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Texas money is key to GOP success in November

Posted on: May 31st, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 1 Comment

As groups working to elect Mitt Romney president look to spend up to $1 billion in the months leading up to November, money in politics is poised to be one of the most prominent media narratives of the 2012 campaign.

Much of that money is coming from Texas, home to some of the most influential of ‘the political one percent of the one percent.’ A Sunlight Foundation report found that during the 2010 election cycle, many of the largest donors to federal political campaigns called Texas home.

In the 2012 election cycle these donors have opened up their pocketbooks again, and have contributed significant amounts to federal campaigns and Super PACs. According to an analysis by the Houston Chronicle, donors from Texas have contributed more cash to the twenty largest Super PACs than donors from any other state. The $36.5 million from Texans filling the coffers of Super PACs far outpaces the $22 million from California and $17 million from New York.

Two of the three biggest spenders in the country are among the biggest wallets in Texas, and five of the top twenty-five write checks from Texas zip codes. Only New York has more donors on the top twenty-five with seven, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The combined contributions of the seven New York donors of $11 million does not equal the total of the biggest contributor from Texas, Harold Simmons, who has so far contributed $14.9 million to federal campaigns and PACs. In total the five Texans in the top twenty-five have contributed $26.8 million during the 2012 election cycle.

In addition to the money flowing out of Texas to Republicans and conservative committees, Democrats are also sending money out of the state. As the Chronicle reported, of the $21 million Texas Democrats have given to candidates running for federal office, Super PACs and party political committees in the 2012 election, only $4.8 million has gone to candidates from Texas.

“In the short-run, Texans who support the Democratic Party are likely to see their campaign donations have a much more substantial impact on the electoral process and policy process outside of Texas rather than inside the state,” said Mark Jones, a professor and chair of the political science department at Rice University. “In terms of the 36 U.S. House races, 34 to 35 are not considered to be competitive, that is we know they will either be won by a Democrat or a Republican even today. The same holds true for the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Texas.”

Jones says that in contrast, through donations to U.S. Senate races in states such as Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Missouri, Texas donors can play a major role in races which will determine which party holds a majority in the U.S. Senate next year, as well as affect the partisan composition of the U.S. House. “By comparison, barring something truly dramatic occurring, we know for a fact that the winner of the GOP U.S. Senate primary in Texas will assume office in D.C. in January,” said Jones.

While most of the attention is being paid to money donated to federal candidates and Super PACs, these same individuals have been quietly funding campaigns in Texas. With no campaign contribution limits in state races, some candidates have gotten checks in excess of $100,000. Operating in the same way as Super PACs, political action committees in Texas received huge checks even before the Supreme Court opened the door to unlimited campaign contributions. Texas PACs regularly receive contributions of $100,000 or more, sometimes as much as $500,000.

“Unlike the case at the national level where the outsized influence of the mega-rich on campaigns via Super PACs is relatively novel in the post Citizens United world, the mega-rich having an outsized influence on elections is the normal state of affairs in Texas, given our lack of any real limits on individual and PAC donations to candidates,” said Jones.

According to Jones, the very wealthy have a much greater impact on politics and public policy in Texas than they do in a large majority of states. “This is particularly the case when you take into account the large size of the Texas House and Senate districts, which make state legislative campaigns much more expensive than in all states except California and New York, both states which have ceilings for individual and PAC donations,” said Jones.

Bob Perry, a Houston home builder and perennial financial supporter of the Texas governor and Republican candidates, has contributed more than $3.4 million since the end of the 2010 campaign, Texas Ethics Commission records show. Perry’s contributions have been spread out to lawmakers and committees throughout the state, the vast majority of which have been to Republicans or right leaning committees.

Embattled Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Republican Joe Straus has received $85,000 in contributions from Perry. A Democrat representing a district along the border, Rep. Eddie Lucio III has received $58,500. Even party switcher Republican Rep. Aaron Pena has pocketed $16,000.

