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Election 2020

The professional vote-deniers are out there

They’re probing the systems for weaknesses, a line that reminds me of the velociraptors in the original Jurassic Park. Except that the ‘raptors were sleek and efficient predators, while these guys are basically Pennywise with canned scripts and a huge wingnut-funded budget. The malice is still there, though.

Two of Donald Trump’s most prominent allies in his fight to overturn the 2020 election are leading a coordinated, multi-state effort to probe local election officials in battlegrounds such as Michigan, Arizona, and Texas ahead of the November election.

The America Project, an organization founded by Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general and former national security adviser, and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, has so far interviewed or attempted to interview officials in nearly 200 counties across eight swing states, according to copies of notes, recordings of the interviews, and other documents Votebeat found on web pages associated with the organization. The survey questions reflect the same debunked conspiracies and misleading information about elections that Flynn and Byrne have been propagating for years.

The survey questions appear intended to detect potential weaknesses in local election systems and gather detailed information about how elections are run. Election experts say the information could easily be used to fuel misinformation campaigns, disrupt voting, or challenge results.

“It seems consistent with their efforts to really understand how to manipulate the machinery of election administration in this country,” said Ben Berwick, counsel at national nonprofit Protect Democracy, a research and advocacy group.

In 2020, Byrne and Flynn were among the Trump loyalists who devised a plan to seize voting machines across the country and dig up enough evidence of fraud to persuade state lawmakers, Congress, or the vice president to overturn the election results. Now, they are focusing their efforts on the midterm election, with new strategies. A group backed by The America Project, for example, is attempting to purge voter rolls in Georgia ahead of the election.

The surveys are part of The America Project’s latest mission, dubbed “Operation Eagles Wings,” which is organized on foramericafirst.com, with web pages for each of the swing states the group is focused on. Key to the effort is building relationships with local election officials, according to two manuals for local volunteers on the organization’s websites. The officials are asked their opinions on debunked conspiracy theories, perhaps to determine whether they are like-minded individuals. Interviewers are also marking down which clerks are particularly helpful.

Berwick points out that it’s the mission of prominent Trump supporters to fill positions of power — from governors down to local clerks — with people who believe their allegations of election fraud and improprieties. Noting who does and does not support the cause, he said, may be the group’s way of determining “who will be sympathetic to their efforts in the future.”

Election officials have generally been friendly to their interviewers, but have also repeatedly assured them that their elections are fair, voting machines are secure, and voter rolls are accurate.

[…]

A key goal of Operation Eagles Wings is to create small volunteer teams across the country who observe the entirety of the election process, starting in part with the surveys, according to the manuals Votebeat found.

It’s the expansion of what they have dubbed “the Virginia model,” which refers to the work of Cleta Mitchell’s Election Integrity Network in Virginia to create a network for the state’s 2021 election, according to the manuals.* The America Project provided funding to that effort.

The larger Operation Eagles Wings initiative is aimed at educating “election reform activists on everything from grassroots training to election canvassing and fundraising,” according to The America Project’s website. The site claims the group provides training “for Americans who want to make sure there are no repeats of the errors that happened in the 2020 election.”

“We need to do everything in our power to protect the voting process from election meddlers who care only about serving crooked special interest groups that neither respect nor value the rule of law,” the homepage says.

Along with the surveys, the initiative encourages election skeptics to serve as poll workers and observers, perform in-person “voter registration audits,” and to visit “large farms, factories, businesses and especially care homes,” and ask residents whether anyone is forcing them to vote, according to the manuals.

It’s a long story and Votebeat does its typically thorough job of documenting the atrocities. I don’t know what the best way to respond to this is, but I do know that if we don’t figure it out, and find a way to fund it, we’re going to be screwed.

More on the lawsuit against True The Vote

NPR takes a deep dive.

Konnech, a small Michigan company that makes election logistics software, says a “smear campaign” whipped up by the controversial group True the Vote has led to death threats and forced the company’s CEO to leave home in fear for his and his family’s lives. The company believes a driving force behind the threats is xenophobia; Konnech’s CEO immigrated to the U.S. from China in the 1980s and became an American citizen in 1997.

In the past, the executive of a relatively unknown company might have chosen to ignore such claims to try to deprive them of attention.

But in the wake of the conspiracy-fueled Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and in the era of QAnon and Pizzagate — bizarre and baseless theories that have contributed to very real violence — that strategy may no longer be tenable. The experience of the election technology company Dominion Voting Systems, which became the target of widespread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, also underscored how wild claims could significantly damage a company’s business.

Just a few weeks after accusations against the company first surfaced, Konnech turned to the federal courts and filed a lawsuit. Konnech was “not going to take any chances and felt very strongly that it needed to act and act quickly,” said Jon Goldberg, a company spokesperson.

Konnech, which makes scheduling software for poll workers, joined a growing number of election officials and companies that have used defamation law to try to fight back against election-related conspiracies.

[…]

At an event in August dubbed “The Pit,” Engelbrecht and Phillips unveiled what they called the “Tiger Project,” which focused on Konnech. In interviews with far-right podcasters, Phillips has spun a cloak-and-dagger story that he compared to a James Bond movie, in which he helped uncover a supposed Chinese plot to infiltrate American elections.

In Phillips’ telling, he first heard about the company from “my guys” — unnamed “colleagues and friends” who invited him to their room in the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas one late night in January 2021.

“I get there and they’re putting towels, rolled up towels, under the doors and you know, and all my guys are armed,” Phillips said on the podcast “1819 News.”

Phillips said his colleagues showed him personal information for 1.8 million American poll workers, including “name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, banking information,” which supposedly was held on a server in China.

Konnech maintains that this claim is entirely false, and that all of its data on American customers is stored solely in the U.S.

After seeing this presentation, Phillips claims that he and Engelbrecht brought Konnech’s data to the FBI, which he claims then worked with them for more than a year on a supposed “counterintelligence” operation looking into Konnech. At one point, Phillips said he had a “secret squirrels” meeting with the FBI in Milwaukee to share information. Eventually, however, the FBI “completely betrayed us,” Phillips said, and told True the Vote that they were themselves under scrutiny from law enforcement.

True the Vote has not publicly provided evidence to support the claim of a “counterintelligence” operation along those lines, nor has NPR found any corroboration. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

See here for the background and be sure to read the rest. I love the idea that these clowns thought they were reporting a crime to the FBI when in fact they were telling on themselves. I just hope it leads to the conclusion that we all want to see.

District court judge dismisses State Bar complaint against Brent Webster

This is a bad ruling, and it needs to be appealed.

A Texas district judge has dismissed a professional misconduct lawsuit against a top aide of Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to discipline them for their effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Milam County Judge John W. Youngblood ruled last week that his court lacked the jurisdiction to rule on the matter, agreeing with the attorney general’s argument that doing so would violate the separation of powers doctrine by interfering in an executive branch matter.

“To find in the commission’s favor would stand for a limitation of the Attorney General’s broad power to file lawsuits on the state’s behalf, a right clearly supported by the Texas Constitution and recognized repeatedly by Texas Supreme Court precedent,” Youngblood wrote.

A similar case filed by the State Bar against Paxton is still before a Collin County judge and has not yet been decided.

[…]

Jim Harrington, a member of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, a coalition of lawyers including two former State Bar presidents, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the State Bar, called the ruling a “legal charade.” The group also filed complaints that prompted the bar to file suits against Paxton and Webster.

“The logic of the judge’s decision is that, if a lawyer works for the Attorney General, there is no way to hold the lawyer accountable for ethical violations and professional misconduct,” Harrington said in a statement. “In other words, the attorney general’s office is above the law. That is contrary to the principle of the Constitution, and we hope the State Bar will appeal the ruling.”

