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Just In Time Money

When it comes to campaign cash, the adage "better late than never" holds true. But the question remains: How much better?

When it comes to campaign cash, the adage "better late than never" holds true. But the question remains: How much better?

If you ask veteran Democratic strategist Kelly Fero, the answer is, "a whole lot better." Especially if it's a whole lot of money coming in the final 30 days of a high-profile race where the outcome on Election Day could go either way.

"There's no question it made a difference 10 years ago this month when James Leininger dropped $1.1 million for Rick Perry against us," said Fero, recalling the 1998 race for lieutenant governor between Perry -- agriculture commissioner at the time -- and then-Comptroller John Sharp. "That gave him the financial wherewithal to just clobber us on statewide television."

In election years, the last 30 days of the campaign tend be to be the busiest for both the candidates and the check-writers. According to Texans for Public Justice, of the more than $157.5 million raised for statewide and state legislative races in the 2006 cycle, about $24 million was handed down in October, making it that year's most lucrative month by far.

In 1998, Perry-Sharp matchup played out in the shadow of George W. Bush's bid to win re-election as governor and to position himself for the 2000 presidential race. Bush was en route to a blowout win over Land Commissioner Garry Mauro and Sharp's best hope was to trim the popular Republican's coattails as short as possible.

Polling showed Sharp and Perry neck-and-neck. Campaign finance reports showed that the race for cash was equally close. The $1.1 million from Leininger, a San Antonio physician and then and now a generous GOP donor, arrived in the form of a loan on Oct. 25, which was just about two weeks before the election.

Eric Bearse, now a Republican consultant and then a press aide to Perry, said there's little doubt that the late money helped. But it's impossible to say for sure it made the difference in the Perry-Sharp race, or in the race for comptroller that year when Leininger dropped nearly $1 million in October on behalf of Carole Keeton Rylander (now Strayhorn) in her even closer race against Democrat Paul Hobby.

"For late money to work, the money you got earlier had to be spent wisely — whether it's for TV, direct mail, GOTV," Bearse said. "So if you do get let money, it reinforces what you were doing all along."

Sometimes, late money can be too late, he said. Case in point: Just after the only governor's race debate in 2006 (held in early October of Texas-OU weekend), deep-pockets trial lawyer John O'Quinn handed a check for $1 million to cash-starved Democrat Chris Bell. The plan was that O'Quinn's gesture was supposed to inspire other Democratic donors to jumpstart Bell's campaign so he could break free from the two better-known independent candidates — Strayhorn and entertainer Kinky Friedman — and make a serious bid to unseat Perry.

While Bell strategist Jason Stanford said O'Quinn's money helped get the Democrat on TV in the big markets, it failed to spur the wave of check writing among other potential donors that the candidate was counting on. Many of them had already signed on with Strayhorn before Bell was in the race and it appeared that no strong Democrat would challenge Perry.

Bearse said that even if the others did contribute, the shoestring Bell campaign had been unable to build the necessary infrastructure in the months leading up to the stretch drive to maximize the money.

"It takes time to get up on TV," he said. "You have to write the script, shoot it, edit it. So if you have to do all that at the last minute, late money is useless."

Perhaps not, countered Stanford, at least in the long run. Even though Bell came up short in 2006, his late surge was well received and helped put him in position this year to run a credible race for state Senate in a Republican-leaning Houston-area district.

In the special election for the seat vacated this year by Houston physician Kyle Janek, Bell's the best-known candidate in a crowded field — and raising money is considerably easier, Stanford said.

Fero said it's tough to gauge the impact of late money in state races this year because so much attention is being focused on the presidential race (and because the amount of late money won't be evident until campaign finance reports are filed just before the elections).

"Maybe in some of these marginal districts, money for some late TV ads could help keep some voters in the voting booth long enough to find that state rep candidate they've heard about," he said. "For Democrats, our biggest fear this year is that voters will go in, cast their vote for president, then leave."

— by John Moritz

Red and Blue, and Green

Republicans in statehouse races we're watching have, in aggregate, raised less money, spent less money, and borrowed more money than their Democratic opponents, according to candidates' latest reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.

We didn't total this last week because a couple of reports were missing, and congressional numbers still aren't posted at the Federal Election Commission's website.

