the money back to its source. In the lawsuit, Bell alleges both RGA and the Perry campaign broke the law: RGA for not filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, and the Perry campaign for accepting money from an outfit that wasn't legally doing business in the state.

Randall "Buck" Wood, Bell's attorney, said the RGA should have filed in Texas, and should have kept its corporate donations and non-corporate donations in separate legal entities. And the Perry camp should have checked before it took two contributions totaling $1 million. "They have a responsibility for making sure it's kosher," he said. "You can't take that money. It's not legal."

The lawsuit asks for double damages, and with two transactions — giving and receiving — that's $4 million.

Bell's lawsuit started a back-and-forth.

A spokesman for the RGA called it a frivolous lawsuit, and said that outfit "complies with both state and federal laws." An aide to Perry called it "a paperwork error" and said the campaign made a mistake in referring the committee as a PAC. "We'll refile it the right way," said Robert Black.

Black wasn't done. He sent reporters a Bell letter to Perry asking to be considered for the state's Washington lobby contract, and suggested Bell sued because he didn't get that lobby gig.

Black also disputed claims that the $1 million came from Bob Perry, saying the governor's contribution came from the RGA and that there was no illegal earmarking of Bob Perry's contribution to RGA — no agreement to pass that along to the Texas governor.

At the time, Perry's campaign was blasting Bell for more than $2 million in campaign loans from Beaumont lawyer John O'Quinn. Getting $1 million from the Houston builder might have taken the starch out of the governor's attack, but Black said that's not what happened.

"If we were going to take money from Bob Perry, we'd just take it," he said. "I don't think there's any comparison between this and O'Quinn."

Holding Down the Fort

Like the state Senate District 11 contest between Mike Jackson and Joe Jaworski, the SD-10 race pits a potentially well-funded Democratic challenger, fresh out of city council, against a potentially better-funded Republican incumbent.

Like Jaworski, Democrat Wendy Davis is putting her money on purplish demographics in the district and constituents fed up with an out-of-touch officeholder. Republican Kim Brimer, like Jackson, remains confident in the continued redness of his region and a voting record his consultant says speaks for itself.

SD-10 encompasses the majority of Fort Worth and much of the suburban area wrapping around the city from the southwest to the northeast.

Tarrant County native Davis is a graduate of Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School. Davis is CEO of a title company. She wants to take her hands-on style of municipal governance — honed by more than eight years on the Fort Worth City Council — to the state political arena. Her campaign will focus on public education, healthcare costs, transportation issues, and utility rates, she says.

Brimer has been working in Austin since 1988, serving 14 years in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2002. He's the chair of the Sunset Advisory Commission and the Senate Administration Committee and sits on a handful of other committees. "It's arguable that not any other single legislator had more impact on economic development legislation in Texas than Kim Brimer," consultant Bryan Eppstein says.

In addition to economic development, Brimer's campaign will highlight his efforts to increase funding for highways and roads, his tough-on-crime stance and his work to "preserve constitutional rights and individual freedoms," says Eppstein.

In contrast, Davis, according to Eppstein, "likes to trample on constitutional rights" of property owners, gun owners and crime victims. "This is a population that doesn't take very kindly to that," he says.

Brimer, says Davis, suffers from "ethical lapses."

"What I hear repeatedly from people is, they don't know him," she says. "He's not working with them. What they feel is a sense of disenfranchisement between themselves and that representative."

To make that point, Davis points to the results of a poll by the Lone Star Project, which calls itself a "non-ideological" group dedicated to thwarting "the rhetoric and misinformation typically provided by the current Republican State Leadership in Texas and Texas Republicans in Washington." LSP is a spin-off of the Lone Star Fund, started by Matt Angle, a Democratic congressional staffer and political advisor to former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas. Most of its targets have been Republicans.

The poll, conducted by Opinion Analysts in May, showed that about 18 percent of likely SD-10 voters gave Brimer a favorable rating, 7 percent were unfavorable, and 25 percent were neutral. The rest didn't know him.

"After 19 years in Austin, half the voters knew so little about him they couldn't rate him," Davis said. "Those that did know him didn't think very favorably of him."