Simmons, a Dallas businessman who owns Contran Corporation, has donated primarily to Republican candidates and right leaning committees throughout the state. In addition to $45,000 that Simons gave to Speaker Straus, Dallas Republican Rep. Dan Branch has received $75,000. Commissioner of the General Land Office and 2014 Lt. Governor candidate Jerry Patterson has received a total of $100,000.

Both Perry and Simmons have reserved their largest checks for political action committees. In fact, they are the two biggest funders of one of the most politically powerful organizations in the state. Texans for Lawsuit Reform, an organization that has successfully lobbied for tort reform in Texas, has received $750,000 from Simmons and $500,000 from Perry.

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Thomas Hawk, Rob Shenk)

Silvestre Reyes target of super PAC aiming to defeat ‘entrenched incumbents’

Posted on: May 21st, 2012 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

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.

Violence Against Women Act funding critical to Texas organizations serving victims

Posted on: May 10th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 4 Comments

Photo Credit: By Ira Gelb/Flickr

While partisan politics has hijacked the debate over the Violence Against Women Act, victims rights advocates in Texas say it has been an invaluable resource for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The reauthorization of VAWA, which was originally passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and then again in 2005, has faced unprecedented Republican opposition. As the Texas Independent reported, Republicans claim their opposition to the reauthorization of VAWA is due to Democratic additions to the legislation, while Democrats have framed Republican opposition as a continuation of the “war on women.”

At the end of April the Senate passed a reauthorization which included expansions of its protections and benefits. Passing 68 to 31 with 15 Republicans in support, S1925 included a provision that expanded protections to gay, bisexual or transgender victims of domestic abuse. Also included in the legislation was an increase in the number of temporary “U visas” for undocumented immigrant victims of domestic violence.

This week the House Judiciary Committee voted to not include protections for the GLBT community that were included in the senate bill. An amendment that would have prohibited domestic violence programs receiving funds under VAWA from discriminating against someone based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity was voted down along party lines.

Most organizations around Texas said that they already serve all victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, and that they have nondiscrimination policies in place.

“We already serve that [GLBT] community and it’s very important to serve that community because they experience a significant amount of violence, and they are a very vulnerable population,” said Abeer Monem, director of programs at the Fort Bend Women’s Center. “We are committed to help all victims of domestic violence.”

Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, said that she doesn’t think that there are any organizations in Texas that are intentionally not serving GLBT clients, however, she believes that there may well be programs that are either “neglecting” the community or not providing outreach to the community. “Having nondiscrimination protections in the legislation protects vulnerable populations. The intent of the legislation is to deal with the domestic violence regardless of who the perpetrator is,” said Burrhus-Clay.

Funding programs

The Office on Violence Against Women is, according to its website, the component of the U.S. Department of Justice that provides “federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to reduce violence against women and administer justice for and strengthen services to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

OVAW currently funds 21 programs. Three of these programs are “formula” programs. This means that the enacting legislation also specifies how the funds are to be distributed. The remaining 18 programs are “discretionary” in that the Office has the responsibility to create the program parameters, qualifications, eligibility, and deliverables.

In fiscal year 2011, OVAW distributed more than $453 million in grants nationwide. Texas organizations received $15.8 million in grants, which went to 23 different organizations. Of that, the state received $8.8 million, which was distributed to different organizations either through the Office of the Governor or the Attorney General.

Much of the funding that organizations around Texas receive from VAWA goes directly into supporting victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Typically it funds staff members who work directly with the women that need services. This can include advocates who help victims through the legal process, or to staff members who monitor 24-hour victim support phone lines.

In interviews with the Texas Independent, directors of multiple organizations around Texas said that their organizations receive VAWA funding through multiple channels. Some organizations receive funding directly from the federal level, while some receive grants that are funneled through local government organizations from the Office of the Governor.