Ratner, a co-founder of the group and a Maryland attorney, said he, too, was disappointed in the ruling and added that it misconstrued the premise of the suit.

“While separation of powers authorizes the Attorney General to decide what lawsuits to file on the State’s behalf, we believe it does not authorize him to make misrepresentations and dishonest statements to a court in violation of his duties as a Texas-licensed lawyer,” Ratner said. “That’s what’s involved here.”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the letter the judge sent. Not a formal opinion, though I suppose he could still write one, just a one page letter. Obviously, if this judge fully bought into Ken Paxton’s sleazy and self-serving line of defense, it doesn’t bode well for the complaint against him. I think Jim Harrington has this exactly right, and I hope the State Bar has the wisdom and the guts to appeal this. Anything less would be a dereliction of their duty. The Trib has more.

Lawsuit filed against True the Vote

Oh, this will be fun to watch.

A defamation and computer fraud lawsuit filed this week against Texas-based True the Vote asks a judge to essentially determine whether the election-integrity group’s campaign against a small election vendor constitutes slanderous lies or a participation in criminal acts.

The suit was brought by Konnech Inc., a small elections logistics company based in Michigan. It alleges that True the Vote and its followers launched a stream of false and racist accusations against the company’s founder, forcing him and his family to flee their home in fear for their lives and damaging the company’s business. The suit cites True the Votes’ public claims that it hacked the company’s servers and accessed the personal information of nearly 2 million U.S. poll workers.

In a rare move, the judge granted Konnech’s request for a temporary restraining order against Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips, leaders of True the Vote, a nonprofit organization known for making allegations of voter fraud without evidence to support their claims. Judge Kenneth Hoyt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas found a “substantial likelihood” that Konnech would “suffer irreparable injury” without it. The order also prohibits True the Vote from accessing, or attempting to access, Konnech’s computers or disclosing any of the company’s data and orders the group to disclose more information about the alleged breach.

Experts told Votebeat the damage done through the spread of conspiracy theories about election software companies such as Konnech by groups like True the Vote could impact the already limited tools available that help election officials hire, train and schedule election workers.

True the Vote has for years claimed that voting machines are not secure and that U.S. elections are increasingly fraudulent but has offered little evidence, and its claims have failed to stand up to basic scrutiny. Konnech’s lawsuit specifically names Engelbrecht, True the Vote’s founder, and Phillips, a board member, saying that they “have intentionally, repeatedly, and relentlessly attacked” Konnech, and its founder, Eugene Yu, with a “unique brand of racism and xenophobia.”

Engelbrecht and Phillips, for example, repeatedly called Yu a “Chinese operative” who was spearheading a “Red Chinese communist op run against the United States.”

“On August 27, 2022, True the Vote posted an article claiming that Konnech is ‘owned by the Chinese Communist Party,’ even though Konnech is owned by U.S. citizens who are not affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, and claiming that Konnech is involved in the ‘subversion of our elections’ which is tantamount to falsely accusing Konnech of election fraud, treason, and espionage,” the complaint states.

True the Vote named its campaign targeting Konnech and Yu the “Tiger Project.”

[…]

The fact that a federal judge granted the temporary restraining order under the case’s circumstances is significant, said Peter Vogel, a Texas litigation attorney who specializes in cybersecurity and information technology. Federal judges rarely grant injunctions without allowing a defendant to present evidence, he said.

“So that tells me that there must be very persuasive evidence for a federal judge to grant a temporary restraining order without having the other side be present,” Vogel said

Vogel also has decades of experience as a computer programmer and has examined electronic election systems for the Texas secretary of state’s office.

Another significant aspect of the order, he said, is the relatively low level of bond the judge required Konnech to post: just $100. The bond usually protects the enjoined parties from any damage.

“This tells me the judge doesn’t think there’s any damage to the defendant.” Vogel said.

TTV sure has been making the news lately. None of this story is a surprise – I mean, really, what did you expect? – but it sure could be a rude awakening for them. Later in the story comparisons are made to the lawsuits filed by the likes of Dominion and Smartmatic against various bad actors in the media and the greater Trump orbit, and if the allegations are true then I think they’re going to be in a world of hurt. And boy howdy, could it not have happened to a nicer and more deserving bunch. There’s a hearing scheduled for September 26, so hopefully we’ll learn more soon.

Let’s not go overboard about these voter registration numbers

Sure it’s nice to see, but a little perspective is in order.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In Texas, it’s not just women who are fired up about access to abortion and registering to vote in large numbers following this summer’s historic Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade.

A new analysis from political data and polling firm TargetSmart found that while Texas’ new voter registrants are evenly split between men and women, they are younger and more Democratic than before the June ruling.

“It’s not that we’re not seeing a surge from women but that in Texas, we’re somewhat uniquely also seeing a surge from men, particularly younger, more progressive men, who are matching the surge from women,” said CEO Tom Bonier, whose firm works with Democratic and progressive candidates.

“I would expect to see that trend develop more in other states as we get closer to the election, but it was interesting to see Texas as first in that sense.”

According to TargetSmart, Democrats now have a 10-percentage point advantage among new registrants since the high court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, making up 42 percent to Republicans’ 32 percent. Prior to Dobbs, Republicans had a five-point advantage.

The state’s young voters — defined as those under age 25 — are also leaning more blue, the analysis found. Democrats now make up 47 percent of young Texas voters, up from 34 percent. The Republican share has remained the same at just under 30 percent.

That’s in line with what TargetSmart is seeing in 25 states that report party registration. In Texas, the firm uses a variety of data, including past primary participation and consumer demographic data, to identify likely Democratic and Republican voters.

Whether the registration trend will translate to high turnout of young voters is still yet to be seen. The group had tended to turn out at low rates compared to other age groups, but that trend started to turn around nationally and in Texas in 2018.

That midterm election year, with the rise in popularity of Democrat Beto O’Rourke amid his campaign for U.S. Senate, turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds more than tripled from about 8 percent in 2014 to about 26 percent.

“No one knows if that’ll be the case in 2022,” Bonier said. “But there is reason to be optimistic that these younger voters are much more highly energized than they have been in past.”

Bonier added that new voter registrants tend to have a higher turnout rate than those already registered.

I believe this story is based on this recent tweet thread from Bonier; there’s a link to an earlier Chron story about voter registration as well. It’s a cardinal rule to me that anytime you see a story about numbers that are solely expressed in percentages, you have to think about what the actual numbers are. Big percentages of small numbers are still small numbers, and vice versa. Here, the main thing we don’t know is how many voter registrations we’re talking about. We won’t have official numbers on that until October, after the registration deadline. Here’s what the registration figures since November of 2020 look like – you can find the state data here:

November 2020 – 15,279,870
January 2021 – 15,757,825
November 2021 – 16,007,280
January 2022 – 16,150,258
March 2022 – 15,944,184

This is a reminder that voter registration does not always go up. As we well know, voters also get removed from the rolls, sometimes for legitimate reasons like death or moving out of state, sometimes not. Whatever the case, we were just under 16 million in March. We’ve probably added a couple hundred thousand since then, so maybe we’re up around 16.2 or 16.3 million or so; I’m just guessing.

Now go back and look at what Tom Bonier said. Before the Dobbs ruling in June, Republican-profiled people were leading the new registrants. We don’t know how far back that goes, my guess is to March but who knows. Point being, we don’t know how many net new presumed Republicans this represents. We also don’t know how many new registrants there have been since June, when Dems showed the advantage. Maybe that’s enough to overcome the earlier deficit. I couldn’t tell you from the information I have available to me.

