Silvestre Reyes target of super PAC aiming to defeat ‘entrenched incumbents’
An outside group is sinking cash into a congressional campaign in El Paso in the hopes of unseating a longtime incumbent. The Campaign for Primary Accountability has launched a negative ad campaign against Congressman Silvestre Reyes, but it remains to be seen whether or not it will make an impact in the last few weeks before the primary election.
As the Texas Independent reported, the CFA is targeting lawmakers around the country who it sees as entrenched incumbents who are unpopular in their district and have credible challengers. While some have been critical of the group for being funded predominantly by Republican leaning donors, the group has targeted both Republicans and Democrats.
In the ad, CFA takes issue with Reyes “writing campaign checks” to family members, as well as for his association with a “company Reyes helped land a huge no-bid contract” which then hired his family members. In addition the ad claims that Reyes voted to raise “his own pay by $32,000.”
The ad cites a Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington report that found Reyes has paid nearly $600,000 to himself and his family in reimbursements, salaries, consulting contracts and other payments, with some of the largest amounts going to his niece.
The El Paso Times concluded in a fact check that found that it was true that he paid himself and his family out of campaign contributions for campaign work. The Times also found it partly true that Reyes family members benefit from a no-bid contract, despite the Reyes campaign saying it was “factually incorrect.”
The Times did find one claim in the ad to be false. According to the CFA the congressional voting record shows that Reyes voted for $32,000 in pay increases for congress. However, according to the Congressional Research Service, the figure is $40,400.
The Reyes campaign and the Democratic establishment has been forceful and vocal in countering the ads. Veronica Cintron, Reyes’ niece, told the Dallas Morning News that it was “unfair that they’re giving this huge amount of money that supposedly I earned and I was reimbursed, and they make it seem like it was one giant check that the campaign gave to me,” Cintron told the newspaper. “That’s not what it is.”
The Reyes campaign told the Texas Independent in a statement that the Campaign for Primary Accountability is “attempting to buy a seat in Congress for Beto O’Rourke so he can represent those who want to buy El Paso.” The campaign didn’t dispute any of the facts or claims in the ad, but said that “all reimbursements for campaign expenditures to Congressman Reyes and his campaign staff are within the law and properly documented and processed per Federal Election Commission’s rules and regulations.”
The El Paso County Democratic Party also released a statement denouncing the ad. “This group is an affront to democracy in El Paso and an attempt to stifle the voice and will of the people,” said Danny Anchondo in a press release. “A handful of wealthy individuals are attempting to influence the outcome of an election by flooding El Paso with unlimited cash to undermine the efforts of Congressman Silvestre Reyes, El Paso’s first Latino elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Jaime Abeytia, publisher of left leaning Lion Star Blog, told the Texas Independent that in terms of the factual accuracy he thought the ads “brush the line.” The El Paso activist thinks that the ads will be effective. “They absolutely are effective,” said Abeytia. “People are motivated as much if not more out of anger and fear than they are hope.”
However, he doesn’t necessarily think the ads will translate directly to a win for Reyes’ opponent. “It’s going to be much closer than people think,” said Abeytia. “I think most Democrats think that the congressman is going to win it pretty easily. But the entire temperature of the race is that the Congressman’s campaign is very concerned the congressman will barely eke it out.”
Reye’s main challenger in the primary, Beto O’Rourke, says that while he doesn’t think the campaign is going to be won on television, he believes all of the claims are factual and are issues his campaign has been raising. In an interview with the Texas Independent, O’Rourke said that he has “no ability to control and effect” what the CFA does. “We are going to keep doing what we’ve been doing which is talking to voters.”
O’Rourke says he is “disgusted” with the amount of money being spent on political campaigns. He says that he is for campaign finance reform, and open to public financing of elections. He also shares the CFA’s concerns with entrenched incumbents. “The heart of the problem is that you can basically buy a lifetime seat in congress,” said O’Rourke.
“It fits into the broader narrative of an out of touch lawmaker, abusing his office for personal gain,” said Mark Jones, a professor and chair of the political science department at Rice University. Jones previously told the Texas Independent that Reyes could be a possibly successful target for the CFA. “If I had to pick one incumbent who is most vulnerable, it would be in El Paso [Reyes].”
However, Jones isn’t convinced that El Paso voters will view the charges as that serious, and that the claims might be viewed as taken out of context. Jones also sees the aggressive response by the Reyes campaign as being able to counter the ad’s possible negative effects. “The advantage that Reyes has is the ability to go back on the offensive. Reyes has raised enough money to counteract these ads,” said Jones.