But state candidate reports are all in. The latest report in the three heated Senate races show Republican fundraising totaled $668,039, while Democrats were raising $1.1 million. Spending was higher on the Democratic side, too, with candidates dropping $913,983 to Republicans' $799,987. With two incumbent senators on their side of the ledger, Republicans had a decided advantage in cash on hand: $3.9 million to $1.0 million for the Democrats. (Sens. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, and Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, had $1.4 million and $1.2 million, respectively.) And GOP candidates had $950,000 in debt to the Democrats' $82,377. That Republican loan total came from two candidates in the SD-17 special election: Austen Furse and Joan Huffman.

We're tracking 21 Texas House races, and the Democratic money advantage is notable there, too. For the period ending September 25, the Democrats on our list raised $2.9 million while their Republican counterparts raised $1.8 million. Spending on the Democratic side was $2.1 million, as against $1.6 million for the Republicans. Unlike the Senate, the Democrats in the House had more money in their sacks than the Republicans at the end of the reporting period: $2.8 million to $1.7 million. And the Republicans ended with slightly more debt: $306,415 to the Democrats' $233,209.

Eight of those 42 candidates raised more than $150,000 between July 1 and September 25: Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville, Juan Garcia of Corpus Christi, Diana Maldonado of Round Rock, Dee Margo of El Paso, Chris Turner of Arlington, Dan Barrett of Fort Worth, and Carol Kent of Dallas. Only one of those — Margo — is a Republican, and only three — Hopson, Garcia, and Barrett — have the advantage of incumbency.

Four candidates got to the 30-day checkpoint with more than a quarter of a million bucks in the till: Mark Homer of Paris, Garcia, Maldonado, and Tony Goolsby of Dallas. Goolsby is the only Republican in that bunch, and he and Homer are incumbents. Seven more candidates finished the period with more than $150,000 but less than $250,000 on hand: Hopson, Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, Margo, Turner, Kent, Kirk England of Grand Prairie, and Jim Murphy of Houston.

The biggest borrowers, each with $90,000 or more in loans outstanding at September 25: Homer, Hubert Vo of Houston, Ralph Sheffield of Temple, and Margo.

That Democratic advantage didn't reach the statewide court races. Republicans running for the state's two high courts hauled in $460,107 to the Democrats' $248,747. They spend about the same: $142,876 for the Republicans and $144,665 for the Democrats. Cash on hand? A Republican blowout. GOP candidates ended with $1.9 million in the bank. Democrats had $339,513.

Work, Work, Work

Harris County paid visiting judges for long stretches to cover cases in then-Judge Joan Huffman's court, a statistic now being used to accuse her of taking long vacations while she was on the court.

Huffman's campaign consultant says the opposition didn't do their homework and don't understand how the courts work. And with a little back and forth, it's become a squabble over the numbers — the campaigns are arguing, in effect, over old time sheets.

Huffman is the leading Republican candidate (according to every poll we've seen) in the special election to replace Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston. The Best for Texas PAC — funded mainly with Janek's campaign money and working mainly on behalf of Republican Austen Furse — has a mailer out (see here) saying Huffman took an average of 78 days off every year she was the judge of the state's 183rd District Court. Allen Blakemore, the consultant who runs the PAC, says he's making the assumption that visiting judges were there because she wasn't there, and says he's not aware of any reason she might have gone missing for four months each year.

Huffman's consultant, Jason Johnson, says the visiting judges were there for 282 days during Huffman's term on the court, which ran from January 1999 to May 2005, when she resigned. He accounts for them this way, which he said is all documented at the courthouse:

• 129 days when visiting judges took over the rest of her docket while she was presiding in capital murder cases;

• 115 days of actual vacation (it comes out to about 18 days per year);

• 20 days for illness;

• 2 days for recusals;

• 11 days for required judicial education;

• 1 day for contempt hearings (when other judges have to step in for appeals of a judge's contempt ruling);

• and 4 "administrative" days, which Huffman's side describes as required absences akin to judicial education days.

"The only possible explanation [for the attack] is that Allen Blakemore is hitting the crack pipe," Johnson said. "It's just crazy."

Blakemore: "Ouch." Then he went on to say that Huffman's accounting leaves an average of 50 days each year unaccounted for. Those numbers don't include, for instance, the days the court was closed. "What was the woman doing?" he asked in an email.

