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When independent U.S. Senate candidate Jonathan Jenkins missed the filing deadline for the November ballot last month, it surprised the political observers who had been keeping an eye on his Texas run.
Jenkins, a Euless tech entrepreneur, seemed to be running a credible — if unusual — campaign, and he had professed full confidence he would get the more than 47,000 signatures need to qualify for the ballot. Yet the deadline, June 21, came and went without Jenkins submitting the signatures, and he and his staff went dark for days.
Now Jenkins is speaking out, alleging that the signature-gathering firm he hired misled him about the progress of the petition drive — and that associates of the Republican incumbent, Sen. Ted Cruz, meddled in the effort to keep Jenkins off the ballot. All this occurred while Jenkins paid over $350,000 to the firm, California-based Arno Petition Consultants.
That's according to an election complaint Jenkins has filed with the Texas secretary of state, accusing the Cruz campaign of a "coordinated and deliberate attack" against the petition drive. The complaint does not cite a specific law that Jenkins believes the Cruz campaign broke, but it asks the secretary of state's office to investigate the allegations and refer the matter to the state attorney general. Jenkins has said he plans to look into "all other legal remedies" available.
Arno and its head, Michael Arno, did not return multiple messages seeking comment on Jenkins' complaint, while Cruz's campaign responded to it in a statement.
"The rigors of democracy aren’t cut out for everyone," Cruz strategist Jeff Roe said. "Sounds like he proved to his petition firm the old axiom, 'There’s a sucker born every minute.' He should have gone out and collected signatures with volunteers like everyone else does, not hired a band of out-of-state petitioners."
Jenkins' campaign was unconventional from the start. He was backed by a for-profit company called the Indie Party, which has gotten millions of dollars from start-up investors and which Jenkins founded before launching his Senate run. The peculiar setup drew a Federal Election Commission complaint last month from Harris County GOP Chairman Paul Simpson, who alleged the Indie Party was illegally giving corporate contributions to the Jenkins campaign and coordinating with it, among other things.
Jenkins' complaint acknowledges a close relationship between the Indie Party and his campaign, saying the company retained Arno in April to gather more than enough signatures to make the ballot in Texas. Arno was contracted to collect the signatures at a rate of $7.50 each and submit weekly invoices reflecting how many signatures it got for the previous week, according to the complaint.
Yet as the June 21 deadline got closer, Jenkins began to have communications problems with Arno and grew concerned that the firm was not following through on its commitment, Jenkins says in the complaint. Hours before the deadline, Jenkins finally received a package of nomination petitions from Arno — and he was told it contained only 35,500 signatures, far short of the required amount, according to the complaint.
Throughout the process, Jenkins also become convinced that the Cruz campaign was improperly interfering in the petition drive. Jenkins claimed Michael Arno, the president of the firm, had told him at multiple points that the Cruz campaign had contacted him to inquire about his work for the Jenkins campaign. Things got more serious closer to the deadline, according to the complaint, which says Jenkins' campaign "began to hear reports from the field" that Cruz associates were threatening and harassing petition circulators.
The Cruz campaign's statement to The Texas Tribune does not address that allegation.
The Jenkins campaign did not provide evidence of its claims about the Cruz campaign other than a June 11 email from Arno discussing how the firm's Dallas office was "invaded" the night before by representatives of a petition drive in Arkansas offering Arno's circulators $1,000 to ditch Texas.
"I’m not sure if it’s a program by opposing Senate candidates or just people desperate in Arkansas," Arno wrote to Jenkins.
Jenkins' campaign did provide the Tribune with documents appearing to support its claim that Arno misled it about the progress of the petition drive. For example, Arno invoiced Jenkins for 18,000 signatures through May 21 when a tally later shared by Arno's lawyer showed the firm collected less than half that amount in the same time, according to the documents.
Jenkins doesn’t ask to be added to the ballot in his complaint, but does request more time to collect signatures “in support of his independent candidacy.” Right now, the Senate race has three candidates: Cruz, Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso and Libertarian Neal Dikeman.