Let’s just focus on the post-Dobbs voters. Let’s say we get 100K new voters from then until October. If Dems have a ten-point lead in voter registrations during this time, that’s a net 10K potential voters for them. That number will be less than that in the end, as not everyone votes, so maybe it’s a 6K or 7K advantage. Not nothing, to be sure, but very likely not enough to tip any election.

I don’t say all this to be a bummer. It’s great that we’re doing well with voter registration! Keep it coming! I’m just saying it’s not going to magically carry us to victory. There are a lot more pieces to the puzzle than that. Don’t get distracted by the shiny object.

More on the Gillespie County elections office resignations

From Votebeat, how this mess got started.

Last November’s sleepy constitutional amendment election nearly came to blows in Gillespie County, a central Texas county known for its vineyards. A volunteer poll watcher, whose aggressive behavior had rankled election workers all day, attempted to force his way into a secure ballot vault.

The burly man was repeatedly blocked by a county elections staffer. Shouting ensued. “You can’t go in there,” the staffer, Terry Hamilton, insisted to the man, who towered over Hamilton. “We can see anything we want!” the poll watcher and his fellow election integrity activists yelled, according to an election worker who witnessed the scene. They accused Hamilton and Elections Administrator Anissa Herrera of a variety of violations of the state elections code, which they quoted, line by line.

“Oh Lord, they can cite chapter and verse,” recalled Sue Bentch, a Fredericksburg election judge who saw the confrontation that night. “But you know, just as the devil can cite scripture for its own purposes it seemed to me that it was often cited out of context and misinterpreted.”

“Finally, I called the sheriff’s officer,” said Bentch. The officer barred the activists from the vault. “Poor Terry was coming to fisticuffs.”

Previous elections had been no better. In 2020, a poll watcher called the cops on Herrera and filmed election employees in a dark parking lot. The same year, Herrera received a clutch of obscene, often racist, emails. And in 2019, a group of activists filed suit after Fredericksburg voters overwhelmingly rejected an obscure public-health ballot measure. That election, the activists argued, had been irrevocably tainted by fraud.

Three years of these hostilities were clearly enough for Herrera, who resigned this month.

The rest of the office staff — one full-time employee and one part-time employee — also departed, leaving the elections office completely vacant.

Recent media coverage of the exodus attributed it to threats of the type that have become common since the 2020 presidential election. In fact, Votebeat’s review of court documents, emails, and social media postings show Herrera and others struggling to combat fringe election conspiracy theories in Gillespie County long before former President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to question the integrity of the 2020 vote.

In Gillespie County in 2019, the fringe was focused on fluoride.

See here for the background, and go read the rest, there’s a lot more. This is a reminder that shitty paranoid conspiracy theories existed well before The Former Guy, but as with most other bad things, he amplified and intensified them, in this case with some generous assistance from the Gillespie County Republican Party. I have no idea what a good way forward for Gillespie County is, but it’s not my problem to solve. I feel bad for the people of good faith who are trying to solve it. The problem is a lot bigger than they are.

What do we expect from CD23?

It was the perennial razor-close high-dollar swing district all last decade. Will Hurd won it three times, but never reached 50% in any of the three elections. It moved a few points towards the GOP in 2020 when Tony Gonzales won it, and redistricting made it a bit redder still, but it remains the closest Republican-held seat and may never fade as a perennial battleground. But that may depend on this year, when Gonzalez will have an easier time of it at least financially. I don’t know yet what I expect from that race.

Gonzales remains the favorite for a second term — given the new political makeup of the district and his stark financial advantage — but he said he is taking the race “extremely seriously” and treating it like he was still running under the famously competitive boundaries that were in effect before redistricting.

“The [elected officials] that don’t have to fight, that are just there as long as they want it — they’re like declawed indoor cats that get fancy meals when the bell rings out,” Gonzales said in an interview. “I think Texas [District] 23 — you’re like an alleycat that has to scrape and claw and fight for everything, and I think that just makes you just different. Like, you’re fighting for your life.”

This cycle, Gonzales said, he wants to “run up the score” and “take this seat off the table completely.”

A former Navy cryptologist, Gonzales won the seat in 2020 by 4 percentage points, a wide margin by the razor-thin standards of the 23rd District. He was the successor backed by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, a moderate who had built his own reputation for breaking with his party, perhaps most notably opposing former President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall.

Trump carried the 23rd District by 2 points in 2020. But redistricting morphed it into a district that Trump would have won by 7 points, and in March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officially removed the seat from its list of targeted races.

[Democratic candidate John] Lira argued redistricting “didn’t do Gonzales that many favors,” noting the Cook Political Report, an election forecaster, only increased the Republican advantage of the district by 3 percentage points. And he said he is encouraged by the cracks in Gonzales’ Republican support, the political fallout from the Uvalde shooting and the strength of Beto O’Rourke’s gubernatorial campaign at the top of the ticket.

As for the case against Gonzales, Lira said, “he’s got Will Hurd’s playbook in his back pocket and he’s trying to see how he can play both sides.”

While national attention has faded from the race, Lira recently got the backing of O’Rourke, who rarely issues formal down-ballot endorsements. Lira also has the support of the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which endorsed him after the district was redrawn.

[…]

“I do think the district is going to be a little more competitive than most people anticipated — now how competitive, I don’t know,” said Jeff McManus, chair of the Bexar County GOP. “We sort of have a three-way race going,” with the independent challenger from the right.

McManus said he wishes Gonzales “were a stronger conservative.” The two were on opposite sides of the county party chair election in May, when Gonzales backed the incumbent, John Austin, that McManus defeated.

The independent candidate is Frank Lopez Jr., a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who had to give up his position as chair of the Val Verde County GOP to run. He and Gonzales are very familiar with one another: Lopez was the campaign manager for Raul Reyes, Gonzales’ bitter rival in the 2020 Republican primary runoff for the 23rd District.

Lopez said he ran as an independent, not in the GOP primary, after seeing “the way Raul lost” at the hands of the party’s establishment, which had coalesced behind Gonzales.

“Texans are tired of these dangerous Democrat policies,” Lopez said in an interview, “but they’re also tired of the pandering and games from the RINOs, establishment and globalists in the Republican Party. I had to give Texans a true choice.”

Lopez added that he sees a “perfect storm” for his candidacy, citing the recent intraparty blowback Gonzales has faced and Democrats he meets who say they are looking for a new political home.

Gonzales jokingly asked “Who?” when asked about Lopez in an interview. More seriously, he said the 23rd District has always had a third candidate in November who gets 3% to 5% of the vote and that he expected Lopez would be no different. Still, he said he is not taking Lopez for granted and that it “helps me stay sharp.”

Most of the rest of the story is about Gonzales’ votes in favor of the Cornyn gun control bill and the House bill to protect same-sex marriage, both of which has drawn him some criticism and two censure votes from aggrieved county GOPs (a third, in Bexar County, failed to pass). Good for him and all, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here for the numbers.

For what it’s worth, Trump carried CD23 by seven points in 2020. The next two closest districts are both Dem-held (CD15, Trump +3; CD28, Biden +7), and after that it’s all double digits, with CDs 24 (Trump +12), 03 (Trump +14), 22 (Trump +16), 26 (Trump +18), and 38 (Trump +18) next in line. The main difference between CD23 and these other districts is that the latter all moved strongly towards Dems since 2012, with Mitt Romney carrying them by 38 to 44 points. It would not shock me if Beto does about as well in CDs 03 and 24 as he does in CD23. I don’t think Gonzales is going to achieve his goal of taking CD23 off the table, but I could easily see him winning by 10-12 points and discouraging any serious competition in the near term future. I could also see him winning by about the seven points that Trump won it by and remaining in the same position. He has some big advantages, but this is officially a Very Weird Year, and I’m not making any predictions about it. Long term I think this district remains on the radar, but maybe not at the front of the pack. We’ll see.

