Six Fort Worth Republicans are asking for an investigation of automated phone calls they say might have swung the results of a special election earlier this month.
In their letter to Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry, they complain that the anonymous calls ran afoul of campaign laws that prohibit people from trying to damage a candidate or campaign by misrepresenting the source of any communication or by misrepresenting a person's identity. And they say it broke the rules for robo-calls, which can't be made anonymously or during certain hours of the day.
The letter was signed by former Rep. Anna Mowery, former Rep. Bob Leonard, current Rep. Charlie Geren, former Tarrant County GOP Chairmen Steve Hollern Jr. and Warren Russell, and James Dean Schull, a Benbrook city councilman who, with Leonard and three others, was defeated in the first round of the special election.
Curry's office is already investigating complaints about flyers that were posted in Democratic and minority areas of town encouraging people to vote in the "Saturday elections." The actual elections were held on Tuesday, and local Democrats say someone was trying to suppress Democratic votes.
The pre-recorded calls started as early as 7:00 or 7:30 a.m. on Election Day. The announcer, saying his information was from "Craig Goldman supporters," criticized then-Rep. Bob Leonard's vote on a tax bill in the late 1980s. Those two were widely expected to finish in front of other Republicans in the seven-man race. But when the election was over, Democrat Dan Barrett was in first place and Republican Mark Shelton was in second. They'll be in a runoff December 18.
The source of the calls wasn't revealed, and all of the campaigns have disavowed any knowledge of them. And the expense of making such calls doesn't appear on the campaign finance reports filed by any of the candidates.
The full text: "This is a voter alert. Please pay close attention. Bob Leonard does not want you to hear this message. Craig Goldman's supporters recently revealed that, as a state representative in the mid-1980s, Bob Leonard voted to raise your taxes. One of his last votes was to increase taxes on most household goods, cars, guns. Almost anything you can think of, Bob wanted to tax. Maybe that is why he quit to become a lobbyist after making that vote. Today, cast your vote for Texas and against Bob Leonard."
The complaints started the day after the election last week and crested this week with the filing of the complaint. They're fighting so hard you'd think they're fighting for a full term. And you'd probably be right.
The winner of the next month's runoff will get the job until January 2009. But if enough dust gets kicked up about the special election, it could take the joy out of incumbency and give one of the losers a reason to ask voters for a second look. And the complaint itself, even if Curry doesn't investigate, could start that dust cloud.
A reader pointed out another oddity while poking through the reports. Goldman's campaign reported an in-kind contribution of $2896.84 from the Empower Texans PAC. But the PAC didn't report giving him anything.
That's apparently because of a newly created hole in the state's campaign laws. The PAC didn't give the money directly to the campaign. They made the contribution in the final days of the campaign — after the last pre-election report was due. And because they didn't have any contributions of more than $5,000, they didn't have to file a special report.
Bottom line: They sent 4,000 postcards endorsing Goldman and won't have to report who gave them the money to pay for those until January, long after the special election and the runoff. Goldman reported receiving the contribution, but isn't required to say — or even to know — who gave to the PAC and made the mailing possible.
The group's director, Michael Quinn Sullivan, also was a prominent opponent of Proposition 15 — the constitutional amendment that allows the state to sell $3 billion bonds to fund cancer research. But he says that was incidental to his other work at Texans for Fiscal Responsibility — blogging and emailing to supporters — and didn't amount to a campaign. "We're not required to report that," he says.
It's a Date
The runoff for the special election in Fort Worth's House District 97 will be on December 18. Early voting will run December 10-14. Democrat Dan Barrett will face Republican Dr. Mark Shelton in that race to replace Rep. Anna Mowery, a Republican who resigned earlier this year.
There's also a runoff for a seat on the Fort Worth City Council in a district with a significant overlap of HD-97 (they're running to replace Wendy Davis, a Democrat who quit the council to run against Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth). Mowery's district has been Republican territory, but some Democrats are hoping the local government race will draw out enough donkeys to keep it competitive. Barrett finished first in the first round. He was the lone Democrat in a field of seven candidates.