"That's just hogwash. People know who Kim Brimer is, and they have a strong opinion of him," Eppstein says. "Outside of [Davis's] city council district, people don't know who she is."

Eppstein says the Brimer campaign's polling paints a different picture from the Lone Star Project's. "How do you know they didn't make the numbers up? It looks like they made the numbers up to me," he says.

Jeff Smith, president and owner of Opinion Analysts, assures that they did indeed conduct a survey: "Yes, we ran the poll, and they were likely general election voters."

"I've never been accused of making up the numbers, or not even running the poll," says Smith. "Yeah, it was a real poll."

Davis says her city council district comprises about 60 percent Democrats and 40 percent Republicans. Citing a 2006 race for district attorney, she says SD-10 is "trending much more toward a 50/50 split."

Eppstein predicts that if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for President (which Eppstein thinks she will be), Clinton will lose SD-10 "by more than 20 points," and that Davis's open support for Clinton will hurt Davis within the district.

Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Art Brender isn't convinced that the presidential candidates will help or hurt either party. "They want to take Clinton? I'll take Giuliani," he says.

On the flip side, Brender doesn't think that Clinton's gender will boost the numbers of fellow female Davis. The sort of people who make their minds up to vote for someone on the basis of one factor, such as gender, normally don't take the time to learn much of anything about the candidates, he says: "So I don't know if Davis has an advantage running against a 'Kim Brimer.'"

Eppstein believes Davis would have trouble in a general election because of her opposition to the collective bargaining rights of Fort Worth firefighters and police officers.

And he's not so sure that Davis will even make it out of the Democratic Primary, though she doesn't have a declared opponent.

Brender briefly considered running for the Senate spot, and he says his opposition to Davis isn't based on personal differences, but is "issue-based." Brender, too, thinks that Davis's opposition to collective bargaining could come back to haunt her, either in the general election or primary.

And he echoes Eppstein about potential Democratic candidates: "People have inquired, but they do not want to announce that they are inquiring."

Brender is concerned that Davis voted in the 2006 GOP primary and in April donated $500 to U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth. According to the Federal Election Commission's website, Davis has given $1,500 total to Granger since 2004, $250 to George W. Bush in 1999, $500 to former Democratic U.S. Rep. Martin Frost in 2004 and $1,000 to Clinton in 2007. (The same database shows that Brimer gave $500 to the Tarrant County Republican Victory Fund in 2004.)

"I don't know when she turned around and decided to run as a Democrat for state Senate," he says.

For her part, Davis says the idea began incubating during this past legislative session, and hatched after several prominent Democrats in the community talked to her about running.

"I think I bring something to the table that is fairly unique for a Democratic candidate," she says. "I'm very much a moderate Democrat. I have a very strong history of working with the business community."

Financially, Brimer has a big head start on his challenger, reporting nearly $1 million in the bank in July. However, Davis says she "will not be outworked on the campaign trail," and plans to raise $2 million during the campaign.

"Senate campaigns generally cost upwards of $1 million or $2 or more million," says Eppstein. "We are anticipating that type of campaign."

— by Patrick Brendel

Cook Won't Run

Rep. Robby Cook III, D-Eagle Lake, says he won't run for reelection next year, ending a six-term tenure in the House and opening a seat in one of the few districts where Democrats and Republicans have equal competitive footing in a general election.

Cook is one of the House's WD-40s — White Democrats Over 40 — a group of relatively conservative rural legislators who managed to hang onto seats that GOP strategists had painted red. Cook and others managed to remain in office while their voters were supporting Republicans for other things. And they stuck with the Democrats once in the House, scurrying off to Ardmore to hinder Republican redistricting efforts, and voting to depose House Speaker Tom Craddick last year, an effort that fell short but that defines House politics at the moment.

Cook said there wasn't a particular trigger for his decision. He wants to spend some time working on his family farm and to take a break from politics. He was a city council member and a mayor before he ran for the House. He doesn't have a replacement in mind and says he wanted to make his announcement early enough so that others could decide whether to run. He's got a wish, though: "I've never been a very partisan person... and I hope whoever replaces me isn't a partisan person."