The mailer also takes a swipe at Huffman for alleged ties to gambling and nightclub interests. Johnson said she's always been and remains opposed to any expansion of gambling in the state. Her husband, Ken Lawyer is in the nightclub business, and she's not opposed to that, he says" "I don't think Joan Huffman has anything against country western dancing."

Olson's Imposter

Republican Pete Olson now says he's got proof he wasn't the Pete Olson who voted in a Connecticut election in 2003.

Olson, who was then an aide to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn says he located travel documents that show he was reimbursed for travel (airfare, lodging, food, etc.) to Texas on the same day he was shown voting — by voting records in Connecticut — to be casting a ballot on the fate of a local psychiatric hospital.

Olson, who wouldn't comment for our earlier story on this, says in a written statement what his staff said for him a week ago. "As I clearly stated before and as these documents clearly show — I was in Washington, D.C. on August 12th and traveled to Texas — thus I could not have voted in Connecticut."

Olson was registered to vote in Virginia at the time. And the allegations arose when the Lone Star Project — a Washington, D.C.-based political operation that supports Texas Democrats — filed a criminal complaint accusing him of breaking Virginia law by voting in another state while registered in Virginia.

Olson's opponent is U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, one of the national GOP's top targets in Congress.

Potential Energy

Make it 13,410,330.

That's not official yet, but it's the current number of registered voters from the Texas Secretary of State. That compares with 13.1 million voters registered for the elections in 2006 and 2004.

A relative few declined to provide their age, but the rest break down this way: 20.8 percent are between 18 and 29 years old, 18.2 percent are between 30 and 39, 19.4 percent between 40 and 49, 18 percent between 50 and 59, and 23.6 percent are 60 or older.

Three-quarters of the vote is in 30 counties, a list that begins with Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, Collin, El Paso, Denton, Hidalgo, and Fort Bend. More than half the state's registered voters are in those top ten counties, according to the early list.

Political Notes

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is hitting the stump for statehouse candidates, doing a fundraiser in Fort Bend County for SD-17 hopeful Joan Huffman and another for former Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi. Staples shares a political consultant, Jason Johnson, with Huffman. And he and Hunter served in the Texas House at the same time.

Chris Bell, one of two Democrats in that Senate contest, is getting a fundraising visit from former President Bill Clinton this week. There are four other candidates in that special election contest, and since it's a special election and not a general election, it'll go to a runoff if nobody can gather more than 50 percent of the votes.

One other bit from that race: The Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC gave $2,500 to Stephanie Simmons, the other Democrat in that six-person race. The rationale? The Republicans in the race are all with TLR on tort reform issues, as is Simmons. Bell isn't, and help for Simmons is more harmful to him than to the Republicans. Bell, who "enjoys a name ID advantage bought for him by trial lawyer John O'Quinn" is the frontrunner in both Democratic-run and Republican-run polls. They're trying to keep him under 50 in the first round, on the hope that what has been a Republican Senate district until now will go for a Republican if one of them can get into a runoff with Bell. Money for Simmons could bleed Democratic support from Bell in Round One, forcing a runoff. The above line about O'Quinn belongs to TLR spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester, who's referring to O'Quinn's huge contributions to Bell's gubernatorial race in 2006.

Meanwhile, Republican Austen Furse picked up endorsements from Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt and from Grover Norquist, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform.

• The Sierra Club endorsed Democrat Larry Joe Doherty, the challenger to U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.

Tim Kleinschmidt, running in HD-17, is the next stop on Kay Bailey Hutchison's fundraising tour of Texas House districts. He's a Republican in a locked up race to replace Democratic Rep. Robby Cook of Eagle Lake.

• El Paso Democrat Joe Moody got the endorsement of the Texas Parent PAC, a group that gave him $2,500 in September (their biggest contribution that month, $75,000, was to Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi). Moody faces Republican Dee Margo in the race to replace Rep. Pat Haggerty, who lost to Margo in March. The same group announced its endorsement of Rep. Allen Vaught, D-Dallas, who's in a rematch race with former Rep. Bill Keffer, R-Dallas.