Serving victims

The Sexual Assault Resource Center of the Brazos Valley receives VAWA funding from the Governors Office to help victims of sexual assault, which represents about 20% of the center’s total budget. Anna Chowdhury, the executive director of the center, told the Texas Independent that they employ a sexual assault response team that works with local entities to ensure victims access to the legal system.

“It is incredibly difficult to get sexual assault cases through the justice system,” said Chowdhury. “The team works with the local district attorney’s office as well as local law enforcement, and they work together to respond to individual cases to get the best outcome for the client and getting cases to move through the criminal justice system.”

Wendie Abramson, director of disability services at Safe Place in Austin, told the Texas Independent that the organization receives grants directly from the federal level and that several different programs are made possible because of VAWA.

Safe Place has used grants to support children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual violence, transitional housing assistance for victims of domestic violence in partnership with Goodwill. They have also received funding to support disabled victims of domestic violence, which included on outreach through social media to the deaf community.

In applying for grants, Safe Place always partners with another agency, and looks for grant programs that have emphasis on innovation. “There is a focus on creating innovative models, or expanding on those models, and we are always looking to expand our services for the victims of these horrific crimes,” said Abramson.

A 24-hour hotline that is operational seven days a week is funded at the Fort Bend County Women’s Center through a VAWA grant through the Office of the Governor. Monem told the Texas Independent that the crisis hotline is critical because it is the “entry point” for most victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The $100,000 grant, which represents 12% of the center’s budget, pays for case managers and staff. Much like with other organizations, VAWA funding is used to pay for the staff members that work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Monem said that the funding received through VAWA grants is extremely important. “We need every dollar that we can get,” said Monem.

Organizations lobby for reauthorization

Burrhus-Clay told the Texas Independent, that TAASA has spent a significant amount of time working to assure the reauthorization of VAWA. “We’ve been working incredibly hard in support of the reauthorization of VAWA,” said Burrhus-Clay. “With the Texas delegation in particular. We’ve wanted to let them see the importance of VAWA and how it impacts their constituents.”

Burrhus-Clay acknowledged that the current political climate has made the reauthorization process more difficult than it has been in the past. “It’s been a more contentious issue than it was in the past,” said Burrhus-Clay. “It being an election year, there are economic issues, and lots of other hot button issues that are in VAWA.”

While Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison voted for the Senate version, her fellow Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn voted against reauthorization of VAWA. Cornyn recently proposed the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act which would reduce the backlog of untested rape kits, legislation that TAASA supports. Despite his lack of support for VAWA, Burrhus-Clay thinks it’s important to continue working with the senator on these issues.

“Rightly or wrongly, Sen. Cornyn believes that some of the tribal previsions are solutions that will not meet constitutional muster,” said Burrhus-Clay. “I’ve been very upfront with Sen. Cornyn about where we stand. But it did not make sense to me to hold a grudge when he supports legislation that is good for Texans.”

In Texas the funding is critically important says Burrhus-Clay because of the number of people affected by sexual assault and domestic violence. “What we know from studies is that specifically in Texas only 18% of rapes are reported,” said Burrhus-Clay. “There have been 2 million victims of sexual assault in Texas. It affects one out of every five Texas women.”

“The vast majority of sexual assault survivors are not in the system, and they need support from these services,” said Burrhus-Clay. “If they didn’t report to the police, they don’t get compensated for victims services such as counseling. If VAWA goes away we would have lots of agencies who wouldn’t be able to provide services for sexual assault. These programs have been doing so much for so little for so long that it is so frustrating that they are struggling to keep their doors open.”

Repercussions of failed reauthorization

While the reauthorization of VAWA in some form is considered by many to be assured, the funding is still subject to budget cuts just like any other government agency. Organizations often heavily rely on VAWA and other federal grants to continue providing services. Oftentimes multi-county areas are served by just one organization with a small staff.

According to Chowdhury, her organization is completely staff dependent and relies on VAWA funding to serve large swaths of Central Texas. The center is based in Bryan and serves seven counties throughout the Brazos Valley. “We start out with incredibly small staff, with just six positions serving seven different counties,” said Chowdhury.

