Dan McQueen is an unconventional candidate for unconventional times.
Months after wrapping up a 37-day stint as Corpus Christi mayor that saw him frequently lash out at critics over social media, McQueen is trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican primary.
Now, he is rolling out a fundraising strategy that involves concise writing and a 12,000-square-foot commercial building about a block from Corpus Christi City Hall. Also, Texas beef short ribs.
McQueen is hoping to fund his long-shot campaign by selling a two-story brick and cement property that was “rumored to have served [late acting star] Steve McQueen” during its early days as a five and dime store, according to postings on his campaign website. The building will go to whoever wins the candidate’s “McQueen MotorCycle Café Essay & Rib Contest.”
By submitting a fee of $250, an essay of no more than 300 words about job creation and an original recipe for a half rack of ribs (“Think Wings, but applied to TEXAS BEEF SHORT RIBS!”), someone could claim McQueen’s building and assume its property tax bill, according to a contest entry form posted on McQueen’s website.
“Dan McQueen has placed his down town Corpus Christi Texas business on the market and also formed this contest to help fund the purchase for some who may have lost everything,” the website says, referencing Hurricane Harvey’s devastation to the Gulf Coast. “He wants all American’s to have a shot at the American Dream while also helping the Texas Coastal Region.”
McQueen instructs participants to send their entries to a Jefferson City, Mo. address that is listed as a UPS Store.
In launching the essay contest, McQueen is joining a national trend — with a few examples in Texas — of those who have sought to sell property in such a way, though McQueen may be the first to do so to fund a political campaign. The idea is to draw enough entries to earn the seller a healthy payout while giving the winner property at a rock-bottom price. The essay portion is supposed to inject skill into the contest, keeping organizers from running afoul of state lottery laws that ban certain games of chance.
Property sales by way of essay contest don’t always go smoothly. Media reports in recent years have detailed contests that failed to gain enough entries and others that triggered accusations of rigging.
It’s not clear any other organizers of such contests have added ribs to the equation. Experts said McQueen should be careful about how he documents any contest entry fees — if he’s truly using them to fund his campaign.
“If he’s taking all of these $250 interests into his contest, he would have to report [to the Federal Election Commission] every $250 person who enters his contest and sent out an essay,” said Randall "Buck" Wood, a longtime ethics attorney in Austin and a Democrat. “It sounds like it’s not going to be successful anyway.”
McQueen would refund contestants if he fell short of 1,500 entries “or adjusted lower if desired,” according to the contest rules. A flyer posted on his website advertises the property at $525,000. The Nueces County Appraisal District values the property at $138,290.
Unlike the campaign website, the contest entry form makes no mention of McQueen’s Senate campaign. Wood and other experts said McQueen — if he’s to follow best practices — should add several pieces of information to the form: that the contest is funding his campaign, for example, and that federal law requires candidates to report information on those who contribute more than $200.
Brendan Fischer, director of federal and FEC reform at the Campaign Legal Center, said McQueen should be careful not to accept bids from foreign nationals or other parties barred from contributing to U.S. political campaigns.
“You can see how this creates a situation where you can run afoul of the law,” Fischer said. “A much better way of raising money for his campaign is to sell the property and just donate money to his campaign. It seems like it’s a much more tortured effort to create this sort of convoluted lottery.”
Reached by phone while driving to a campaign stop, McQueen declined to discuss his fundraising efforts.
“Once you start fixing some of the damage that you guys created, because of bad journalism,” McQueen told the Tribune, “man, I would love to have a conversation about it.”
McQueen announced his Senate bid in August, but as of Friday, his name did not show up in a Federal Election Commission database of candidates who filed paperwork to run. Candidates for Congress are required to officially declare their candidacy within 15 days after they've raised or spent $5,000.
He is one of at least two heavy underdogs challenging Cruz in the Republican primary next March. He’s arguably better known than the other hopeful — Houston energy attorney Stefano de Stefano — thanks to a whirlwind tenure as Corpus Christi mayor.
Sweeping into office last year, McQueen touted himself as an engineer, entrepreneur, Navy veteran and political outsider, and he promised to fix the city’s problems himself while creating jobs. He ultimately shut out local news media and launched Facebook tirades following reports that questioned his credentials and behavior. McQueen resigned last January, weeks after being sworn in.
McQueen, also a karate instructor, has since embarked on what he calls a “100 board breaks across Texas” campaign — an effort to “break addiction" by karate-chopping wooden boards in various cities.
Additionally, he self-published a stream-of-consciousness book called “37 Day Mayor: Truth - FAKE NEWS - America's Future (Volume 1).” Sprinkled with words in all-caps, McQueen defends his credentials, excoriates journalists and discusses ideas he’d bring to Washington. For instance, he would offer undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship if they volunteered to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall. McQueen also advocates cutting taxes.
“NO, NO, NO. When did No mean yes. If I say no, it means no,” McQueen writes. “But we continue to tax.”
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