Mauricio Celis, a prolific political contributor from Corpus Christi, was indicted on charges of impersonating a lawyer, impersonating a public servant, perjury and theft.
Celis is fighting this war on other fronts. Attorney General Greg Abbott has civil actions underway on the allegations that Celis impersonated a lawyer. And that office issued a statement when the indictments were made public.
This, from Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Abbott:
"With its indictments of Mauricio Celis, a Nueces County grand jury took a meaningful step toward protecting the integrity of our legal system. Practicing law without a license is illegal in the State of Texas. Investigators with the Office of the Attorney General will continue working with Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez to ensure his office has all the investigative resources it needs to prosecute this case. We will also continue pursuing our civil enforcement action as we seek to prevent Celis or CGT Law Group from violating Texas law."
Celis has given $293,500 in cash and in-kind contributions to Texas political causes in the last five years. His favorites, by amount, include 2006 Democrat gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, $64,500; Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, $50,500; Good Government Political Action Committee, $50,000; Save Texas Courts, $50,000; Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, $25,000; Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi, $17,000; former Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi, $10,000; 13th Court of Appeals Justice Gina Benavidez, $5,000; unsuccessful state Senate candidate Barbara Canales-Black, $5,000; state District Judge Robert "Bobby" Galvan, $5,000; state District Judge Marisela Saldana, $4,500; 13th Court of Appeals Justice Linda Yañez, now a candidate for Texas Supreme Court, $3,000; state District Judge Sandra Watts, $2,500; and the Texas Democratic Party, $1,500.
Save Texas Courts was a political action committee set up to fight caps on medical malpractice damages in lawsuits. The Good Government Political Action Committee was set up by attorney Mikal Watts — the main contributor — and was a major booster of Juan Garcia's campaign against Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi; it spent money on his behalf rather than contributing directly to his campaign. Point of interest: Sandra Watts is Mikal's mom.
The three active state reps — Garcia, Herrero, and Ortiz — each gave to charity $1,000 of the money they received from Celis. That covers his most recent contributions to those three, but far short of the totals they received.
State candidates sometimes listed him as a lawyer — as in one of Yañez' 2002 reports — and sometimes as "partner" in the CGT Law Firm — as in one of Garcia's 2006 report. Others — Bell is one example — list him as self-employed attorney. Candidates aren't required to verify occupations, or in some cases, even to list them. But that's what was on their filings.
Celis has played in federal elections, too, and he's identified as a lawyer in the "occupation" blank on campaign finance reports filed by candidates with the Federal Election Commission. From 2002 to the present, he's contributed $91,846 individually, and got joint fundraising contribution credit for $27,000 to Kerry Victory 2004, and $25,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 2004. His wife, Rosa Celis, was listed giving like amounts to those two funds (her name doesn't appear in online campaign finance filings with the Texas Ethics Commission, where state candidates report and where there are no contribution limits).
Celis' federal giving went to presidential candidates John Edwards, $2,000, John Kerry, $2,000, and Hillary Clinton, $2,300. He opened his accounts to U.S. Senate candidates Ken Salazar of Colorado, $8,300, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, $4,200, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, $2,100, and to three Texans: Barbara Ann Radnofsky, $5,000, Ron Kirk, $1,000, and Mikal Watts, $4,600. He gave to U.S. House candidates Solomon Ortiz, $3,000, Nick Lampson, $4,600, and Ciro Rodriguez, $2,000, all from Texas, and to Jenny Oropeza of California, $2,300, and John Salazar of Colorado, $2,000. And Celis gave $9,946 to the Texas Democratic Party and $28,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Rosa Celis contributed $14,600 from 2004 to now, giving $2,000 to Ortiz, $4,000 to McCaskill; $6,600 to Ken Salazar, and $2,000 to Menendez.
Texas for Money, Iowa for Votes
Maybe it was the threat of rain, or the $3.50 Lone Stars, or the crummy opening band that hasn't had a hit since the 90s (Fastball, remember them?).
