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Steve Mostyn

RIP, Steve Mostyn

A terrible tragedy.

Steve Mostyn

Steve Mostyn, a top Democratic donor and prominent Houston trial lawyer, has died. He was 46.

According to a statement released by his wife, Amber, Mostyn died Wednesday after “a sudden onset and battle with a mental health issue.” She did not disclose the cause of death.

“Steve was a beloved husband and devoted father who adored his children and never missed any of their sporting activities. He was a true friend, and a faithful fighter for those who did not have a voice,” she said.

The statement also said: “If you or a loved one are thinking about suicide, or experiencing a health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline right now at 1-800-273-8255.”

Mostyn is also survived by his daughter, Ava, his son, Mitch and his nephew, Skyler Anderson.

My heart breaks for the Mostyn family. May they find peace and comfort. Texas Monthly and the Chron have more.

Mostyn talks storm lawsuits

The Texas Tribune interviews Steve Mostyn, leading litigator in matters relating to storm damage, about what to expect after Harvey.

TT: How will HB 1774 impact people after Harvey?

MOSTYN: When you lower the penalties … if you lower them down to almost nothing and make it difficult for people to hire lawyers, then the conduct will get worse, so it’s going to be more difficult to get paid for [storm-related claims] because they don’t quite have the same [legal] tools in the chest that they used to … whatever length of rope you give the insurance companies — not all of them but a large, large number of them — they’ll run as far as they can run.

TT: Besides typical insurance policy lawsuits, do you see any other storm-related lawsuits on the horizon?

MOSTYN: There’s been some contact about some of these folks, where there was construction going on in some of these neighborhoods and they had blocked off all the [storm drains]. They did that so they wouldn’t get pollution into the [drainage] systems, and some of those companies didn’t go in and remove them and so some of those neighborhoods flooded.

We’ve had calls about people in Meyerland who bought homes, and on the home disclosure there’s the box checked off that the house has never flooded and maybe it’s flooded twice.”

TT: Who would be liable in that scenario?

MOSTYN: It would be back against the seller probably. And maybe the Realtor if the Realtor made representations.

Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of lawsuits in the near to medium-term future. Sometimes that’s the only way to get justice done. In the meantime, if you or someone you know that has been affected by Harvey think you’re getting a raw deal from your insurance company, call a lawyer.

The Texas Future Project

Very interesting.

High-powered Democrats from Texas and California have joined with national labor unions in an effort to mobilize out-of-state donors and raise millions of dollars to build a progressive majority in the Lone Star State that could change state policy and national elections.

The Texas Future Project – that also will seek to convince Texas Democrats to donate here – wants to direct funding to groups that it has identified as working to effect change, from Battleground Texas to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.

The project has commitments for close to $1 million, said Houston lawyer Steve Mostyn. He and his wife, Amber, are top Democratic donors and part of a small core group of members of the project, which also includes a key California-based supporter of President Obama.

“The main thing … when we talk to people from out of state, or folks in this state about keeping your money here, is the fact that it’s possible – and that if the work is done, and the money is spent, that it’s probable, it’s actually probable -that you now become a battleground state in 2016 for the presidential race,” Steve Mostyn said. “And the long-term effect – once you get a voter to vote once, then twice, then they are pretty much to be there.”

Mostyn said the group would “like to raise as much as we can. If it’s not doing a few million a year, then it’s not really doing what it was designed to do.”

The effort is aimed at building the infrastructure to turn out underrepresented voters in Texas – particularly Latinos, African-Americans, single women and young voters – as state demographic changes give hope to Democrats long shut out of statewide office.

[…]

The Texas Future Project was started by the Mostyns – Susman and his wife, Ellen, who has now stepped back from political efforts because she was appointed by the Obama administration to head the U.S. government’s Art in Embassies program – and San Francisco-based donor activist Steve Phillips, who was founder and chairman of PowerPAC.org, which conducted the biggest independent expenditure effort in the country in the 2008 presidential primaries to support Barack Obama. Phillips also is founder and chairman of the progressive PAC&.

Also on the ground floor of the state project are labor unions concerned about Texas wages and standards. The AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union helped start it. The United Food and Commercial Workers joined more recently.

The project has identified groups in Texas that it considers to be “high-impact, high-performing, accountable programs that are building field infrastructure and engaging in leadership development for progressive change beyond any election cycle,” according to Mostyn’s email.

They include Annie’s List, Battleground Texas, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, the Texas Organizing Project and the Workers Defense Project.