Any disruption in funding would affect the “quality and continuity of services,” according to Chowdhury. “We stay with clients for as long as we can. This could be from the initial crisis at the ER or police station through the entire legal process. It could take anywhere from a week to two years,” said Chowdhury.

“I think some people might not understand how important it is – this funding allows us to keep going,” said Chowdhury. “I think there is a misconception that things like VAWA… are not doing as much as they actually are. Not having to deal with people face to face, critics probably don’t see all the good that they do.”

“We recently lost a couple of grants, and so it’s been a tight year,” said Monem. Like other organizations, at Fort Bend County Women’s Center the services they provide are predominantly staff oriented. “Case managers are the hub of our supportive services,” said Monem. “They help with housing applications, accompanying clients to courts, go through client service programs, helping the clients with the safety program.”

“These services are a matter of life and death,” said Monem. “Whatever the arguments are and whatever the political disagreements are it’s really important that we get this reauthorization passed and not cut any of the provisions.”

U.S. companies selling drones to undisclosed foreign governments

Posted on: May 1st, 2012 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

A Texas-based defense contractor is selling drones overseas to foreign governments for use in combating narcotics trafficking and terrorism. Which countries are buying them and exactly how they are being used, however, is largely unknown. This uncertainty has led to calls from human rights activists for greater transparency and accountability for drone proliferation. (more…)

Corporate and national security interests align in battle over CISPA

Posted on: April 23rd, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 3 Comments

Photo: Flickr/University of Exeter

After privacy activists and internet companies joined forces to derail the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), they are now on opposing sides in a fight over another piece of legislation seeking to regulate the internet. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was introduced into the House of Representatives as HR 3523, and has 112 cosponsors. The legislation is scheduled to be voted on by the House on Wednesday. While lawmakers and corporate interests supporting the bill say it is necessary to help prevent cyber attacks, opponents claim that it is a federal overreach on par with SOPA.

Introduced by Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, CISPA was referred to the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was voted out of committee in December. The committee released a statement pointing to a number of reasons it believes the bill should be supported. The claims include that it helps businesses defend themselves from attacks, it keeps the federal government’s hands off the internet, protects Americans’ privacy, does not impose new federal regulations or mandates, and was written in the open in a bipartisan way.

If enacted it would allow the United States government and private companies to communicate about cyber security threats and share information. Opponents point to a clause in the bill stating that the information will be shared “notwithstanding any law,” which means that CISPA trumps any federal or state privacy law that currently prohibits disclosure of private information. In addition there are no limitations on what the information can be used for or how long it can be stored. The legislation also lacks transparency, as the sharing authorized by CISPA is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Unlike SOPA, internet and technology companies have been very supportive of the proposed law. Companies including AT&T, IBM and Verizon are supporting the legislation, and those and 25 other companies have written letters to Congress in support of CISPA. Tim McKone, AT&T executive vice president, wrote that AT&T supports CISPA “as an important and positive step in strengthening cybersecurity collaboration. The sharing of cyber threat and attack information is an essential component of an effective cyber-defense strategy, and the legislation helps to provide greater clarity for private sector entities.”

Some of the same companies that led the fight against SOPA and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) are supporting CISPA. Joel Kaplan, the Vice President of U.S. public policy at Facebook, wrote that CISPA “removes burdensome rules that currently can inhibit protection of the cyber ecosystem, and helps provide a more established structure for sharing within the cyber community while still respecting privacy rights.” Behind the scenes, Google helped craft the legislation. Rep. Rogers told the Hill that Google has “been helpful and supportive of trying to find the right language in the bill.”

