SAN ANTONIO — Democratic congressional hopeful Pete Gallego on Thursday rejected a claim that he turned to lobbying after leaving the U.S. House of Representatives two years ago, an accusation central to Republican efforts to scuttle his comeback bid for the 23rd district seat.
"From my perspective, it's simply not true," Gallego told The Texas Tribune after a campaign event here. "There's a statutory definition of lobbying, and I didn't fit that statutory definition of lobbying. I didn't register as a lobbyist because I didn't fit the statutory definition of lobbying."
Under Texas law, a lobbyist is defined as a person who has "direct communication" with members of the executive and legislative branches in an effort to influence their actions.
As Gallego seeks to reclaim his seat from Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, Republicans have been hammering the Alpine Democrat as a political insider who sought to cash in on his experience following his re-election loss in 2014. In a TV ad released Tuesday by the National Republican Congressional Committee, a narrator tells voters that Gallego "went and lobbied after you fired him from Congress."
The claim appears to stem from public records showing Gallego had an annual salary of more than $117,000 working last year for the City of Austin in its department of governmental relations — a term often associated with lobbying. The records show Gallego started the job March 2, 2015, and a city representative said Thursday his employment ended roughly five and a half months later.
Gallego's campaign has previously responded to GOP claims that the work amounted to lobbying by saying he has spent the last two years focused on being a college professor, lawyer, father and husband. His campaign has also denied that he worked in Washington, D.C., after leaving Congress, as strongly implied by the first NRCC ad accusing Gallego of lobbying.
Pressed Thursday on his professional endeavors after leaving Congress, Gallego said he essentially did legal work for entities including the city of Austin and "some others as well."
"For an average person, I was a lawyer," Gallego said. "I drafted amendments, I drafted documents, I drafted those kinds of things that a lawyer does. I gave legal opinions on, 'Does this language mean what everybody else thinks it means?'"
Gallego added that he considered the lobbying attack a sign of GOP desperation in the home stretch of the race. He predicted voters will "see a lot more of that over the course of the next few weeks as [Republicans] throw the kitchen sink, too, because they've thrown everything but the kitchen sink right now."
Gallego made the remarks to the Tribune after visiting a manufacturing business with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, touted Gallego as a reliable partner in his Make It In America agenda to boost entrepreneurship, saying Gallego was a bipartisan bridge-builder in Congress and could help break GOP-led gridlock when he returns.
Ahead of Hoyer's visit to San Antonio, Hurd put out a statement saying it was "exciting to have Rep. Hoyer in my hometown," highlighting how he worked with the Democratic leader to pass information technology information legislation in the House. "This is true bipartisan work," Hurd said.
Read related Tribune coverage of the Hurd-Gallego race:
- If it's an even-numbered year, there's a good chance of a competitive race for Texas' 23rd congressional seat, a perennial swing district sprawling across West Texas.
- Gov. Greg Abbott on Saturday pitched freshman U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, as the "rookie of the year" in his fight for re-election, while seeking to boost the lawmaker among the same voters that Democrats hope will be Hurd's downfall in November.
- Facing off again in the state's only competitive congressional race, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego hopes strong turnout from Hispanics angered by Donald Trump will help him reclaim the 23rd district seat from Republican Will Hurd.