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Postmortem on attack mailers

Remember those anonymous attack mailers from late in the 2003 municipal elections, the ones from a group calling itself “Citizens for a Better America” (not this group, mind you)? I wrote about their sleazy mailers, in which those who funded them hid their tracks very effectively several times, starting here. After getting a tip about these mailers (two days before I received one myself), I called Tim Fleck, then still at the Houston Press, to tell him about them. Unfortunately, he never wrote anything about this before he left the Press, so I was very pleasantly surprised to see John Williams pick up the ball and advance it forward today.

This is a whodunit about a political consultant scrutinizing clues left last year at the scene of some political skulduggery.

The consultant — Marc Campos — is investigating without the help of state law, which aids and abets the very activities he’s probing.

[…]

A check of the postal permit on the ads against Adrian Garcia lead Campos to a mailing service in the Timbergrove neighborhood. The mailing service directed him to a print shop near Interstate 45 North and West Gulf Bank.

The print shop said a “Spencer” was its contact and that a graphics arts company in Meyerland prepared the ad.

Campos checked the campaign finance reports of those who opposed Adrian Garcia. He learned that Hector Longoria, one of Adrian Garcia’s opponents, had hired political consultant Spencer Neumann and the graphic arts company.

Campos then reviewed the campaign finance reports of an opponent of Herlinda Garcia. Neumann was there, too.

And so we have a suspect, though of course he denies everything later on in the piece. The evidence against him is suggestive but not conclusive. Perhaps the best we’ll be able to do is to keep an eye on him in the future and hope he gives a stronger clue next time around.

The district attorney’s office investigated and determined that the ads for Citizens for a Better America were prepared by Jamestown Associates. Jamestown Associates and Citizens for a Better America share the same New Jersey address.

But the DA’s investigators determined that no law had been broken because Citizens for a Better America is a nonprofit corporation that can take part in issue advocacy.

Issue advocacy means that voters are not urged to vote for or against a particular candidate or position. The advocate, in this case a nonprofit group that promotes Republican causes, was merely telling voters its thoughts on Adrian Garcia.

Such ads don’t require the same financial disclosure that Texas law requires of direct campaign advocacy, which specifically urges a vote for or against a particular candidate or position.

Assistant District Attorney Don Smyth said Citizens for a Better America did the same thing as Texans for True Mobility did during the fall rail referendum.

That nonprofit group spent more than $1 million on information explaining its belief that light rail cost too much and did too little. The corporation has not disclosed its contributors.

“They are putting out information, not directly asking for a vote,” Smyth said.

This really makes me mad, and I will continue to be mad until something is done about this. I cannot believe for a minute that any sentient being could have looked at those anti-Garcia mailers and concluded that they were anything but a strong advocation to vote against him. If our state laws are too vague or our district attorneys are too candy-assed to address them, then we need a better law. My fear is that there is no law which can adequately balance the needs of public interest and free speech, and as such what we saw here will just be business as usual before you know it.

One last thing:

Neumann says he has been wrongly accused.

“This is a ridiculous and absurd claim,” he said. “I had nothing to do with it. We need to get Marc some work so he can concentrate on business rather than this stuff.”

Neumann may be guilty, and he may be innocent. I don’t know. What I do know is that if our laws were properly written and enforced, we wouldn’t have to speculate – there’d have been a real name and address on those mailers. Wouldn’t that be better?

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2 Comments

  1. Jeff N. says:

    Campos deserves thanks for tracking down the connection between the Longoria campaign and those mailers. This’ll be useful information in the next campaign.

    But geez, what a weak excuse by the Harris County DA for declining to prosecute a GOP operation.

  2. […] comes out, I don’t know either. Heck, I don’t even know how widespread this was – the last time there was this kind of mail related to a District H race, back in the 2003 election, other people […]