Digital Trends has compiled a list of more than 800 companies and organizations that have provided either direct or indirect support for CISPA. In addition to internet and telecom companies, supporters include technology giants such as Microsoft and powerful defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin. Hundreds of companies are represented by powerful trade groups that support CISPA including the the Business Roundtable, Information Technology Industry Council, and National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

The Business Roundtable, which includes Bank of America, ExxonMobil, and General Electric as members, spends millions lobbying congress every year. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2011 the group spent $12.2 million lobbying on a range of issues from taxes to immigration. Among the legislation that the Business Roundtable has lobbied on is CISPA. Only Cisco Systems (also a member of the Business Roundtable) and National Cable & Telecommunications Association have lobbied as much the Business Roundtable for CISPA.

It is not just corporate interests that have been lobbying for CISPA. The National Security Agency (NSA) has been pushing to expand its role in preventing cyber attacks to the private sector. NSA officials have argued for expanded legal authority for the agency, and the ability to monitor the internet traffic of companies involved in critical infrastructure systems designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). While the NSA has issued reassurances that private information will not be monitored, the Obama Administration has blocked attempts by the agency to expand its role.

A grassroots coalition of civil liberties organizations and online activists have organized in opposition of CISPA, but without online giants such as Facebook and Wikipedia they have been unable to generate much public outcry. Organizations such as Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), the Sunlight Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have been mobilizing online activists through social media, and encouraging people to contact their representatives in congress to urge them to vote against the bill.

The co-sponsors of CISPA include seven lawmakers from the Texas congressional delegation. Rep. Michael Burgess, Rep. John Carter, Rep. Michael Conaway, Rep. Henry Cuellar, Rep. Ralph Hall, Rep. Michael McCaul, and Rep. Pete Olson are all co-sponsors. One notable congressman is not among the list of cosponsors. Rep. Lamar Smith who was the architect and primary supporter of SOPA, has not signed on to cosponsor CISPA. As the Texas Independent reported, because of SOPA, Smith was targeted by online grassroots activists for defeat in the Texas Republican primary.

According to information compiled by MapLight, campaign contributions from interest groups supporting CISPA are twelve times the amount of contributions from groups opposed. During the 2012 election cycle $31.5 million has been contributed by supporters compared to the $2.5 million from opponents. Burgess received $84,750 in campaign contributions from supporters of CISPA. Carter received $120,000, Conaway received $68,250, Cuellar received $51,400, Hall received $79,434, McCaul received $159,044, and Olson received $72,300 all from supporters of CISPA.

Top stories photo credit: Flickr/photosteve101

Violence Against Women Act faces unprecedented opposition, little support from Texas lawmakers

Posted on: April 19th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

The gridlock of Washington, D.C. has made even domestic violence a partisan issue. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is but the latest chapter in a political battle for one of the most significant electoral constituencies. Republicans claim their opposition to the reauthorization is due to Democratic additions to the legislation, while Democrats have framed Republican opposition as a continuation of the “war on women.”

Originally passed under Title IX of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, VAWA for years enjoyed bipartisan support. The legislation was passed in the House on a vote of 235-195 with 46 Republicans voting in favor. In the Senate it passed 61-39 with support from seven Republicans. The law included funding to enhance investigation and prosecution of violent crimes perpetrated against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose not to pursue.

The subsequent reauthorizations of VAWA have received even greater bipartisan support. In 2000 the reauthorization passed the House 371-1, and the Senate voted for passage 95-0. The latest reauthorization took place in 2005. It was passed by the House 415-4, and passed in the Senate by unanimous consent. But like the debt ceiling, what was once considered routine has now become a point of contention between the parties.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, told the New York Times that his opposition to the reauthorization was due to “matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition.” Additionally Republicans claim that the bill uses opposition to domestic violence to expand protected groups to include undocumented immigrants and members of the GLBT community. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told the Times that it “creates so many new programs for underserved populations.”

Jess McIntosh, deputy communications director of EMILY’s List, told the Texas Independent that VAWA has never been a partisan issue before. “That it is today is a testament to how reflexively anti-woman the Republican Party has become,” said McIntosh. “Sadly, this is just the latest front in the GOP war on women. Democratic women in Congress are fighting back, and it’s absolutely critical that we send them more reinforcements in November.”