Cook won his HD-17 post by 415 votes last year, netting less than 49 percent in a contest with a Republican and a Libertarian. In 2004, after flirting with a party switch, thinking about quitting, and finally running for reelection as a Democrat, he got 53.7 percent of the vote, again in a three-way contest. He won with 56.4 percent in 2002, with 63.3 percent in 2000, with 64.6 in 1998, and with 54.9 percent in 1998. With the exception of that first race, it's gotten tighter each time. Most Republicans did a little better in Cook's House district than they did statewide, but there's an independent streak: Both Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman, running as Independents, did better in the district than statewide, and Rick Perry and Chris Bell — the Republican and Democrat in the governor's race — underperformed their statewide numbers.

Cook is the eighth state representative to call it quits this year. One — Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth — quit this summer. And a half-dozen more have announced they won't seek reelection: Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, HD-55; Fred Hill, R-Richardson, HD-112; Rick Noriega, D-Houston, HD-145; Mike O'Day, R-Pearland, HD-29; Robert Puente, D-San Antonio; and Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, HD-144. Noriega and Talton are running for federal offices. Everyone else on the list is, for now, hanging up their running shoes. If you're looking at this through the Tom Craddick lens, four of the nearly departed are supporters of the speaker, and four come from the opposition.

Work for Tinkers

If everyone in the HD-97 special election had done on Election Day what they did in early voting, your runoff candidates would be Democrat Dan Barrett and Republican Bob Leonard.

Barrett, the only Democrat in a seven-candidate field, finished first in early and Election Day voting. The only candidate to break 30 percent, he got into the runoff.

But Leonard's fortunes turned, as did those of Republican Mark Shelton. Leonard dropped from 21.8 percent of the vote to a final tally of 18.6 percent. Shelton got 19.3 percent early, but finished with a total of 22.9 percent. If they'd each maintained their early percentages, Leonard would have finished with 560 more votes than he got. Shelton would have finished with 640 less. Nobody else's swings were close.

What happened? Leonard's team puts some of the blame on Election Day anonymous automated calls reminding voters of a Leonard vote for a tax bill in the late 1980s. There's talk of making formal complaints to the Public Utility Commission, which has jurisdiction over phone spam, as well as to local prosecutors. The spam complaint would probably hone in on two things: Some of the calls were made before 9 a.m., and they didn't identify their makers in the first 30 seconds. Both of those are no-nos, which is why the carpet-cleaners call you at dinnertime and say who they are.

The Shelton team credits a ground campaign that had his fellow doctors and their cohort hitting the phones and knocking on doors.

Either way, look at the long game. The runoff election will be next month, and the winner will serve for about a year. The primary elections for a full term are in March. The filing period for those primaries opens on December 3 and ends January 2. If the noise gets loud enough over those phone calls, they could be an issue in both elections. And if Shelton gets roughed up, it could encourage some of the Republicans he beat to try again. A bold challenger could even file before the runoff election.

What's with the headline? It's from a nursery rhyme: "If 'ifs' and 'ands' were pots and pans, there'd be no work for tinkers."

The Money Shot, Remixed

Bob Leonard's campaign didn't fill in that box for loans outstanding on his campaign finance reports — a $100,000 omission.

Leonard's campaign cost more than it first appeared. His campaign finance reports didn't include a $100,000 loan balance in their summary pages, and the Republican — who finished third in a special election in HD-97 — had that much more at his disposal than it first appeared.

Leonard reported the personal loan to his campaign, made on September 1 as he began running for Rep. Anna Mowery's spot in the House. But he didn't report that as an outstanding loan at the end of that month or in the 8-day report he filed a week before the election. The reports left the impression he had no loans outstanding.

But he did.

So we're amending the chart that went with our original story on the election results. Since final expenditures won't be reported until the end of the year (that's the next reporting deadline for the candidates who didn't make the runoff), we added contributions and loans outstanding to get an idea of the resources available to each campaign. Leonard had it twice as good, financially, as we first reported.