Libertarians will remain on the ballot

Too bad, Republicans.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday rejected a Republican effort to remove a host of Libertarian candidates from the November ballot, saying the GOP did not bring their challenge soon enough.

In a unanimous opinion, the all-GOP court did not weigh in on the merits of the challenge but said the challenge came too late in the election cycle. The Libertarian Party nominated the candidates in April, the court said, and the GOP waited until earlier this month to challenge their candidacies.

On Aug. 8, a group of Republican candidates asked the Supreme Court to remove 23 Libertarians from the ballot, saying they did not meet eligibility requirements. The Republicans included Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and others in congressional and state legislative races.

State law requires Libertarian candidates to pay filing fees or gather petition signatures, the amount of each depending on the office sought. The Libertarian Party has been challenging that law in federal court, arguing it is unfair because the fees do not go toward their nomination process like they do for Democrats and Republicans.

Republicans also tried and failed to kick a group of Libertarian candidates off the ballot in 2020. In that case, the state Supreme Court said the GOP waited until after the deadline to challenge candidate eligibility. This time, the Republicans filed their challenge before that deadline but apparently still did not satisfy the court’s preference to deal with election challenges as soon as the alleged issues arise.

In its opinion Friday, the court suggested the “emergency timeframe” argued by the GOP “is entirely the product of avoidable delay in bringing the matter to the courts.”

See here for the background, and here for the Court’s opinion. Basically, SCOTx is saying that the GOP should have filed their challenge in or closer to April, when the Libertarians nominated their no-fee-paying candidates, and that claiming something is an emergency doesn’t make it one. They did not rule on the merits, as noted, so the question of whether this kind of challenge could be successful – so far, we haven’t seen a successful challenge, but in the prior cases that was due to timing and technical matters, so there’s still no precedent – remains unanswered. Maybe in 2024, if the federal lawsuit the Ls have filed doesn’t make it moot. The Chron has more.

Cheney versus Cruz

Pop your popcorn, this should be fun.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, one of the GOP’s highest-profile critics of former President Donald Trump, plans to set her sights on U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and other Republicans who she says “made themselves unfit for future office” by going along with Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election.

The Wyoming Republican, who lost a primary this month to Trump-backed attorney Harriet Hageman, launched a political action committee with her campaign funds and now says she plans to use the PAC to go after “election deniers.”

Cheney, a leading member of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, told the Wall Street Journal that her first targets include Cruz, who she said “took steps that fundamentally threatened the constitutional order and structure in the aftermath of the last election.”

Cruz led an effort in the Senate to delay certifying President Joe Biden’s election win and objected to Arizona’s electoral votes less than an hour before demonstrators breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, pointing to “unprecedented” — and unproven — allegations of voter fraud. Cruz at the time was pushing for an “emergency audit,” which he has argued could have provided the final say Trump supporters needed to accept the results.

Cruz’s Senate term runs through 2024. The Texas Republican has said he would run again for president “in a heartbeat” after coming in second to Trump in the 2016 GOP primary.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t expect this effort to make much difference politically. I respect Liz Cheney for her principled stand for democracy and truth in the face of all kinds of resistance, but I’m under no illusions that she’s suddenly a force for progressive politics. I’m just hoping she’ll land some punches on a guy who needs to be regularly punched. I have no expectations beyond that.

Paxton’s State Bar disciplinary hearing

We are slowly moving towards finally having some kind of result in this saga.

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued Wednesday that a Kaufman County judge should toss a lawsuit alleging he acted unethically in a legal challenge that sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

The first public hearing in the case inside a near-empty Kaufman County courtroom was not to determine the merit of the lawsuit lodged by a disciplinary commission of the state bar, but whether the group can seek sanctions against Texas’ top lawyer.

Paxton’s lawyers said the case, which could threaten his law license, is an unconstitutional attempt to control his office’s work and could have a chilling effect on future attorneys general. But an attorney for the commission countered that all lawyers should be subject to the same rules of professional conduct, no matter their position.

Judge Casey Blair, a Republican, did not issue a decision from the bench Wednesday. The outcome could establish the limits of the commission’s power to sanction lawyers who serve in high-ranking elected positions.

Any ruling will likely be appealed, meaning it could be months before the bar’s complaint over Paxton’s 2020 election lawsuit is heard in court, if ever.

[…]

In the hearing Wednesday, Christopher Hilton, a state attorney representing Paxton, argued that if the court allows the lawsuit to go forward, then “every future attorney general will have to fear for their law license rather than represent the state of Texas to the best of their ability and the way their voters expect that they would do.

“They would be hamstrung on unelected bureaucrats,” he said.

Royce LeMoine, a lawyer for the commission, said Paxton is being sued for his actions as a lawyer, not as the state’s attorney general, and that this is not a “select prosecution.”

“The commission’s disciplinary rules do not violate the respondent’s ability to advocate for his clients and the state of Texas,” LeMoine told the judge.

See here, here, and here for the previous updates. The Chron had a preview story on Tuesday.

“I hope it proceeds,” said Jim Harrington, one of the Texas lawyers who filed the State Bar complaint. “I hope [the judge] bites the bullet and denies the plea because it’s the right thing to do.”

[…]

In seeking to dismiss the disciplinary case, Paxton’s lawyers argue that it would violate the separation of powers doctrine for the Texas courts to “police” what they say was an executive branch decision. They also claim Paxton is protected by sovereign immunity, the legal principle that generally shields public officials from lawsuits.

In a separate motion, the attorney general’s office is asking the judge to allow the agency to intervene in the case on Paxton’s behalf.

The 2020 suit was not “dishonest, fraudulent, or deceitful,” they write in filings, and the State Bar’s issues with it essentially amount to a “political disagreement.”

“If Texans disapprove of the how the Attorney General exercises his authority, the remedy is to vote him out of office,” Paxton’s attorneys write. “The bar has no veto over how the Attorney General exercises his constitutional authority.”

Paxton was not the first attorney general to be asked to spearhead the case, and lawyers in his own office, including then-Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, had argued against it, according to the New York Times. Hawkins, who would normally represent the state in such litigation, had no involvement in the case when it was filed and resigned within a month.

Top lawyers at the Florida attorney general’s office ridiculed the suit as “bats—t insane,” emails revealed.

Recent polls have shown the attorney general’s race is highly competitive between Paxton and his Democratic opponent Rochelle Garza, a former ACLU attorney. Garza, who has portrayed herself as the candidate who will bring integrity to the attorney general’s office, isn’t buying Paxton’s legal argument in this case.

“Political disagreements have to do with policies, not facts,” Garza said in a statement. “Even first-year law students know that legal accusations of wrongdoing require evidence, yet two years later, Paxton continues peddling his baseless lies about the 2020 election. Texans deserve an attorney general who believes in the rule of law and ethically uses the power of the office to serve Texans, not for their own political ends.”

Any decision in the case could foreshadow the result of a suit filed against Paxton’s First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster by the Texas Bar for his involvement in the 2020 Supreme Court petition. Webster is also seeking to dismiss his case, and a hearing will be held Sept. 6 in Williamson County.

Paxton and Webster are being represented by lawyers from the attorney general’s office, as well as outside counsel. The office has not responded to questions about why they need both. The cost to taxpayers so far is over $46,000, and that’s before today’s initial proceedings.

The attorney general’s office has said the four in-house attorneys working on the case are not keeping track of their billable hours. The office did not explain why no timekeeping was done, despite its policy of doing so for other types of cases.

“To me, it’s really outrageous they’re using taxpayer money,” Harrington said. “This has nothing to do with his role as attorney general, absolutely nothing. It’s only his role as an attorney. Even if the State Bar disbars him, it has no effect on him being attorney general.”