• Sen. Kim Brimer promoted his latest fundraiser with emails saying his opponent, Democrat Wendy Davis, has already purchased $700,000 in television advertising for the last three weeks before the election. Meanwhile, she's after the Fort Worth Republican for skipping debates. His side says they've had two face-to-face forums, have another on the books, and say the missed appearance she's talking about was never confirmed; he had another gig that night.

• This week's funder for Rep. Juan Garcia boasted a host list with both Democrats and Republicans on it. The Corpus Christi Democrat's reception was at the San Antonio home of grocery exec Charles Butt. The host list included Red McCombs, Bartell Zachry, Henry Cisneros, Frank Burney, and Rolando Pablos.

• There's a state rep named John Davis. And there's a political action committee that operates on his behalf called "Texans for John Davis." But the Texas Ethics Commission doesn't have any record of "Friends of John Davis," which is the signature on a recent mailer from his reelection campaign. A supporter of Democrat Sherrie Matula filed a complaint with the TEC. Davis' consultant Allen Blakemore says it was a goof: "Looks like I made a mistake." The consultant said the disclaimer on other Davis mailers was the correct one.

The Hot List, Updated

As the campaigns enter these last weeks, we rate the chances of party changes in top congressional and statehouse races.

Write these starting numbers at the top of your scorecard. After the 2006 elections the Republicans had 19 members of the 32-member congressional delegation, 20 of the state's 31 senators, and 81 of the state's 150 House members. Since then, the Democrats picked up two House seats, from a special election a year ago and from a party switcher who got fed up during his first legislative session last year and left the GOP for the Democrats. In less than a month, you can record the newest round of changes.

And in the meantime, here's our ranking of the most competitive races for those three bodies.

Judge Sues Court

A state appeals court judge is asking the Texas Supreme Court to order her own court to allow her to file a dissent in a politically charged case that began three election cycles ago.

Judge Jan Patterson, of the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, says in her suit that she disagreed with a recent decision on Judge Alan Waldrop's decision not to recuse himself from a case.

Waldrop wrote the court's decision on the latest issue in a lawsuit involving two aides to former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a decision that hinged, in part, on a distinction between checks and cash in the state's money-laundering statutes. Lawyers for John Colyandro and James Ellis say the law didn't apply to checks at the time. Waldrop agreed. Patterson disagreed.

Travis County prosecutors went back to the court, saying Waldrop should have recused himself since he was involved with the parties in the case as a lawyer before he was elected to the court. The 3rd Court, sitting en banc, denied that motion for recusal in a letter not revealing how the four Republicans and the two Democrats on the court voted.

Patterson's suit says Chief Justice Ken Law ordered the court clerk not to include her dissent in the public case files. She asks the Supreme Court to direct Law to instruct the court clerk to file the dissent so we can all see it.

Addendum #1: Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, contending Waldrop's recusal refusal violated the code judges are supposed to follow. You can see a copy of that online.

Addendum #2: Judge Ken Law, the chief justice of the court and the guy Patterson accused of suppressing her dissent, says her dissent is "circulating" in the court and can't be filed with the clerk until that process is complete. He says in answering briefs that he's not blocking it.

20-20 Vision

With three weeks left to go, a Democratic political action committee takes one of its top races off the trouble list.

To hear the 20/20 PAC's Jim Dow tell it, Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi, has moved from the Endangered List to the list of Races You Needn't Worry Over.

That's a funny way to ask people for money, but there's a pitch for help right after they declare the race against former Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, is all but over. The title of the email is "Much Ado About Nothing." Some excerpts: " The Austin echo chamber is a funny thing. Six months ago, to hear the Austin chattering classes tell it Juan Garcia was a dead man walking... And, as luck would have it, yesterday's conventional wisdom turned out to be blindingly wrong. Today, Juan Garcia is not just winning his race — he's running away with it... And if numbers matter to you, Garcia has been at least ten points up in the two most recent polls of his district...Today, I'm happy to report that I can say with almost perfect confidence that Juan Garcia will win re-election this November 4th."

Yellow Light

State agencies have already been told to include contingency cuts in their budget requests for the Legislature, but Gov. Rick Perry went a step further, sending letters telling them to cut fat. In that missive, made public after it was sent to the agency heads and governing board members, he said tough financial times might call for budget cuts, and sent them to reconsider their travel and other expenses. The agencies are already supposed to be doing that. Budgeteers from the House and Senate told them to include a list of things they'd cut in tough times to their Legislative Appropriations Requests. If they start whacking budgets, that's where they'll start.

