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June 25th, 2005:

TAB gives it up

Here’s our first look at the contribution records that the Texas Association of Business didn’t want us to see.

Documents released in a civil lawsuit Friday show that Texas Association of Business officials were trying to influence the outcome of state House races when they ran a $1.7 million “voter education project” paid for with corporate money.

“Of the nine incumbents … we went after, seven were defeated. This is huge news,” a TAB executive said in a 2002 e-mail the day after the group helped Republicans win control of the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction.

TAB officials have claimed that their corporate spending was meant to educate voters, not affect elections.


The records were released in a lawsuit brought by losing Austin Democrat James Sylvester. TAB had fought release of the records, and the Texas Supreme Court sat on the appeal for 17 months before ruling against TAB on June 10.

TAB lawyer Andy Taylor said the organization did not violate the state law banning the use of corporate money to influence elections because none of its direct mail or television advertising ever advocated the election or defeat of a candidate.

He said the fact that TAB executives wanted to influence the elections is irrelevant to the case.

“On no occasion did we ever use words of ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against’ in these ads,” Taylor said. “It’s the content of the speech, not the intention of the speaker, that counts for First Amendment purposes.”

Taylor said TAB was trying to “shed light on candidates’ positions on the issues.”

But plaintiff attorney Randall “Buck” Wood said the documents show TAB was, under the law, acting like a political action committee.

“The real test is whether a citizen of ordinary intelligence can determine whether they (the ads) were meant to elect or defeat a candidate,” Wood said.


The names of the donors were kept secret. Wood said he will go back to court to seek the names. The corporations can be subject to fines of double the amount of their contribution if it is found to have been made illegally.

The largest contribution was $250,000 from a corporation that was not a member of TAB; $480,000 in corporate cash came from companies that were not members of TAB.

That is significant because organizations such as TAB have additional First Amendment free speech protections if they are taking political action just among their members.

This certainly does nothing to dissuade me from my long-held opinion that TAB basically ignored existing election law. It’s the only explanation I can think of for their up-is-down insistence that they never advocated for or against any candidate, as well as their statements that paying for polling and electioneering counts as administrative overhead.

What do they say doesn’t count as advocacy? Here’s an example.

One mailer targeted voters in Bexar County, where Rep. Ken Mercer, a Republican, was running against Democrat Raul Prado and would ultimately defeat him.

“The Texas Association of Business is committed to fighting for free enterprise,” the mailer said. Then beside a picture of Mercer, the ad reads: “Ken Mercer stands with us in promoting the principles that will ensure that Texas remains a leader in jobs, economic development, quality education and improving transportation.”

It also mentioned Mercer’s positions on jobs and the economy, health care and corporate responsibility.

If you can read something like that and not conclude that the Texas Association of Business wants you to vote for Ken Mercer, then all I can say is that it’s a good thing you finished school before there were TAKS tests.

There were some 20,000 pages of documents released by the TAB, and it’s been just two weeks since the original court ruling which compelled them to do so, so I imagine there’ll be more of this soon. With a resurgence of the rumors that more indictments are coming soon, we may be in for a fun month of July.

Janette Sexton Campaign Kickoff Reception

In a previous entry on Janette Sexton, I promised to pass along information on her first fundraiser. I got the scoop last night, so here it is – click the More link for the details of the event, to be held on July 14 at Gilley’s in Pasadena. If you want to help unelect Robert Talton (and you know you do), here’s your first chance to do something.


Would KBH have beaten Perry in the primary?

Among the stories that I wasn’t able to read last week was this one which contained some poll numbers for the KBH-Perry primary matchup that we won’t get to see.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison would have been a strong front-runner among likely Republican voters if she’d challenged Gov. Rick Perry one-on-one next year, according to a survey conducted by a firm hired by her campaign.

A memo summarizing the April survey and obtained by the Austin American-Statesman says that, at the time, about 59 percent leaned toward Hutchison, with 33 percent favoring Perry.

The numbers might dampen speculation that Hutchison avoided running against Perry out of concern that he’d steeled support among GOP activists. It likewise leaves in question why she didn’t try and suggests that Perry has ground to cover with voters.

I’m one of those people who has believed that Perry has mostly locked up the GOP primary vote, since just about everything he’s done lately has been aimed towards those voters. There’s not a lot of data about this survey here (sample size? margin of error? question wording? etc), so I can’t say definitively that this has debunked those beliefs, but surely a poll conducted by her campaign for the primary would have at least tried to identify likely primary voters. You do have to wonder how big the horsehead was that someone put in her bed to dissuade her from this race. The idea that her change of mind was simply good manners on her part is ridiculous to me (link via PerryVsWorld).

Lance Tarrance, who conducted the survey, said Wednesday that a smaller sampling conducted last week showed 24 percent definitely favoring Perry and another 21 percent probably favoring Perry over a new Republican.


Tarrance said: “Not knowing more than we know today, she would have beaten the living fire out of Perry. I don’t think there’s anything else to conclude. Perry ought to be very lucky that she stayed out.”

It’s only one poll, it’s a long way to next March, and Rick Perry had not yet begun to crank up the slime machine, but yeah. He should feel lucky that she chose a different path.

Now the question becomes “Can Carole Keeton Strayhorn win by being the not-Rick-Perry candidate?” This poll suggests that maybe she can. PinkDome and BOR add their thoughts. I still make Perry the favorite here, but let’s just say that I’ll be awaiting the next poll very eagerly.

Lottery officials speak

And they say “We screwed up”.

“We’re just looking for answers and see what they have to say,” assistant committee clerk Cynthia Venecia said Friday.

At the lottery commission’s meeting Friday, officials acknowledged that they knew estimated ticket sales would fall about $1.3 million short of the advertised $8 million jackpot earlier this month, but that they inflated the jackpot to encourage ticket sales.

The lottery intentionally advertised a jackpot that staffers knew it couldn’t pay for on at least two other occasions, spokesman Bobby Heith said.

“At the time that we did these estimations, I felt that it was critical for the long-term health of the game for the jackpot to increase if there was no jackpot ticket sold,” Product Manager Robert Triloni told commissioners.

“In hindsight, I would have left the jackpot amount at the same amount.”

The June 8 shortfall prompted lottery officials to freeze the advertised June 11 jackpot for the first time in the game’s history.

[Reagan] Greer, the executive director, said he approved the inflated jackpots that staffers recommended because he trusted them and didn’t carefully review their reports.

Greer said his staff will base future jackpots on their most conservative sales estimates and will consider holding jackpots at the same amount more often if sales don’t support an increase.

“I’m going to take a much clearer, more micro approach to this process in the future and try to ensure to you that it’s not going to happen again,” he told the commission.

Yes, well, that’s what can happen when an unqualified person is named to head a commission.

Rep. Burt Solomons, who has tried to pass legislation to reform the lottery commission, said he was amazed lottery officials would intentionally try to deceive Texans.

“Somebody needs to be fired, and quite frankly, we need to investigate it,” said the Carrollton Republican. “It’s bad government, it’s poor public policy and it deflates the trust that we in the Legislature have for the lottery commission, for God sakes,” Solomons said.

You said it. Let the firings begin!