My interpretation of this is that it’s basically a clearinghouse for large donors to direct funds to various groups that do good work for progressive political causes, especially progressive electoral causes. The named beneficiaries are all certainly worth supporting. Their webpage is nothing more than a way to get on their mailing list at this time, so you won’t learn much there. (Note to Randall Munroe: I had to go to the second page of the Google search results for Texas Future Project to find that webpage.) I’m a little concerned that building this kind of structure might make it more difficult for new progressive organizations to get off the ground, but I don’t know for sure that will happen. Overall, this sounds pretty good to me. What do you think?

Another Battleground Texas story

There are three points of interest in this Statesman story about Battleground Texas. Point One: They’ve convinced the people who most needed convincing, the money people and the dedicated volunteers.

Battleground Texas quickly won the allegiance of Steve Mostyn and Mary Patrick.

Mostyn is a Houston trial lawyer who, with his wife, Amber, is the foremost contributor to Democratic and liberal causes in Texas. He was among Obama’s top donors nationally. Big, bald and bold, Mostyn has emerged as the Daddy Warbucks of Texas Democratic politics.

Mary Patrick, slight, gray and indefatigably determined, is the epitome of the long-suffering progressive Austin uber-volunteer, on whom Battleground Texas’ success will depend every bit as much as on Mostyn’s money.

It was Patrick signing people in at the Battleground Texas organizing event at the AFL-CIO hall in Austin in early April. It was Patrick, an active volunteer with the Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin, who has opened the doors of its fellowship hall every Saturday morning since mid-April so that Battleground Texas can train its recruits and have them sworn in as volunteer deputy voter registrars, phase two of their battle plan.

“I’ve been real pleasantly surprised,” said Mostyn over a bowl of gumbo at Shoal Creek Saloon on Lamar Boulevard. “When they came and met with me, the question we had for them was, ‘How do you replicate any enthusiasm when you don’t have a candidate?’”

“They said, ‘We may have to build excitement,’” he said. And, so far, they have.

Persuaded, Mostyn traveled to New York, California, Colorado and D.C., “meeting with people from all over the progressive movement who understand that there are four majority-minority states, and Texas is the only one that’s Republican.”

“We’ve never seen the money commitment that’s coming and the money commitment that I’m going to put in,” said Mostyn. “It’s large, and that’s new and it’s sustaining. All of us are talking – those of us in the donor world – about a long-term plan.”

What kind of money are we talking about?

Mostyn pauses: “Battleground’s budget is millions and millions and millions and millions and millions.” (Battleground Texas doesn’t have to file its first semiannual fundraising report until July 15.)

The Battleground crew likewise impressed Patrick, who has been active in Democratic campaigns and liberal causes in Austin since graduating from the University of Texas in 1968.

“This is a very smart group of people. If they had never done this before, I’d say, ‘I don’t know.’ But they’ve done it before, and they know what to do,” said Patrick.

“It’s very exciting, and I’m very eager. I want this to happen before I get too old; please, sometime before I’m 90,” she said. “For those of us who have been slogging it out for years, we want it now.”

Money matters, of course. Battleground Texas needs smart, dedicated people at the helm, crafting strategy and directing resources and crunching data and so on and so forth. People like that – the Jeremy Birds and Jenn Browns and Christina Gomezes – are in demand, and can work on any campaign they want to work on. They need office space and computers and access to data and the people who can make sense of the data, and they need those things now and will continue to need those things after the next election is over. Having the money to pay for those things, and knowing that the money will continue to be there to pay for those things, is critical to this effort. But as important as that money is, the core value of Battleground Texas is people power, neighbors talking to neighbors. If the worker bees don’t buy into the vision, all that money won’t really do very much. We need both. Getting both sides of this equation on board was BT’s first challenge, and they met it. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Point two: Nobody is really sure what to make of all this.

But, those who study political demography, such as Robert Stein and Mark Jones at Rice University, project that Democrats could start winning statewide in the 2020s – a long time from now, but, considering the enormous stakes nationally, well worth a protracted Democratic effort to lay the groundwork.

Still, Richard Murray, director of the Survey Research Institute at the University of Houston, is dubious that national Democrats will pour money into a sustained long-term effort in a state as vast and expensive as Texas when the money could be used to far greater tangible effect elsewhere.

“To my knowledge, there is no precedent nationally of an attempt to change a state that is pretty solidly in the other party’s political base by investing surplus resources that don’t have any immediate payoff,” Murray said.

Texas Democrats have romantic notions about what Hillary Clinton as the potential Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 could do in Texas, but Murray observes that if Clinton were within striking distance of winning Texas, she would be on her way to an electoral landslide that wouldn’t require Texas.

For now, Brown finds herself having to tamp down the expectations her very presence has excited.

“I’d like to do well in 2014 and convince somebody we are here for them,” she told the Austin organizing meeting at the AFL-CIO hall on Lavaca Street.