A spokesman for Leonard suggested the problem was with filing software at the Texas Ethics Commission and not the campaign. Two other candidates in the HD-97 race — Mark Shelton and Jeff Humber — correctly reported their loan balances in their filings. They apparently didn't have the same problem, and officials with the Ethics Commission say they were using the same version of the software Leonard's campaign used.

State law gives Leonard 14 days to fix the mistake, and if he signs a form saying it was a "good faith" error, there's no penalty.

Here's our chart, with the corrected numbers:

The Racing Sheet

Democrat Victor Morales is trying to get the lightning back in the bottle; the former candidate is plotting a run for state Legislature. Morales, who defeated three better-known Democrats in a bid for U.S. Senate in 1996 before falling to Republican Phil Gramm, wants the House seat now held by Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. She's also got a Republican primary opponent in Wade Gent. Since that 1996 race, Morales has lost a Democratic primary for Senate and two congressional races.

Dee Margo, an El Paso Republican who lost a challenge to Sen. Eliot Shapleigh last year, has bought the land for a new house, a move that would take him out of Rep. Paul Moreno's House district and put him in Pat Haggerty's House district. Haggerty's telling local reporters he expects a challenge. And Margo told the El Paso Times he is moving so his longtime housemaid can work in a one-story house instead of the three-story he and his family call home now.

Diane Trautman says she'll take another stab at a House seat. The Kingwood Democrat ran against Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Humble, in HD-127 last year. She got 40 percent of the vote, losing by more than 6,000 votes. But she out-performed statewide Democrats in the district — most got 26-30 percent of the vote — and she'll try again in 2008. Trautman is an assistant professor of education at Stephen F. Austin State University.

• Officially: Democrat Art Hall of San Antonio will run for Texas Railroad Commission. The former city councilman and one-time mayoral candidate is an investment banker and wants a shot at the incumbent, Republican Michael Williams... Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, will run for reelection... Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, kicked off his reelection campaign. He's got a rematch with Democrat Eddie Saenz, the guy he beat 64-36 in the Democratic primary in 2004... Republican Lee Jackson — not the former state rep — will challenge Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. This Lee Jackson is a Fort Worth policeman, and opened his campaign with a blast at school voucher programs and a call for change in eminent domain laws to make it more difficult to seize private property... Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, will seek another term and he's launched his campaign and his website...

• Republicans aren't forfeiting Dallas County, where Democrats swept local elections last year. They'll have a high-profile candidate for sheriff, who starts with an endorsement from the Dallas Police Association. Irving Police Chief Lowell Canaday will challenge Democratic Sheriff Lupe Valdez next year, if he beats Charlie Redmond, a Mesquite police officer, in the March primary. And a couple of Democrats have talked about challenging the incumbent, which would keep her busy in March. The DPA endorsement is early for that group, but they say they're unhappy with problems at the county jail and elsewhere that have persisted through Valdez' first term. They were joined by police associations from Grand Prairie, Irving, and Wylie.

Campaign Notes

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, is making a campaign swing through Texas, doing a fundraiser this week for U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, and a border tour with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. Rodriguez has one certain GOP challenger — Francisco "Quico" Canseco — and a potential one in the wings — Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson.

• Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo has two funders in Texas next week. The first is in Heath — east of Dallas — on Monday, and the second's in Houston on Tuesday. And Republican Mike Huckabee of Arkansas hits Austin next week on a fundraising jaunt.

• It's rumor season, so we'll drag out Attorney General Greg Abbott's sixth official opinion (GA-0006), from 2002. It's the one that says you can't be appointed to a position that requires the confirmation of the Senate if you're a legislator whose term has not run out. Remember when Elizabeth Ames Jones, R-San Antonio, ducked her swearing in for a new term to the House so she could be appointed to the Texas Railroad Commission? The present case in point is a rumor that Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, is in line for an appointment to the Texas Transportation Commission. Spike that one.

Bobby Vickery — the Republican challenger to Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana — isn't a political virgin. We missed it last week, but he ran for a spot on the Frost school board in May and came in fourth, with 32 votes.

