Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Sequester could lead to massive cuts in HIV testing, treatment

Posted on: February 25th, 2013 by Todd Heywood 3 Comments

The AIDS Drug Assistance Program is among the many federal programs that will take a hit if $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts go through March 1, and those cuts could potentially lead to an increase in HIV transmission, the White House said Sunday in a report on the anticipated state-by-state impacts of the so-called sequester. (more…)

Congressman seeks to increase distance between fracking and schools

Posted on: June 20th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final installment in a series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here. and the fourth part here.

BOULDER, COLO. — There are a lot of opinions on how far hydraulic fracturing should be from schools. One resident near a drilling operation a few hundred yards from Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie said he was probably the only one on his block who didn’t mind the noise or environmental and health risks Encana Corp.’s project brought with it. Still, in a perfect world, he said he’d prefer it were a mile away.

In Colorado, oil and gas operations are required to be at least 350 feet from schools.

Rep. Jared Polis (Image courtesy of Rep. Jared Polis)

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., would like to increase the setback nationwide to 1,000 feet. He is introducing an amendment today that would do just that for primary and secondary schools located near U.S. oil and gas resources. If passed, the amendment would be attached to the controversial Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, or H.R. 4480, sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardner, R.-Colo. H.R. 4480 is strongly opposed by sportsmen and environmental groups as it would mandate increased federal agency leasing of oil and gas resources and weaken the country’s clean air protections.

“An increased setback would better protect school-aged children from the negative impacts of air pollution from drilling sites. Studies indicate that there are increased levels of carcinogenic fumes, such as benzene, near fracking sites,” Polis’ spokesman Chris Fitzgerald wrote in an email to the Colorado Independent.

Protecting children and other people from risks that hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, operations pose to communities is receiving more attention than ever in Colorado and elsewhere as more rigs creep ever closer.

The oil and gas companies paint their detractors as alarmists. The health concerns are blown out of proportion, they argue. Whenever possible, companies say they try to drill even farther out than the law requires and, in the case of Red Hawk and Erie elementary schools, during summer break.

But the noise, traffic and questions of public safety are too much for some parents. If they aren’t pulling their children out of the affected schools and moving out of their communities, they are rallying together and taking to the streets with protest signs, trying to reclaim their neighborhoods.

Getting results or even answers isn’t easy.

Growing natural gas development in urban Texas where schools, health facilities, homes and elderly communities are increasingly at risk led to a Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods report (pdf) last year titled “Recommendations For Drilling Near Schools.”

“In its genesis, this project was envisioned to be a comprehensive review of available data with concomitant recommendations. Once into the project, however, it became patently clear that there is an appalling lack of information available on which to base sound responsible decisions,” the report concluded. “It was deeply disturbing how little information is available to elected officials or State regulating entities that is independent of the operators. Proper due diligence is nearly impossible. This was both startling and alarming. Further, there appears to be a complete relegation of responsibility by both the City and State which allows industry to conduct operations at their own discretion with very little oversight or verification by governmental entities or accountability to the public.”

The Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods further found “the city has no comprehensive plan or map of drilling or pipeline placement for the entire city; has not conducted independent on-going monitoring for emissions; and has no will to assume authority for such.” Nor is there a mechanism in place for routine emissions checks at existing wells or processing facilities, according to the group’s report.

Fracking isn’t just putting pressure on schools. It is also competing for their water supplies.

Protestors in Erie, Colo., tell Encana to get its "Hands Off Our Community" and "Our Children Are Not Your Experiment." (Photo by Troy Hooper)The amount of water used each year in Colorado — between 22,100 and 39,500 acre feet — is enough to meet the annual needs of up to 296,100 residents or more than the population of Orlando, Fla., Cincinnati, Ohio, or Buffalo, N.Y., according to a Western Resource Advocates report released today.

“It is a travesty that in a water-starved state like Colorado, we are using so much water for oil and gas drilling,” said Longmont resident Barbara Fernandez, who retired in 2011 after 24 years with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and is concerned about fracking near schools and residences.

There are 89 public schools in Colorado within a 1,000-foot radius of federal subsurface estates.

“Schools should be safe havens for learning and growing, not places for worrying about whether the wind is blowing industrial poisons into the classroom,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action. “We applaud Rep. Polis’ leadership to protect school kids and families from cancer-causing chemicals emitted during oil and gas drilling and fracking.”

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.

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)

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

Millions in campaign cash being raised for Republican primary fights in Texas

Posted on: March 6th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 2 Comments

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

As political campaigns in Texas shift into high gear after a court ruling finally set the date of the Texas primaries, candidates will continue to raise millions of dollars in campaign cash to add to the millions that have already been raised. However, much of the campaign cash is going into campaigns that will face either little or no opposition on the ballot in November.

According to an analysis of data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, as of January 31 Texas candidates for house and senate have raised a total of $40.3 million for the 2012 election cycle. During the entire 2010 election cycle Texas candidates raised $47.2 million, and the 2008 election cycle saw $73.7 million raised by Texas candidates. With outside expenditure groups also spending money on the campaigns, millions more will be raised and spent in Texas elections.