You will not be surprised to know that I am on the State Bar’s side in this dispute. Paxton’s argument has merit to the point that elected officials should not be held accountable for political decisions by non-political offices like the State Bar. Where that falls apart is that he was also acting as a lawyer, and in doing so was violating the ethical and professional rules that lawyers are supposed to abide by. The evidence for that is overwhelming, from the sheer brazen falsity of the the claims he was making to the way similar lawsuits had been routinely batted aside by a myriad of courts to the fact that his own Solicitor General, whose job it is to make these arguments in court, refused to participate. If he can’t be held accountable for that then he has a blank check to do anything. That cannot be the right answer.

Anyway. If Paxton is found guilty, he will be subject to discipline from the State Bar, which could be anything from a scolding to being disbarred. While the latter seems unlikely to me – from what I have observed, it’s usually lawyers that do things like misappropriate clients’ money that get the boot – I don’t think it would be inappropriate given the seriousness of the issue. If that did happen, Paxton would still be able to hold the office of Attorney General. We’re not getting rid of him that easily. I don’t know what to expect and I don’t know how long it might take. With Paxton, we’re used to waiting on these things. Reform Austin has more.

Let’s name a few legislative battlegrounds

It’s getting to be that time of the election cycle.

Mihaela Plesa

Two years ago, Democrats were gearing up for a rare opportunity in modern times: capturing the Texas House majority.

But after they came up woefully short — and Republican-led redistricting reduced the number of competitive races — the battlefield heading into November is notably smaller.

Still, both sides see important stakes in the state House races this time around. While the majority is not on the line, the hottest races are unfolding in key areas that each party understands is critical to their growth for the next decade.

Look no further than the three districts that both Democrats and Republicans see as their highest priorities. Two of them are in South Texas, where Republicans are working to make inroads with Hispanic voters, while the other is in North Texas’ Collin County, a place emblematic of the fast-growing suburbs where Democrats have gained ground over the last few election cycles.

The GOP is especially serious about the two seats in South Texas — House District 37, a new open seat in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, and House District 118, a San Antonio-based seat that Republican John Lujan flipped last year in a special election. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that works to elect Republicans to state legislatures, are announcing Monday that they are funding $360,000 in TV ads aimed at the two districts, a substantial opening salvo on the battlefield.

[…]

Millions of dollars are expected to pour in to HD-37 and HD-118 — the two South Texas seats — and then HD-70, the one in Collin County. President Joe Biden would have carried each of the three seats over Donald Trump in 2020, but only by margins of 2 to 11 points, which gives them battleground status in the current environment, according to operatives. HD-37, which Republicans rammed into the map overnight during redistricting, is the closest on paper, with a Biden margin of only 2 percentage points.

Lujan is easily the most endangered Republican incumbent, but a few others can be expected to have competitive races, including Reps. Steve Allison of San Antonio, Morgan Meyer of Dallas and Angie Chen Button of Richardson. However, all three have had tough general elections before — especially Meyer and Button — and Republicans have faith in their ability to defend themselves.

There are also some additional open seats that the GOP will have to monitor, like the Houston seat where Republican state Rep. Jim Murphy is retiring.

On the Democratic side, the most endangered incumbent may be Rep. Eddie Morales of Eagle Pass, who represents a massive district covering most of the Texas-Mexico border.

As for the issues, the GOP messaging is set to take on a national tone, seeking to tap into Biden’s deep unpopularity in Texas, especially on border security and inflation. The House Democratic Campaign Committee said its candidates are focusing on “good jobs, strong public schools and access to affordable health care.”

“In contrast, Republicans are obsessed with banning abortion with no exceptions and making sure anyone can carry a gun with no training or license,” an HDCC spokesperson, Stella Deshotel, said in a statement.

With the primaries over, candidates across the races are sounding notes of independence and bipartisanship. Mihaela Plesa, the Democratic nominee for HD-70, said in an interview it was important for representatives to go to Austin and “not just be another vote for the party line.” Her Republican opponent, Jamee Jolly, said she was optimistic she would appeal to the Biden voters in the district, which he would have carried by 11 percentage points.

“I think a lot of people chose Biden because they didn’t like the Republican option. I know that for a fact because I have friends who have said that,” Jolly said, adding that her friends found Trump “divisive” and that she would legislate as “much more of a convener, a solutions-seeker,” reaching across the aisle.

Plesa said the No. 1 issue she hears about is public school finance, along with concerns about the “social wars” that are erupting in the classroom. But she said she is also hearing a lot about abortion after the Roe v. Wade decision, which triggered a ban without exceptions in Texas. Jolly said that her focus is now on “how we continue to support maternal health care.”

First and foremost: San Antonio is not South Texas, and I will die on that hill. I am begging you to be more precise in your geographical descriptors.

Second, just to provide some perspective, here are the 2020 Biden/Trump numbers for all of the districts name-checked in this story:


Dist  Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
=================================
037  27,740  26,576  50.6%  48.4%
070  45,111  35,989  54.7%  43.6%
074  31,415  28,538  51.7%  46.9%
108  54,481  55,364  48.9%  49.7%
112  44,881  45,370  48.9%  49.4%
118  36,578  34,584  50.6%  47.9%
121  50,133  52,533  48.1%  50.4%
133  40,475  42,076  48.4%  50.3%

Most of these districts got more Democratic between 2012 and 2020, often much more Democratic. HDs 37 and 74 are the exceptions in that list. You can go read that earlier post for all the context. HD70 is a current Republican district that was redrawn to be Democratic, whose incumbent is not running for re-election, and should be the most likely of the bunch to flip. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say that if Dems don’t pick up HD70, it will have been a disappointing Election Day. It’s impossible to imagine a good overall result if the Republicans can hold that one. Republicans flipped HD118 in a low-turnout special election, which is a thing they had done before as well. Dems won it back that November, but HD118 was a more Democratic district in the previous map. Bexar County moved strongly Democratic overall last decade, though (Pre-redistricting) HD118 was at the bottom of the progress list. I also feel confident saying that Dems will be disappointed if they don’t take this one back.

Fundraising numbers are also a factor, and likely a reason some other relatively even districts were not mentioned in this Trib story. HD70 Dem candidate Mihaela Plesa has done pretty well, while HD118 candidate Frank Ramirez, who fell short in the runoff of that earlier special election, has done less so. I’ll want to take a look at the 30-day numbers in some of these races to see what other signals there may be.

I don’t want to get too deep into all this, as I don’t know much about these races beyond the numbers. I do believe that we will see a different, perhaps broader, class of contested races in 2024, partly because a lot of Republican seats were drawn with relatively tight margins, and partly because this year may tell us something new about the trends we have been seeing in the past three elections. There are always some districts that over- or under-perform their expected numbers, and this time should be no exception.

Hopefully the last time she will appear before a judge

For her sake, I hope it is.

Years of legal trouble for a former Harris County civil judge have come to an end with three years probation.

Alexandra Smoots on Wednesday wept as Judge Chuck Silverman granted her deferred adjudication on an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge — an offense stemming from her decision in August 2020 to fire a shotgun during an argument with her ex-husband’s girlfriend. The incident exacerbated a downward spiral marked by laundry list of personal woes, including a breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy treatment, infidelity, divorce, foreclosure on her home and a federal indictment for wire fraud.

The indictment prompted her suspension from the bench in the 164th District Court.

She pleaded guilty to the federal charges later in 2020 and the case in the 183rd District Court represented the last hitch to moving on.

Smoot’s fate in the assault case was expected to be decided Wednesday during a pre-sentencing investigation, but the judge told both parties that he had already settled on a punishment and the hearing would be a “waste of time.”