But if not, “that’s OK,” she said. And if Democrats don’t carry Texas in 2016, “that’s totally OK too. If 2020 is the year we turn this state blue, that’s OK with me.”

Despite what Steve Mostyn said about BT’s budget, I don’t think it’s going to take a ridiculous amount of money for BT to have an effect. It’s not BT that’s going to be buying TV ads for candidates, which is where the real expenses are – it will be the candidates themselves, and whatever third parties that want to get involved. Frankly, if even half of the money that flows out of Texas to candidates elsewhere in the country stayed here in Texas, that would go a long way towards powering BT. That said, I agree with Dr. Murray that there really isn’t a model for what BT is trying to do. Sure, they’re trying to replicate the Obama campaign in states like Ohio and Florida, but in a state that hasn’t seen a Presidential campaign in the lifetimes of the BT braintrust. But just because something hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t. I don’t see that as a blocker for BT. I do think it will need to show some kind of results beginning next year to help maintain the energy that it has generated so far. I do think BT will need to set some goals – it’s OK if they wait till there are some actual candidates before they do – and I think that an overall turnout goal is a fine place to start. But this is a long-term project, and we have no idea how it will go.

Point three: Republicans say they’ll spend a ton of money if BT is effective. I say “So what?”

“They talk about they’re going to be putting tens of million into Battleground Texas,” said [state GOP Chair Steve] Munisteri. “If there ever were a significant threat because somebody put $20 million in, our business community would probably spend that on Republicans by a factor of several-fold; $75 million was raised just from Texas for Romney. None of that money was spent in the state. Over a six-year period, the RNC raised $41 million in Texas and spent about $400,000. Those dollars can easily flow back the other way if we need them, so if they spend $10 million, we can spend $100 million.”

If so, for a national Democratic donor that would mean for every dollar spent in Texas, Republicans would spend $10, money they wouldn’t be spending elsewhere. That’s not a bad return on investment.

All that money didn’t do much to help Republicans nationally, either. The vast majority of that money, once the consultants and other bottom-feeders like Karl Rove skimmed off their piece, went to TV ads, which were of minimal effectiveness last year. I’ll take engaged volunteers over that, thanks. Be that as it may, doing nothing is not an option. If we’re going to get scared about what the Republicans might do when we try to win, we may as well not try.

There still could be a special session

Even if the Lege manages to pass a school finance plan, there’s still an issue (not Congressional redistricting) that may force a special session: Windstorm insurance.

“The governor stated to me this morning that if we were unable to reach agreement, he most assuredly would call a special session on this issue July 15,” said Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. “It’s quite possible based on that statement that we’ll be in special session this summer.”

TWIA, the insurer of last resort for people seeking coverage for damage from hurricanes and other storms in 14 Texas counties, is running out of money. Hurricane Ike hit the pool particularly hard, and the lawsuits that followed the first round of settlements have further drained it; TWIA is still paying claims from that storm. The money is replenished by insurance companies, which then take credits against their state taxes until they’re repaid. In other words, the shortages in the fund are ultimately paid by taxpayers.

The fight over the bill, Carona said, boils down to an argument between to wealthy and powerful men: trial lawyer Steve Mostyn and Gov. Rick Perry. Mostyn has made millions from lawsuits over windstorm insurance claims. And he’s spent hundreds of thousands of those dollars on Democratic candidates opposing Perry.

“There’s no denying this is becoming a very personal matter between two very powerful individuals,” Carona said.

Lawmakers are arguing over legislation that would limit claims on the fund and damages awarded in lawsuits, and the House and Senate have been unable to find middle ground. Carona said the Senate agreed to a bill that would limit penalties in windstorm insurance claims against TWIA to 18 percent, the current limit. Perry and House legislators want the penalty limit scaled to zero. The other sticking point, Carona said, is a measure that would increase the burden of proof for ratepayers who sue TWIA, making it more difficult for homeowners who feel the insurer wronged them to collect damages.

Carona said both sides have strong arguments, but the fight has become intractable. “It’s a disappointment, but this kind of breakdown happens in the political process,” he said.

I don’t know anything about the details of this, but given recent legislative history I’m leery of any attempt to limit people’s ability to file for and collect on claims. If a special session is called for this, I would not be surprised if the call is limited to just this, much as the special session from 2009 was limited to unfinished sunset bills. Note that as with 2003, that session wasn’t called till the end of June, so don’t draw any conclusions if nothing happens in the first few days after sine die. The Chron and Trail Blazers have more.

Gambling industry support

The DMN has an interesting story about gambling industry players making large campaign finance contributions, but there’s some context missing.

A review by The Dallas Morning News of contributions since last July shows horse track interests have poured more than $4.2 million into campaigns and special committees.

That would average about $23,000 per lawmaker in the House and Senate, with the traditional surge of donations closer to the November election yet to come.