Horse Race Coverage

Rudolph Giuliani is leading Hillary Clinton in Texas at the moment, according to a poll done for the Texas Civil Justice League.

The Fort Worth-based Eppstein Group did the poll, and says the Republican has the support of 51 percent of the state's registered voters, while the Democrat has 34 percent.

They didn't make the entire poll public, but trickled out a couple of other bits. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn leads Democratic challenger Rick Noriega 53 percent to 27 percent (in fairness, Cornyn's run several statewide campaigns and Noriega has run only in Houston and so is less well-known).

And they found Texans want more tort reform and don't like trial lawyers. About 61 percent agree that "additional lawsuit reform is needed"; only 35 percent agreed that "trial lawyers in Texas do a good job of helping protect consumers from injustices of big businesses and bad products"; and 67 percent think "lawsuit abuse is costing jobs and hurting the economy."

Details: 1,001 registered voters "with a history of voting" were polled Nov. 1-6, and the error margin was +/- 3.15 percent.

Lucky Number

Retired teachers will get a 13th check this year. After their actuaries said the money is available, the board of the Teacher Retirement System voted to pay a 13th check (beneficiaries usually get one per month) this year. Those will go out on the last day of the year. Caveats: They don't go to teachers who retired this year, and the check amounts won't exceed $2,400. The TRS board is a rubber stamp on this: The Legislature required the extra check if the money was available. Once the actuaries were done, the machine was in gear.

Political People and Their Moves

Paul Hudson and Barry Smitherman are trading chairs at the Public Utility Commission. Hudson is stepping aside as chairman but will remain a member of that three-member panel. And Gov. Rick Perry named Smitherman to head the commission. Hudson, who's been on the dissenting end of a couple of recent 2-1 decisions, papered the change in a letter to the governor's office last week, saying he thinks it's a good idea to change the occupant of the middle seat from time to time.

Another guard change: James Huffines, who'd been chairman of the board of regents of the University of Texas System, becomes a regular member while regular regent H. Scott Caven Jr. becomes chairman.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Christopher Antcliff of El Paso to the 448th District Court. He's a private practice attorney and a former federal law clerk. That's a new court.

The Guv named R. David Kelly of Dallas to the TRS board, the agency announced. He's with Carleton Residential Properties.

Perry named Brenda Pejovich of Dallas and Robert Wingo of El Paso to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. She's a CPA and the president of BFG Management Co. He's CEO of Sanders/Wingo Advertising.

Veronica Obregon joins the Texas Department of Agriculture as chief communications officer. She was most recently at the Austin Community College District.

Quotes of the Week

Former Alaska House Speaker Pete Kott, a Republican, talking to a lobbyist on tapes made by the FBI in an ongoing bribery investigation there, quoted by the Washington Post: "I had to cheat, steal, beg, borrow and lie. Exxon's happy. BP's happy. I'll sell my soul to the devil."

Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on the House split over Speaker Tom Craddick: "If you talk to Texans, they don't want Austin to become Washington, D.C. They don't want a sterile political climate down there, where nobody can agree on anything and policy is put to the side and it's in-your-face politics and if you don't think exactly the way the leadership does you're going to hell."

Dr. Ron Anderson, CEO of Parkland Memorial Hospital, quoted in The Dallas Morning News on the state's failure to send money from red-light fines to health care, where they said they wanted it to go: "The state wanted something to watch the cities to make sure they didn't get out of control. Maybe someone needs to watch the state."

Clayton Downing, president of the Texas School Coalition, talking to The Dallas Morning News after 92 school districts won voter approval to raise taxes: "My hat's off to those districts that got their voters to go along with a higher tax rate. The results are going to stimulate others to hold their own elections next year, particularly with more and more districts being put in the position where they have to do it because they're hurting financially."

Chris Ulcak, acting principal at Barton Middle School in Kyle, on a new hugging ban there, on Austin's KVUE-TV: "We're not worried about the hugging part. We’re worried about not getting to class on time, and hugging has been the issue that’s causing that."


Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 22, 19 November 2007. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2007 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 (512) 302-5703 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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