McIntosh took issue with Grassley’s comment. “Republicans are objecting to the Violence Against Women Act because it helps too many women? Forgive me if I think that’s a lousy argument,” said McIntosh. McIntosh also criticized Texas lawmakers for their opposition. “It’s about time Texas has senators who put women and families before partisan ideology. This is non-controversial legislation that every member of Congress should be able to support.”

One of the original advocates of the original VAWA was the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV). According to the TCFV website, the organization is “committed to ending sexual violence in Texas through education, prevention and advocacy.” In March the TCFV and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) jointly called on Republican Texas Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison and all members of Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

According to the statement, in 2011 Texas utilized $8.8 million in VAWA funding. “This federal leadership and funding fostered safety for the 11,833 adult victims and 14,578 children that sought shelter from domestic violence programs in fiscal year 2011,” read the statement. “Rape crisis centers used VAWA and other funding to serve victims by answering nearly 34,000 sexual assault hotline calls to Texas rape crisis centers and serving more than 15,000 sexual assault victims through support groups.”

Despite the calls for support, few Texas lawmakers have publicly supported the reauthorization of VAWA. Of the 51 sponsors of HR 4271 only two are from the Texas delegation: Democrats Rep. Rubén Hinojosa and Rep. Silvestre Reyes. There is no Republican sponsor of the House legislation. Neither Sen. John Cornyn nor Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is not running for reelection, are among the 60 sponsors of S 1925. Of the 60 sponsors, eight are Republicans.

Mitra Salasel, communications coordinator for the Texas chapter of Annie’s List, told the Texas Independent that the politicization of VAWA is “unfortunate” and a move that is indicative of a “larger trend of anti-women policies” playing out on the national level and also here in Texas. “It’s not surprising that the Texas delegation is not out in front on this,” said Salasel.

Salasel says that the lack of support from Texas lawmakers reflects the culture created by the political leadership in Texas. “The state is led by Gov. Rick Perry, who has pushed to have women undergo unnecessary procedures that are not about women’s health but about his political ideology. This battle has been playing out for months on the Texas level. Perry and everyone that follows his lead has made their primary agenda about cutting women’s access to health care.”

(Image of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn from WikimediaCommons/https://cornyn.senate)

Texas A&M students form group to oppose outsourcing at the university

Posted on: April 12th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

Texas A&M University (Photo: Flickr/sarowen)

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp is looking to save money through outsourcing, and a group of Texas A&M University students plan to rally the student body in opposition.

The Texas Tribune reports that Sharp is seeking bidders to outsource food services, janitorial services, building maintenance and landscaping. Those four services currently comprise 1,880 employees with an annual budget of $92.3 million.

This has caused a stir among faculty and staff. According to the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the Texas A&M Faculty Senate is in unanimous opposition to the plan. The body passed a resolution that states the senate opposes “the move to outsource Texas A&M services without the due diligence of shared governance.” During a town hall meeting with Sharp, staff members shared their concerns about the possibility of losing their jobs.

“There hasn’t been a strong student voice in the matter,” said Valery Owen, one of the organizers of the student protest. “These are services that directly affect the students, and we should have a say in what happens. In addition, one of the main reasons given for the potential outsourcing is to help the students by keeping tuition low, so the students should certainly have a say in what is decided.”

The group says that the university administration has pursued the changes under the guise of keeping tuition low for students, but they take issue with using students as an excuse to make changes they say will have negative impacts. “Human beings are not expendable,” said Owen. “The people whose jobs are being jeopardized are human beings and deserve to be treated as such. Although we believe that keeping tuition low should be a priority, it should not be at the expense of loyal employees, many of which are making relatively low wages.”

“One major goal of the student protest is to show the administration that there are plenty of students who oppose outsourcing,” said Owen. The group hopes that it raises awareness and support among students who may not have known about this situation otherwise. “We also want the people whose jobs are being affected by the potential outsourcing to know that there are students who stand behind them and care more about human beings than money.”