Political People and Their Moves

Dallas attorney Fred Baron, founder of a law firm and the biggest funder of Democrats in Texas, has late-stage cancer (multiple myeloma) and his son is pleading for experimental drug treatment for it. On his Dembot blog, Andrew Michael Baron, posted an open letter to the CEO of Biogen, asking him to reconsider a decision not to let the elder Baron be treated with a drug called Tysabri. That drug was designed for other uses, but according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, might be effective against the cancer afflicting Baron. The Barons have enlisted some big names on their behalf, as you can see on the letter's cc list: Lance Armstrong, President Bill Clinton, Senator John Kerry, Senator Tom Harkin, Senator Ted Kennedy, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach (Head of FDA). The company and the FDA and the Mayo Clinic are reportedly working on the request. The younger Baron's letter said his father's prognosis is bad — that he could die in a matter of days.

Brian Newby is giving up his post as chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry, after a little more than a year, to work on Hurricane Ike recovery with former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, and won't be back. Perry named former aide Jay Kimbrough to that post. Kimbrough has been general council and deputy chancellor at the Texas A&M University System (working for Chancellor Mike McKinney, another former chief of staff to the Guv). Previously, he was Perry's deputy chief of staff and a deputy to Attorney General Greg Abbott, and he was Perry's fireman, sent in when the Texas Youth Commission scandal broke a year-and-a-half ago. He'll start on Monday.

The Texas Youth Commission is no longer in conservatorship, though it's not completely out of the woods. Gov. Rick Perry named Cherie Townsend — a new hire at that troubled agency — the executive commissioner. The Legislature, meanwhile, is still hovering, and has been since evidence of abuse and other failures surfaced 18 months ago.

Ann O'Connell is the new special counsel and director of criminal investigations for Comptroller Susan Combs. She'll work on tobacco, motor fuel, and sales tax fraud.

The governor appointed some folks to some things, to wit:

Jess Fields of Kingwood to the Texas Funeral Services Commission. He owns the Rosewood Funeral Home.

Larry Jacobs, a Realtor and owner of Jacobs Properties in Montgomery, to another term on the Soil and Water Conservation Board.

Frederick Liles Arnold to be presiding officer of the Council on Sex Offender Treatment. Arnold is a licensed counselor. Perry also named Ronnie Fanning of Woodway, a probation officer with McLennan County, and Alida Hernandez, president of AAA Personnel Agency in McAllen to that panel.

Paul Glen Heller, an exec with Rio Queen Citrus in Mission, to the board of the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority.

Jeffrey LaBroski of Richmond, president of the Plumbers Local Union 68, to be presiding officer of the Private Sector Prison Oversight Authority. Perry also appointed Sarah Abraham, an exec with Zoya Enterprises in Sugar Land; RandallHenderson, president of Henderson Controls in Austin; and RigobertoVillareal, aide to Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, to that board.

Quotes of the Week

President George W. Bush, on the financial crisis: "We'll get through this deal."

Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on the potential effects of Hurricane Ike on his reelection bid: "I've never been in an election before that I have had a hurricane come through so I don't know how it's going to be. I wish I could tell you it's going to affect turnout by 5 percent or 20 percent, but I really don't know."

Karl Rove biographer and Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater, quoted in Rolling Stone: "If Karl were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, it wouldn't matter. There are hundreds of young Roves out there in the political bloodstream, ready to take over."

Catholic Bishops Kevin Farrell of the Diocese of Dallas and Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Fort Worth, in a letter to parishioners: "To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or 'abortion rights' when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil — and, therefore, morally impermissible."

Republican Rep. Jim Keffer of Eastland, quoted in the Brownwood Bulletin: "This is the most striking difference as I've seen in two candidates. [Barack] Obama has been upfront about what he's going to do, and it's amazing that he's still ahead."

San Antonio Republican Rep. Frank Corte, who doesn't live in his legislative district, on the empty lot he claims as his residence, in the San Antonio Express-News: "I get there and pick up my mail every day. I am going to build a house there."

Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 40, 20 October 2008. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2008 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 For news, email, or call (512) 288-6598.

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