“I don’t think it’s a benefit to this court and society to idle along,” said Silverman, who addressed Smoots as judge throughout the appearance. “I would like everything to continue on the up for you.”

[…]

Smoots, first elected in 2008, can no longer practice law because of her felony convictions. She now works as a legal consultant, [her defense attorney Juanita] Jackson said.

Federal investigators caught wind that Smoots was siphoning campaign money from 2013 to 2018 to purchase a Zales engagement ring, two Prada handbags, and for mortgage payments and private school tuition for her two sons.

The jurist in that case, Lynn N. Hughes, sentenced her to the 36 days she had spent jailed for a bond violation connected to the assault charge, as well as three years of supervised release.

Prosecutors in that case requested a sentence within the guideline range of 18 to 24 months in prison, saying the defendant abused her power and authority as a sitting judge. It was not known what state prosecutors planned to recommend to the judge as a punishment.

As part of her probation, Smoots must undergo 80 hours of community service and have no drugs or alcohol. Anger management therapy is also part of the court’s conditions.

Smoots’ federal plea and sentence came in September of 2020, about a month after this incident. To be honest, I don’t remember reading about it at the time, but then we were all kind of busy around then. As I said before, I hope she is getting her life back in order, and I hope the next time I hear about her it’s for something positive.

All of Gillespie County’s elections staff resigns

Who could blame them?

Citing threats and even stalking, all three employees at the Gillespie County elections office have resigned from their positions, leaving the office empty with less than three months before the primary election in November.

The Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post first reported the wave of resignations last Wednesday, after staff say they received numerous threats and in some cases, even stalking. Now former Gillespie County Elections Administrator Anissa Herrera told the Standard that after the 2020 election she was threatened, stalked and called out on social media.

“The year 2020 was when I got the death threats,” Herrera told the Post. “It was enough that I reached out to our county attorney, and it was suggested that I forward it to FPD (Fredericksburg Police Department) and the sheriff’s office.”

[…]

Josh Blank, director of research at the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, says that with the threats election workers are facing — coupled with an already difficult job — it is more surprising that additional election workers have not yet resigned.

“You’re asking people to do more work under greater scrutiny, and now, threats of physical violence. So it’s not so surprising that this sort of, you know, election workers has decided to resign.” Blank said.

Gillespie County voter Victoria McClurd says that she was both shocked and not shocked that resignations occurred.

“If they’ve been receiving death threats, then I would too, because we’ve gotten to a point where the threats are not benign,” McClurd said. “[In] the last election I was going to be a poll person, and they were talking to us about what to do if someone comes in and is violent. That’s not what happens in a civilized society.”

Sam Taylor, the assistant secretary of state for communications, said the state is already working with Gillespie County officials to help them move forward and prepare for the upcoming election.

“We have already committed to sending trainers from our office to ensure that the County will have the tools and resources they need to conduct a successful election in November,” he said in an email statement.

As we know, it’s not just in Gillespie County that election workers are being terrorized. These folks were just the highest profile to date to say screw it, my life and my family’s life aren’t worth this shit. Note that Gillespie County voted 79% for The Former Guy in 2020. At the risk of trying to impute rational thought on these idiots, what exactly do you think was going on there?

Obviously, the bulk of the blame here lies with our felonious ex-president, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Every statewide elected Republican that has ever dabbled with election conspiracies, unsubstantiated claims about voter “fraud”, casting suspicion on mail ballots or ballots cast in Democratic counties, they all share the blame for this. State Rep. Kyle Biederman, who “represents” Gillespie County, is one of the worst offenders out there. If they would like for their own elections to be handled in a smooth and competent manner, now would be a good time to say something to push back on the paranoia and rage that they’ve been stoking. Greg Abbott could ask the Texas Rangers to step in and investigate the threats made against Anissa Herrera and her colleagues. Ken Paxton could personally vow to prosecute whoever gets arrested to the fullest extent of the law. Dan Patrick could promise to pass a law that would offer more protection to election workers and provide harsher penalties for making these kinds of threats. That won’t undo their damage but it ought to make the jackals doing the threatening think twice about it. It would also be the right thing to do, and might help turn the temperature down a bit.

This is a five-alarm fire. For once, the arsonists have a chance to try to atone for their sins. What are they going to do about it?

UPDATE: From the Express News, as carried by the Chron:

Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher told the Standard-Radio Post that the entire staff resigned for similar reasons, leaving the county in a dire situation for the upcoming November election.

He said that the county has “some people who are pretty fanatical and radical about things” and drove out Herrera and the staff. Stroeher said that the job became more difficult than it probably should be “because of some individuals who are continuing to question how they are doing things,” according to the Standard-Radio Post.

“Elections are getting so nasty and it’s getting dangerous,” Stroeher said to the Standard-Radio Post.

Stroeher told the outlet that he will be contacting the Texas secretary of state for guidance about holding the November elections.

“It’s unfortunate because we have candidates that need to be elected, and we have voters who want their voices to be heard by the ballots,” Stroeher said. “I don’t know how we’re going to hold an election when everybody in the election department has resigned.”

And what have you been doing to combat that fanaticism and radicalism you mention, Judge Stroeher? This is your responsibility, too.

GOP seeks to knock Libertarians off the ballot

They tried this in 2020 with no success, but might be better positioned this year.

Texas Republicans have filed a petition to knock 23 Libertarian candidates off the November ballot for not paying their filing fees.

On August 8, 23 Texas Republicans filed a petition of mandamus with the Supreme Court of Texas to remove their Libertarian Party of Texas (LPT) competitors from the November general election ballot.

Some high-profile Republicans on the petition include Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, U.S. Reps. Pat Fallon (R-TX-4) and Troy E. Nehls (R-TX-22), and candidate for U.S. House District 15 Monica de la Cruz. The four face opposition from Libertarians Shanna Steele, John Simmons, Ross Lynn Leone, Jr., and Joseph Leblanc, respectively.

“In addition to filing an application for nomination by convention,” the petition reads, “Texas law requires a candidate for public office to either pay a filing fee or submit a signature petition in lieu of a filing fee.”

“Despite their knowledge of these requirements, candidates seeking public office as members of the Libertarian Party of Texas in the upcoming 2022 General Election deliberately refused to pay their required filing fees and also failed to file their required signature petitions in lieu of payment of their required filing fees.”

Before filing the petition, the Republicans confirmed with the Texas Secretary of State that the Libertarians had not paid their filing fees. The Libertarians had not done so, prompting the Republicans to petition the Supreme Court “to issue an emergency writ of mandamus” to force the Libertarians “to comply with their legal and ministerial obligation.”

Texas Republicans filed a similar suit against the LPT in August 2020 for failing to meet their certification requirements, which the state Supreme Court rejected for missing the deadline. But this year, the petition was filed before August 26, “the deadline of the 74th day before the November 8th election” to file such a complaint.

Also in August 2020, three Democratic campaigns won restraining orders against three Green Party candidates who failed to pay their filing fees and were subsequently removed from the ballot.

In the Republicans’ suit two years ago, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the code has different rules for parties that choose candidates through conventions, like the Libertarian Party, and those that use primaries, like the Republican and Democratic Parties.

In 2019, House Bill 2504 was filed to require parties that nominate candidates with conventions to pay a filing fee to appear on the ballot. The fee ranges from $300 for a State Board of Education candidate to $3,750 for statewide office.

“Parties holding primary elections are subject to one set of rules, and other parties are subject to other sets of rules,” the court wrote. “These differences may seem to benefit or burden one class of parties or another, depending on the circumstances.”