Using social media and other online tools has been part of the group’s strategy to raise awareness. A Facebook event page has been created to inform students of the protest, and 74 people have confirmed their plans to attend a protest today. The group will meet at the Sul Ross statue in Academic Plaza at 4:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to bring signs. An online petition at Change.org has attracted more than 170 signatures from those who oppose the administration’s outsourcing plan. “No matter what the turnout is like, the petition and protest together is evidence that the students are not unanimously supportive of outsourcing,” said Owen. “We are hoping media coverage will make even more people aware of outsourcing, and the effect it would have on so many people’s lives.”

Terrance Edmond, a student senator, told the Texas Independent that the long term effects of outsourcing will be an excessive turnover rate for employees working under contractual terms. “While numerically, outsourcing may allow the A&M system to shift cost, high turnover rate among potential employees will inevitably reduce quality,” said Edmond.

”Most employees that have worked for Texas A&M University for ten plus years have not done so for their salary,” said Edmond. “Many of the employees maintain job stability for the sake of organizational connection, benefits, and the assurance of working for a public institution. Even if these very benefits were mirror imaged into the private companies’ plan, the conditions by which the benefits are executed will change due to operational differences. Long-term, you will have a Texas A&M University that is no longer an institution, but an operation.”

To back up their claims, the group points to a report by the Association of College Unions International that examines how outsourcing affects the university culture as a whole. According to the report, potential downsides of outsourcing include “loss of institutional control of the outsourced area, human resource problems, and campus exposure to additional risks such as bankruptcy or the sale of a company.” The report concludes that “Outsourcing is not conclusively helpful or harmful to campus climate.”

Top Stories Photo Credit: Flickr/oneservant2go

Super PAC targets entrenched incumbents for defeat in primaries

Posted on: April 11th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 2 Comments

A relatively unknown group spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to influence primary elections around the country has been meet with criticism from those trying to understand the group’s motivations. The targets of the group, both Republicans and Democrats, have accused the group of trying to “buy” elections. The New York Times criticized the group’s methods in an editorial saying that “unlimited political money breeds corruption and cynicism, and cannot produce a better government.”

“When you operate outside the typical thinking of the DC insiders, no one is going to know what to think of you,” Curtis Ellis said. Ellis is the spokesman of the Campaign for Primary Accountability (CPA), an organization which is attempting to use a super PAC to shake up politics as usual.

According to the group’s web site, its purpose is to “level the playing field in primary elections” and “give voters the facts they need to make informed decisions.” The group attempts to achieve this by targeting long serving incumbents in safe congressional districts. The group says targeted lawmakers must also have a “credible challenger” and be “unpopular” among the district’s constituents. If an incumbent meets all four of those requirements, the CPA will then support the challenger or oppose the incumbent.

CPA targets lawmakers through a super PAC that purchases advertising in their respective districts. According to the Center for Responsive Politics data, the CPA has received $1.8 million in contributions and has spent $1.1 million on independent expenditures. The majority of its expenditures have been against incumbent Republicans in contested primaries. Of the expenditures against candidates $723,000 has been against Republicans, and $240,000 has been against Democrats. The CPA has also spent $173,000 supporting candidates, all Democrats. In keeping with being nonpartisan, the group will not spend money in the general election.

Two-thirds of the $1.8 million contributed to the CPA’s super PAC has come from Texas. That includes a $350,000 donation from Midland businessman Tim Dunn, who is the CEO of CrownQuest Operating, LLC. Dunn is among the most influential players in the Texas conservative movement. Empower Texans, arguably the most influential conservative group in Texas, is funded in large part by the Dunn family.