The vast majority of the campaign cash raised so far has gone to Republican candidates, as they have out-raised their Democratic counterparts by more than $28.4 million. In the senate campaign, more than $16 million has already been raised by four Republican primary candidates. In the house campaigns, Republicans have raised $18 million compared to $5.9 million raised by Democrats.

The senate Republican primary campaign has so far been among the most expensive campaigns in the nation. The $19.5 million raised so far in the senate campaign in Texas is second only to the $22.7 million raised in the senate campaign in Massachusetts. The $8.6 million already spent in Texas is also second to the $10.6 million spent in Massachusetts.

Both Republican senate candidate Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert are among the top ten candidates nationally in campaign funds raised. Each has raised $6 million, while Tea Party favorite former Texas Solicitor Gen. Ted Cruz has raised nearly $4 million.

While the campaign for the senate seat in Texas will essentially be over after the Republican primary, the Massachusetts campaign between Republican Senator Scott Brown and likely Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren will continue into November.

Mark Jones, professor and chair of the political science department at Rice University, told the Texas Independent fundraising is important in two respects for the Republican primary, where there are two distinct electoral contests taking place.

“Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst clearly has the personal wealth and donor support to allow him to outspend all of his opponents combined by a good margin,” said Jones. “Dewhurst will use his copious funds in an attempt to win the primary in the first round, obviating the need to face one of his rivals, Ted Cruz in particular, in a low turnout runoff in the dead of summer.”

Jones says that while Dewhurst will clearly have more than enough funds to be on television statewide during the crucial final four to six weeks of the primary campaign as well as to engage in other forms of contact with primary voters such as direct mail, Ted Cruz, Craig James, and Tom Leppert are in a battle to finish second on May 29, while simultaneously forcing Dewhurst into a runoff.

“At this stage fundraising is crucial for them, not compared to Dewhurst, but compared to each other,” said Jones. “While none will have the resources to match Dewhurst’s presence on television, their goal is to raise enough money to support targeted television buys, direct mail campaigns, and conduct get out the vote drives focused on their core supporters.”

Among the three candidates challenging Dewhurst, Leppert may well be able to match Dewhurst’s ability to self finance a campaign. Leppert’s $3.1 million of self financing so far is more than $1 million more than Dewhurst has self financed. Leppert and Dewhurst are third and fourth nationally in self financing.

There is no parallel among the campaigns for the house in Texas, as the candidates who are raising the most campaign funds have either token or no opposition at all. The $1.6 million raised by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (TX-5) is the most of any house candidate in Texas, and he has no primary opponent and will face a Democrat in November who has not reported any campaign fundraising. Rep. Bill Flores (TX-17) and Rep. Lamar Smith (TX-21) have raised $1 million and $972,000, but neither candidate faces a primary or general election opponent.

“The best way to ensure that a candidate has no primary or general election opposition is to have such a large campaign war chest that all serious challengers consider any attempt to defeat you to be futile,” said Jones. “PACS and wealthy donors tend to give to the most influential members of congress, who also happen to normally reside in safe Republican or Democratic districts and are normally well respected in their party.”

It isn’t unexpected, says Jones, that incumbent members of congress raise such significant amounts of campaign funds with little or no opposition. “It is unsurprising that representatives such as Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Republican Conference, and Pete Sessions, chairman of the NRCC, are among the top fundraisers in spite of the fact that both will be re-elected regardless of whether they spend five thousand or five million on their reelection campaigns.” Session has raised $932,000 and is not facing a primary or general election opponent.

Because of the uncompetitive nature of the general election campaigns in Texas, Jones says that the campaign cash is likely to have more of an impact in a select number of primaries than in the November election. “Of the 36 Texas seats, 33 are either safe Republican or safe Democrat, and only one, District 23, falls into the category of being truly competitive,” said Jones. “As a result, fundraising will only have a significant impact on the outcome of at most 3 of 36 seats in November.”

With the primary date finally set, it appears that the most heated campaign battles for congress in Texas will be waged in the spring rather than the fall. “In the May primaries, there are approximately a half dozen races on both sides of the aisle where fundraising will play a major role in determining which Republican or Democrat will be the party’s nominee in the fall,” said Jones. “In most cases the races are for safe Republican or Democratic seats, signifying that a victory in the primary virtually ensures victory in the Fall.”

FEC settles lawsuit against Florida congressman’s former business partner

Posted on: February 22nd, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., speaks at a Bradenton town hall event (source: buchanan.house.gov)

A stipulated order and consent judgment in Federal Election Commission investigation into a former business partner of Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, was filed yesterday, a sign that the case may be nearing its end. According to the filing, Buchanan’s onetime business partner, Sam Kazran, must pay $5,000 for “a non-knowing and non-willful violation of” an ethics rule against knowingly helping or assisting any person in making a campaign contribution in the name of another. (more…)