The News identified 33 horse track investors and those who have applied to become owners as substantial givers. They cover the political spectrum and are pushing other agendas before the Legislature in addition to gambling.

Included in this amount is Steve Mostyn and the $1.4 million it says he’s contributed so far. I’m wondering what the DMN’s parameters for this search was, since I know Mostyn contributed to a number of Harris County judicial candidates in the primary. Mostyn says in the article that his primary concern is getting Democrats elected, and I take him at his word on that, but even if you don’t a lot of his money is not going to legislative campaigns, or is going to general interest PACs. I ran a TEC query on Mostyn’s name, with a range of July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. Initially, I found $1.47 million in contributions. Taking out money he gave to the Coalition of Harris County Democratic Elected Officials and judicial candidates such as Amy Clark Meachum leaves $1.2 million. He’s also given significant amounts to Texans for Insurance Reform ($170K), the HDCC ($100K), and the Texas Forward Committee ($30K), all of which will be supporting candidates who may or may not ultimately vote for a gambling bill. There’s the Back to Basics PAC, to which he’s given over $300K. A few thousand more has gone to Bill White, and to people who are on their way out of the Lege, such as Norma Chavez and Eliot Shapleigh. If I add up his total contributions to current legislators and legislative candidates, it comes out to just short of $400K. That’s a lot of money, to be sure, but a whole lot less than $1.4 million. As such, that $4.2 million figure cited above is overstated by at least a million dollars, and maybe quite a bit more.

Duane Galligher, spokesman for the Texas Gaming Association, said that group is pushing for legislation that would allow destination resort casinos in Texas, not just slots at existing tracks. It also supports gambling rights for the state’s three recognized American Indian tribes.

[…]

Despite financial hardships for tracks and the lagging economy, early donations show horse track owners have upped the ante compared with the entire 2004 election cycle.

A study by Texans for Public Justices, a nonprofit campaign watchdog, showed track owners gave $3.6 million in 2004 elections, compared with this year’s $4.2 million.

Galligher’s group has a political committee, but so far has raised little money and made only a handful of contributions.

But two years ago, the Texas Gaming Association made large contributions closer to the general election.

“By and large, I’m not at liberty to state what our plans are, but we do intend to participate in the political process,” he said.

I presume the $3.6 million for 2004 represented the entire cycle, and not just the period ending June 30. Even if you don’t discount that $4.2 million as I just did, the final total would need to be considerably higher than $3.6 million – I’m thinking at least $6 million – just to keep up with the inflation rate for legislative campaigns. So again, while we are talking about a lot of money, it’s not as much as it first appears. Having said that, adding in whatever the Texas Gaming Association does could easily change that.

Another question to ask is are these interests giving to their usual supporters, or are they reaching out to those that have voted against them in the past? In addition, how much are they giving to candidates who are running against known gambling opponents, and how much are they giving to candidates who are seeking to fill open seats? I mean, if all they’re doing is writing bigger checks to the people who are already on their side of this issue, how much does that really matter?

Meet the Mostyns

I have two things to say about this.

Attorney Steve Mostyn said Tuesday he and his wife, Amber Anderson, are committed to putting a “substantial” amount of money that likely will exceed $3 million into ending hard-right Republican politics in Texas government.

The pair already has put $1.3 million into committees that can help Democrat and former Houston Mayor Bill White win the governor’s office, making them far and away his biggest benefactors in this race.

“My gut seems to be dictating this instead of my head,” Mostyn said. “If my head was dictating it, I’d probably put the money into a trust fund for my kids.”

The couple’s largesse and manner of giving is rapidly turning them into a Democratic version of Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, a frequent and substantial donor to Republican and conservative candidates and causes.

The Mostyns are also the main funders of the Back to Basics PAC. Regarding the comparisons to Bob Perry, call me when Governor White names a Mostyn Law Firm employee to a newly-created commission that has the power to positively affect their own firm’s bottom line. It’s never been just about the money where Bob Perry is concerned, it’s been about what he has gotten for that money.

Two, I have been in favor of restricting the total amount of money that a single donor can give in an election cycle for a long time. A bill to do just that was introduced last session by Democratic Reps. Mark Strama and Mike Villarreal but predictably got nowhere. (I actually think the $100K limit this bill would have imposed is too low. I’d go for $250K, with an inflation adjuster built in to allow for the increasing cost of elections. But these are details to be quibbled over. It’s the principle that matters.) I know plenty of other Democrats who would like to see such limitations enacted. If Republicans don’t like what the Mostyns are doing, perhaps they will reconsider their opposition to bills like this one. Until such time as we are living in my ideal world, however, I’m not going to criticize Democratic activists for engaging in legal activities.