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)
LANSING — Michigan Republicans ousted long-standing National Committeemen Saul Anuzis this weekend, instead opting for a right-wing state lawmaker who has sparked controversy on numerous issues, including his attempts to eliminate funding for HIV programs.
State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) bested former Michigan GOP Chair Anuzis in what Agema’s Tea Party supporters called a “landslide.” Former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land ousted Holly Hughes, one of Michigan’s other two national committee members.
Agema has rattled the state with a legislative battles to eliminate domestic partner benefits for all public employees, which he insisted ran contrary to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The partner benefits battle pitted him against Gov. Rick Snyder when the Snyder administration rejected a budget rider last year that would have eliminated domestic partner benefits specifically for university employees. The Snyder administration said that proposal was unconstitutional and interfered with the autonomy of the universities as assured under the state constitution.
In a May 8, 2011, Facebook post, Agema wrote about controversy:
“Fear the government that fears your guns. Fear the colleges that break the law to force their own faculty and students to accept same sex/unmarried benefits . Remember Universities are training the next generation for what garbage they put out as acceptable into the kids brains. We can lose our country in one generation.”
Other legislation proposed by Agema would have eliminated the state’s Healthy Michigan Fund Initiative, which serves as Michigan’s contribution to receive federal HIV dollars. The fund pays approximately 77 percent of the state’s federal match, without which the federal money would not be made available. Under Agema’s proposal the funding would have been shifted to a fund for airport care and upkeep.
In defending his bill, Agema — a former airline pilot — said the shift in funding would be a job creating move. But state health officials said the current money funds 44 full time positions in the state. The legislation has since died in committee and is unlikely to receive a hearing.
The conservative lawmaker has also been pushing a piece of legislation called “American Laws for American Courts.” He argues the bill will restore the dominance of the U.S. Constitution to Michigan courts and will prohibit foreign laws from being used. Similar legislation has been seen across the country and is part of an effort to stop the supposed implementation of Sharia law — a strict Islamic code of laws.
On Sept. 7, 2011, he was scheduled to appear on the state Capitol steps with Pastor Terry Jones — the Quran burning pastor from Florida. Agema was slated to discuss his “American Laws” legislation while Jones was to speak of the threat of Islam.
But Agema cancelled on Sept. 6, claiming he had a scheduling conflict. The announcement of the cancellation and the conflict came only after media began inquiring about Agema’s appearance with the controversial pastor. Jones challenged this claim, saying Agema “chickened out.”
Agema’s ascension has progressives raising eyebrows.
“Agema’s contempt of immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT community, and working class people is evident in the bills he introduced while serving in the Michigan House including his support of Gov. Snyder’s austerity measures,” says Colette Sequin Beighley, a West Michigan activist. “This new leadership position is an affirmation of his homophobic and xenophobic actions, gives license for even more Draconian legislation, and further supports the environment of hate that exists in our state.”
Beighley is not alone. Laurel Sprague, a regional coordinator for the Global Network of People with AIDS North America, says Agema’s election raises concerns for the HIV community as well.
“The selection of Representative Agema to represent Michigan surprises and worries me. Why would Michigan Republicans decide that one of our representatives should be someone who attempted to defund HIV prevention and care programs within the state?” says Sprague. “This seems to be a complete turnaround for the Republicans given that one shining moment for the Republican Party, and an enduring legacy for President George W. Bush, was the creation of the PEPFAR program which has saved millions of lives around the world and prevented thousands of HIV infections among newborns.”
Emily Dievendorf, policy director at Equality Michigan, also expressed concern.
“Rep. Agema’s election to the role of GOP National Committeeman is another sad example of Republican leaders’ insistence on appointing extreme party members to positions that exist to represent the interests of the majority of the party. Rep. Agema has been responsible for one anti-gay bill after another. In an age of majority support for gay marriage in Michigan, Rep. Agema represents the interests of the few. Despite his minority ideology, he does not hesitate to push forward with a relentless commitment to weakening families that hurts all Michiganders,” says Dievendorf. “Most of the Republican constituency is more reasonable and fair minded than Rep. Agema and the supporters he had in his corner at the convention today.”
State Republican leadership said the move was about “fresh faces,” as Michigan GOP chair Bobby Schostak told the Detroit Free Press.
Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, says the election of Agema was a Tea Party event that shows the movement is “strong and getting stronger.”
But Ballenger, who is a former Republican lawmaker, says the election of Agema is not necessarily a bad thing for the GOP.
“The ‘criticism’ that Agema has always gotten for his stands come from those who don’t wish his party well,” says Ballenger. “Democrats, the MSM [mainstream media] (including MLive), and lot of socially moderate independents and ticket-splitters delight in lambasting the Agemas of the world, but that doesn’t mean the Republicans are doomed. They’ve got a lot of other things going for them.”
Photo: Michigan state capitol building. Brian Charles Watson, via Wikimedia Commons.
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.
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.
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.
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