Leo Linbeck III

The largest contributor to CPA’s super PAC is Houston area builder Leo Linbeck III, who is the CEO of Aquinas Companies, LLC. In total, Linbeck has donated more than $775,000 to the group’s super PAC. This is a departure for Linbeck who in the past had only donated a few thousand dollars to a few Republican candidates, including former President George W. Bush. His father, who co-founded the powerful tort reform group Texans for Lawsuit Reform, has given far more money to Republican and conservative causes. Linbeck appears to be the driving force behind the group. He has appeared on CPA’s behalf both in print and on screen. The Dallas Morning News recently conducted an extensive interview with him, and last week he appeared alongside one of the group’s leaders on MSNBC during the Dylan Ratigan Show.

3900 Essex Lane, Houston, Texas (Photo: Google Earth)

The group is also headquartered in Linbeck’s backyard. According to records filed with the FEC, CPA is located at 3900 Essex Lane, Suite 250 in Houston, Texas. The super PAC is located in the same building as Linbeck Group, LLC, a building that carries the Linbeck name. American Strategic Analysis and Performance Services (ASAP), is according to its website “a privately held LLC that assembles public affairs research, plans and analysis for non-profit, corporate and political campaigns.” Linbeck is listed as ASAP’s owner and CEO. Jonathan Martin, who is the treasurer of the CPA super PAC, is listed as the Controller of the company. FEC records show that ASAP has received $340,500 from CPA to collect polling data used in determining whether or not to target incumbents.

The use of ASAP might be almost a requirement for the organization because of the criticism that CPA has received from the political parties. According to Rothenberg Political Report, the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee has already put firms working with CPA on its so-called black list.

In an interview with the Texas Independent, Ellis said Linbeck is the “prime mover” of the organization. “He asks questions, looks at data, and looks at solutions,” said Ellis. “It struck him that Congress has a 90 percent disapproval rating but incumbents also have a 90 percent reelection rate. Almost 90 percent of the House districts are considered safe districts because the outcome of the fall election is considered a given. The only opportunity to get some turnover is in the primary election.”

“However, only one out of every ten people are voting in the primaries,” said Ellis. “Linbeck saw a bunch of ninety percents lining up. If you wonder why we have the most extreme partisanship in Congress it’s because of who votes in the primaries; only the most extreme partisans are voting. To get more people voting and participating in primary elections will help reduce this problem. And this doesn’t require any new laws. We are working in the world as it is.”

Ellis says while there are plenty of election reforms that one could make a very good case for to change the system, CPA is doing something now to change things. “While we are waiting for a majority of incumbents to adopt the very reforms that will probably disadvantage them, let’s effect this change now,” said Ellis.

Effectiveness

As the Houston Chronicle reported, CPA is looking at targeting several Texas members of congress. Republican Reps. Joe Barton of Ennis and Ralph Hall of Rockwall and Democratic Reps. Silvestré Reyes of El Paso and Eddie Bernice Johnson in Dallas are being targeted. The PAC is also looking at other incumbents, including Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin; Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio; Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston; Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands; Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Midland; and Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano.

“The major question mark regarding the whole effort is its effectiveness in reducing partisanship,” said Mark Jones, a professor and chair of the political science department at Rice University. Jones told the Texas Independent that it would have to be judged on a “case by case” basis. “Many challengers seem to be more partisan rather than less partisan. This seems to be more the case with Republicans rather than Democrats that you are getting more conservative Republicans being elected in the primaries.”

However, Jones does think the group is raising a good point. “Throughout the United States, and in Texas it might be more extreme, the reelection of a candidate takes place in the primary,” said Jones. “Incumbents play a strong role of what their districts look like, and the idea of providing seed money to a viable challenge has some validity. Particularly in cases like Sylvester Reyes who is an incumbent that has a strong control over the Democratic party apparatus.

While Jones see Reyes as a possible successful target for the CPA, he thinks it is unlikely that the super PAC while be able to defeat possible Republican incumbent targets. “The challenger quality isn’t very high on the Republican side,” said Jones. “One super PAC doesn’t make a campaign. Most of the Republican candidates don’t have the resources they need even with support from the super PAC. If I had to pick one incumbent who is most vulnerable, it would be in El Paso [Reyes].”

Top Stories Photo Credit: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: skez, JoesSistah