Most likely, though, it was the $15 to $25 cover charge that kept the 20,000 supporters that crowded into Auditorium Shores earlier this year away for a free rally from U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, Saturday afternoon fundraiser in Austin.
An Obama staffer pegged the attendance at Saturday's event at 3500, but the bare spots in the crowd suggested a smaller crowd. For his part, Obama threw the crowd some blue meat by attacking George W. Bush's presidency and touching on his own plan to withdraw troops from Iraq, provide universal health care, and raise the minimum wage. And though he didn't mention his chief rival and current poll leader for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, by name, Obama repeated almost verbatim a new, more forceful, stump speech that he broke out recently in Iowa.
"The old textbook Washington campaign just won't do," Obama says, "Triangulation and poll testing positions because we worried what Mitt [Romney] or Rudy [Giuliani] might say about us just won't do."
Obama spent the earlier part of Saturday privately fundraising with more generous donors in Houston and Austin and was off to Iowa after the rally.
Because Texas' primary is in March, long after the primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have usually cemented each party's front runner, don't expect to see Obama much more in the Lone Star state. Ben LaBolt, his deputy press secretary, says the goal of Saturday's fundraiser was designed to "translate the enthusiasm" shown for Obama in Austin into a more concrete grassroots organization to help get out votes and raise money.
Perhaps underscoring the lack of importance Texas' voters have in deciding each party's presidential candidate, state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, told the crowd: "Anybody who leaves here really fired up, and who has a little bit of time on their hands — we need people to go to Iowa, and New Hampshire, and Nevada, and South Carolina, those are the elections that are going to give Barack Obama the momentum to win this. And they will set you up with places to stay."
— by Alan Suderman
Flotsam & Jetsam
• You remember the flap over contracts at the Texas Education Agency? The inspector general there issued a report saying friends of top execs there were getting contracts, that the contract and grant processes were "regularly and systematically manipulated," and that the agency sometimes ignored its own procedures. That prompted State Auditor John Keel to have a look and now his report is out. Bottom line: The contracting system at TEA's regional education service centers doesn't always rely on competitive bidding but rather on the recommendations of TEA staff and outside parties. "This practice resulted in the appearance of less than arm's-length transactions," the report says. The auditor's recommendation? The agency ought to use competitive bidding for contracts worth more than $25,000.
• A group that tried to block the Texas Association of Counties from lobbying wants another bite at the apple. Americans for Prosperity won a court ruling saying TAC can't use taxpayer-funded dues money for lobbying, but the judge ruled the group can use money it makes from insurance and other services. The group's president, Peggy Venable, calls that a "hollow victory" and says the group will ask the judge to modify his ruling.
• The Texas Department of Insurance approved rate increases for the state's windstorm insurance pool. Residential rates will go up 8.2 percent and commercial property rates will rise 5.4 percent. The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association had asked for 10 percent increases in both lines. The new rates hit on February 1 of next year. TDI says the rate hike on an "estimated average annual premium" will be $84, taking the total price to $1,107.
• Put Jim Shepherd on your candidate list. He's a lawyer who served on the Richardson City Council for 12 years and on the Richardson school board for four years before that. He'll be in the Republican primary against at least two others — Angie Chen Button and Randall Dunning. They all seek the HD-112 seat Rep. Fred Hill, R-Dallas, is giving up at the end of this term.
• Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, says officially that she'll seek a fifth term in the House...
• Dan Grant, one of two Democrats plotting challenges to U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, has an anti-war ad up on YouTube (it also had a short run on TV) and on his website. It features Grant, a former civilian contractor in Iraq, talking over footage of caskets of soldiers killed there while a lone bugler plays taps: "Washington politicians don't want us to see the true cost or their failed policies in Iraq. I've been to Iraq, and I think we've paid enough, and that's why I'm running for Congress."
• Political bloggers from all over the country will be in Austin next July for their annual convention (they work inside, in the air conditioning, apparently). Netroots Nation — which began as the YearlyKos Convention — will be July 17-20. They hope to draw political candidates and consultants and pundits in addition to their core Laptop Liberals. Their last convention, in Chicago, attracted seven of the Democratic presidential candidates.
• The Texas Federation of Teachers endorsed Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi, a so-far unchallenged incumbent who's expecting the worst. He upset a longtime incumbent last year and Republicans have him on their target list. So far, though, they don't have a candidate. Among those still pondering is former Rep. Todd Hunter, who says he'll make up his mind over the holidays. Garcia's bulking up: He claims $214,000 in his campaign bank account.
• Dean Hrbacek says he's got more than 40 Fort Bend GOP precinct chairs endorsing his bid for Congress in CD-22. The former Sugar Land mayor is one of several Republicans angling to challenge U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford in Tom DeLay's old district.
• Austin lobbyist and political consultant Jill Warren has taken to the little screen: She's the host of something called Big Red Tent TV, an online effort to promote conservative candidates for federal office. And she's doing online interviews on that outfit's website, at www.bigredtent.org.
• Democrat Dan Barrett picked up two endorsements in the runoff race in HD-97 in Fort Worth. The Texas Parent PAC and the Texas League of Conservation Voters both say he's their choice. Parent PAC's endorsement is based on his position against publicly funded vouchers for private schools — Republican Mark Shelton favors vouchers — and the TLCV prefers Barrett's positions on environmental issues.
Political People and Their Moves
Tom Mason got the top job at the Lower Colorado River Authority, replacing the retiring Joe Beal. Mason was that agency's general counsel and his promotion puts an end to rumors that the job would go to someone with a political resume, like former Sen. Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Reed O'Connor of Dallas for a spot on the federal bench. He'll be a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas, replacing Judge Joe Fish, who's taking senior status. O'Conner has been both a state and federal prosecutor.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Elizabeth Anderson of Dallas to one of the three open seats on the state's Public Safety Commission — the board that oversees the state police. She's a marketing and IT consultant, and replaces Louis Sturns, who left when Perry appointed him to a state district judgeship in Fort Worth.
Perry filled four spots on the Texas Workforce Investment Council, naming Karen Bonner of Corpus Christi, Wes Jury of Arlington, Paul Mayer of Garland, and Danny Prosperie of Bridge City to that panel. Bonner is vice president for philanthropy at CHISTUS Spohn Health System Foundation. Jurey and Mayer are the presidents, respectively, of their local chambers of commerce. And Prosperie is the training director for the Beaumont Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.
The governor named Betty Pinckard Reinbeck, executive director of the Tomball Economic Development Corp. and the former mayor of Sealy, the chair of the Texas Facilities Commission.
Gloria Hicks and Dr. Robert Schmidt are the governor's newest appointees to the Texas Racing Commission. Hicks is CFO of Ed Hicks Imports in Corpus Christi. Schmidt is an orthopedic surgeon in Fort Worth, a partner of the Texas Hip and Knee Center, and chief of staff at Plaza Medical Center.
James Cooley is leaving the House after three legislative sessions with Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, and will be landing soon at the Health and Human Services Commission. He'll do Medicaid policy research there, he says.
Quotes of the Week
Former Texas Youth Commission conservator Jay Kimbrough, on hiring a controversial former state official as a consultant there, quoted in The Dallas Morning News: "It doesn't matter to me if Gregg Phillips was on the grassy knoll in Dallas, Texas, if he has a solution that is good for the youth of TYC."
Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos, talking with the Associated Press about state efforts to increase border security: "At some point [lawmakers] are going to have to put in money for additional personnel. The boots on the ground are great, but the boots get tired."
Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on funding delays to the Texas State Railroad that followed his opposition to House Speaker Tom Craddick: "If this railroad was in Midland, they probably would have added another 100 miles of track right now."
University of North Texas student Sebastian Arduengo, quoted by the Austin American-Statesman after a political rally in the capital city: "If the Texas primary actually mattered, I'd be inclined to vote for Obama."
Jason Stanford, campaign manager for Democrat Chris Bell's gubernatorial campaign last year, on Kinky Friedman's book on that contest, quoted in the San Antonio Express-News: "I will give him kudos for message discipline. He's still selling the same jokes."
Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 23, 26 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.