See here for some background on the Republicans’ attempt in 2020 to knock Libertarians off the ballot. The Dems did succeed in getting a few Green Party candidates off the ballot that year, but others were later reinstated with a little help from Ken Paxton. Never were there stranger bedfellows.

There is also a lawsuit that is as far as I know still active over that bill requiring third parties to pay a primary fee. There was an appellate court ruling in September of 2020, right in the middle of all the candidate-booting efforts, that sort of lifted a restraining order that prevented the Secretary of State from enforcing that law, but the ruling was far more complex than just that. I honestly have no idea if the restraining order is still in place or not, but I suppose the Supreme Court will address that when it rules on the mandamus. I also have no idea if Dems are going to try similar action against Greens this year; if they are, time is running short for them. This is one of those rare times when you can expect a ruling in short order, because the ballots need to be finalized soon. Chuck Lindell has more.

Election officials and workers need our help

We’ve identified the problem. That’s good. Now let’s do something to fix it.

Misinformation about elections has led to violent threats against election workers in Texas and other states — including one who was told “we should end your bloodline” — according to a new report released by a House panel Thursday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard from one county election official in Texas that he received death threats after being singled out by out-of-state candidates who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Those threats quickly escalated and eventually included his family and staff.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia received social media messages including, “hunt him down,” “needs to leave Texas and U.S. as soon as possible,” and “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.”

The report said Garcia had to call law enforcement when his home address was leaked and calls for physical violence against himself and his family increased — eventually leading to threats against his children that included “I think we should end your bloodline.” Law enforcement determined that none of the threats broke the law, but they did provide coordination and additional patrol around his neighborhood.

The findings are the latest evidence of how former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him have taken root as they have been echoed by his supporters, including Texas Republicans who passed new voting restrictions last year.

The report comes as polling released this week indicates two-thirds of Texans who identify as Republicans still do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The June survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found 66 percent of Texas Republicans said they don’t believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That was unchanged from February when they were asked the same question.

The report is part of a longrunning effort by congressional Democrats to push back on Trump’s claims and new voting restrictions in states, including Texas.

“Election officials are under siege,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel. “They face growing campaigns of harassment and threats, all driven by false accusations of fraud.”

[…]

Garcia wrote that Sidney Powell, Trump’s former lawyer who sought to overturn the 2020 election, appeared on Fox News pushing bunk claims about voting machines turning Tarrant County blue. Garcia was also targeted by Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator on Newsmax, and far-right website The Gateway Pundit.

Their attacks on Garcia came when Biden won the typically red county by 0.2 percentage points after Trump had led the initial count on election night, before late absentees and provisional ballots were included.

“What followed in the next 4 to 6 weeks was a terrible time of threats and concerns for the safety of my family, my staff and myself,” Garcia wrote.

The House panel in April sent letters to elections administrators in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Ohio asking how misinformation had impacted their work. The report’s findings are based, in part, on responses by Remy Garza, a Cameron County election official who is president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators.

Garza told the committee that during debates in the legislature over proposed changes to voting laws, public testimony frequently included “broad generalizations of alleged fraud” and “repeated misleading information about actions taken by the Harris County clerk responsible for the November 2020 election.”

Garza said the bills Texas Republicans passed were inspired by “false information” and were also sometimes impossible for elections administrators to implement. For instance, the state Legislature enacted a requirement for voting machines to produce a paper record without providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of converting existing equipment to comply, as well as other requirements that are not possible in counties that don’t have certain elections systems.

I have a hard time understanding how those threats against Heider Garcia’s family would not be considered violations of the law. If that’s the case, then the law needs to be updated, because we just can’t have that in a world where we also want free and fair elections run by competent people. Various provisions to offer protection to election officials were included in the voting rights bills that passed the House but were doomed by the filibuster in the Senate. I’m hopeful we’ll get an update to the Electoral Count Act of 1877 to shore up the weaknesses that Trump tried to exploit in 2020, but I seriously doubt that an amendment to include those election official protections could be added, for the same filibuster-related reasons. We’re going to need the same “hold the House and expand the Dem majority in the Senate” parlay to have some hope for this next year. I hope we can wait that long. The Trib has more.

Most of the lawsuit against the voter suppression law survives a motion to dismiss

Some good news.

In a limited order this week, a federal judge threw out some civil rights and discrimination claims brought as part of a complex and ongoing legal dispute over strict new voting rules in Texas.

The lawsuit filed last year alleges that the rules violate the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by restricting voter assistance and making it easier for “partisan poll watchers to intimidate voters and poll workers.”

[…]

In his order on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a George W. Bush appointee, did not provide a clear win to either side in the protracted legal fight.

On one hand, Rodriguez did agree with Texas officials that civil rights groups had in some cases failed to a state a claim, meaning they could not adequately show a violation of federal law or a potential injury to voters. He dismissed a handful of claims brought by the civil rights groups, which include the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Workers Defense Action Fund.

On the other hand, Rodriguez’s order was hardly kind to Texas officials. Over the course of 61 pages, he detailed not only why civil rights groups had standing to sue, but also how they’d “clearly” established that SB1 could have discriminatory effects on voting rights.

The judge waved off efforts by Texas officials to have more or all of the lawsuit dismissed — including the state’s unusual argument that civil rights groups shouldn’t be able to sue because “the organizations themselves do not have a disability.”

“It is well settled,” Rodriguez wrote, “that an organization may sue as the representative of its members.”

While past filings in this lawsuit have largely hinged on nuances of civil rights law, Tuesday’s order was interesting because it detailed the lived experiences of disabled voters in Texas.

The civil plaintiffs presented examples from at least three voters — all members of the disability voting-rights group REV UP — whom they said could be harmed by Texas’ new voting law.

These examples were “non-exhaustive,” plaintiffs said, and represented just some of the disabled Texans who could face voting difficulties if SB 1 is allowed to stand.

See here for the background. There were multiple lawsuits filed, with the Justice Department getting involved later on. This is the San Antonio lawsuit from that first blog post. I assume that most if not all of these cases have been combined but it’s hard for me to say from the information I have easily available. Democracy Docket has some information on this one, and they provide a PDF that combines multiple orders from Judge Rodriguez; the Courthouse News story only has one of them, which threw me for a minute as I was trying to verify that I was referring to the correct case. This stuff is complicated, y’all.

Anyway. That story goes into two of those examples, and you should read about them, they’re quite compelling. I’m never quite sure if the Republicans who pass these voter suppression bills legitimately don’t care that people such as these plaintiffs won’t be able to vote as a result, or if they just can’t be bothered to hear their stories while the bills are in progress, lest they have some feelings of guilt or remorse, if those are possible for them. The end result is the same, I just want to know how to calibrate my contempt. Anyway, this is in addition to the other voter suppression bill that was struck down – we are apparently at a point where a bunch of these are getting some action, which is always exciting. As usual, nothing is safe until the Fifth Circuit is done with it, and we know what that usually means. So celebrate responsibly, we may be mourning later on.

Who audits the auditors?

A novel idea. Not sure it will get anywhere, but it does send a message.

Harris County Commissioners Court, by a 3-2 partisan vote, agreed to explore legal options, including a possible lawsuit, to challenge the results of a random drawing by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office that means another round of election scrutiny for Texas’ largest county.

“It ought to be the state of Texas that is audited,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who proposed the lawsuit. “This place has gone back to the bad old days.”

Harris County learned last week it was one of two large counties chosen for an election audit by state officials, under new procedures lawmakers approved for election scrutiny. It is the second audit of Harris County, after another approved weeks following the 2020 general election.

[…]

Harris and Cameron counties were the two large ones chosen in a drawing from a bucket, the Secretary of State’s office announced; Eastland and Guadalupe counties were the two small counties selected.

Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, however, questioned the authenticity of the drawing, saying the broadcast of the drawing “looks like a video out of a sketch comedy show.”

“The camera does not show the slips going into the bucket,” Menefee said, noting various aspects of the drawing that are not filmed. “They don’t even show the slips to the camera.”

See here for the background. Just as a reminder, while there have been issues in other elections in Harris County, the November 2020 election ran incredibly smoothly. And the SOS has already done an “audit” of that election, even if they never bothered to release a report on their “audit”.

My guess is that this doesn’t go anywhere, because I can’t see what grounds there are to sue. (Remember: I Am Not A Lawyer. There is an excellent chance that I am full of beans here.) One could argue that Harris County should have been exempted from this year’s drawing, as the law states that counties cannot be subjected to this audit in consecutive cycles. But the previous audit was not done under the auspices of that law, so the legal response to that would be some form of “tough luck”. Again, I don’t know what the actual attorneys who will be looking into the legal possibilities may find here, so take all this with an appropriate amount of skepticism. But if you were to bet me a dollar right now that 1) Harris County would file a suit as threatened, and 2) it would result in a temporary restraining order, I would take that bet.

If on the other hand the point of this is to denigrate the audit process, which was created in response to Big Lie mania, I’m fine with that. If the idea is to suggest that the state can’t be trusted to conduct a fair random drawing, let alone a fair audit process, that works for me. Judge Hidalgo spoke about the need to combat Big Lie hysteria, which is doing immense damage to the election process and a whole lot more, in the story. That’s a worthwhile mission. If it turns out there really is more to it than that, I’ll be happy to have been proven wrong.

The independents

Recently I got an email from a gentleman named Ted Wood, who wrote to inform me that he had successfully completed the requirements to be an independent candidate for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals on the November 2022 ballot. The basic requirements to be an independent candidate for non-statewide office are filing a declaration of intent to run as an indy – this is to be done at the filing deadline – and then collecting 500 signatures from people who didn’t vote in the primaries.

Wood told me his candidacy is the first Independent run for an appellate bench in Texas since 1996. I hadn’t checked that at the time he told me, but I believed it. In my experience, most of the independent candidates run for Congress or the Legislature. I’ll get to some past numbers in a minute, but did you know that there’s no public listing of independent candidates for the 2022 election right now? Obviously there will be one in about a month when the ballots are finalized and printed to be sent to overseas voters, but if you want to know right now who besides Ted Wood is an independent candidate running for state or federal office in Texas, you have to make a Public Information Act request to the Secretary of State. Seems crazy to me, but here we are.

Anyway, Wood did this and shared the list with me, which you can see here. It’s six candidates for Congress, two for the State House, and him. Two of the Congressional candidates are repeat customers – Vince Duncan has been an indy for Cd18 in 2020, 2018, and 2014, while Chris Royal ran as an indy for CD34 in 2020. The current cycle and the last two have been relatively busy ones for independent candidates for Congress – six this year, seven in 2020 and 2018, though in 2018 there were two in CD09, so indy candidates were only in six races – but for whatever the reason it wasn’t like that at all before 2018. I found no independent candidates for Congress in 2016, two in 2014, and one in 2012. I have no explanation for that – if you have one, let me know. I found one independent candidate for State House in each of 2014, 2016, and 2018; I didn’t search 2020 because the new format on the SOS website is a pain in the ass for that sort of thing. I found no independent candidates for any other offices since 2012, which was as far back as I checked for state elections.

Wood also inquired with Harris County about any independent candidates running for county offices. He was informed by Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office that there were no independent candidates for county office on the ballot in Harris County in 2022. This didn’t surprise me, as I couldn’t think of any recent examples of such a candidacy offhand. I went back through Harris County election results all the way to 1996, and found two non-legislative indies in that time. One was a candidate for the 245th Civil District Court in 2002, an Angelina Goodman, who got 3.69% of the vote. That’s not a county office, though – it’s a state office. I finally found a genuine indy for a county office in 1996. In the race that year for Constable in Precinct 7, a fellow named Andy Williams was the sole opponent to Democrat A. B. Chambers, and he got 6.39% of the vote. You learn something new every day.

Anyway. Wood as noted is running for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals, a seat that is being vacated by Sherry Radack. Democrat Julie Countiss, who is currently a Justice on this court but for another bench (she can run for Chief Justice without giving up her current seat), and Republican Terry Adams, who had been appointed to the First Court for Place 5 in 2020 then lost to Amparo Guerra that November, are his opponents. He’s working now in the Harris County Public Defender’s office. Before that, he worked for the General Counsel at the Texas Office of Court Administration (OCA) in Austin, and served two terms as County Judge in Randall County. As a Democratic precinct chair I am supporting Julie Countiss, who is also someone I know in real life and who I voted for the First Court in 2018. But I enjoyed having the chance to talk to Ted Wood, and I definitely appreciate the opportunity to get a nerdy blog post out of it. Hope you enjoyed this little excursion into electoral miscellania as well.

Fraudit 2.0

Here we go again.

Harris County will be one of four Texas counties to undergo an audit of its upcoming November election results by the Texas secretary of state’s office.

It will be the second election audit in two years for Harris County, though the first to be conducted under election law the state legislature passed in 2021.

Eastland, Cameron and Guadalupe counties were selected for the audit process, as well.

By state law, four counties are to be audited at random every two years, two with a population greater than 300,000 and two counties with smaller populations. There are 18 Texas counties with populations greater than 300,000, meaning the state’s large urban counties will face the most audits. Texas has 254 counties.

The audits are to be conducted after November elections in all even-numbered years, and they will look at elections in the four selected counties from the preceding two years. The counties selected will not have to pay for the audits.

On Twitter, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee questioned the randomness of the selection process. In response, the secretary of state’s office tweeted a link to a video on Facebook that showed the process — the names of large counties and smaller counties are printed on individual labels, and then the four counties are drawn from a bucket. When an employee drops the labels of the large counties into the bucket, it does not happen on camera.

Menefee’s office put out a statement in which the county attorney called the latest audit a ‘waste of time.”

“Harris County will comply, as we’ve always done,’ Menefee said. “But this is a waste of time. Last year the state coincidentally launched an audit of the county’s 2020 election just hours after former President Trump called on the governor to do so. That audit has been consuming the resources of our Elections Administrator’s office at a time where they’ve had to hold a record number of elections. By the way, that audit has still not been completed.

“Now, the state has ‘randomly’ selected Harris County to be audited for the 2022 election,” the statement continues. “Voters should be asking themselves what purpose these audits serve beyond wasting taxpayer money. As has been shown time and again, our elections are secure. The entire premise of these audits—that there is widespread fraud in our elections—is false.”

[…]

In September 2021, the secretary of state’s office announced it had begun a “full and comprehensive forensic audit” of the 2020 election in four Texas counties, including Dallas, Harris and Tarrant — the state’s three largest counties, all of which voted for President Joe Biden. The audit also encompassed Collin County, the largest in Texas carried by former President Donald Trump.

State law establishing the new audit process specifies: “a county selected in the most recent audit cycle may not be selected in the current audit cycle.” Though Harris County’s 2020 election results currently are being examined under a “forensic audit” by the state, the county still is eligible for a new audit in the current cycle because they are separate audit processes, according to Texas Secretary of State spokesperson Sam Taylor. He confirmed Harris County will not be eligible for an audit in the following election cycle.

See here for all my previous blogging on this topic. The video in question can be found here; it was posted by someone at the SOS office in response to a snarky tweet by Christian Menefee. There was a preliminary result from that first “audit” posted in January of 2021 – I can say I’m not aware of any followup stories about that. This is a bullshit law passed to satisfy the Big Lie, and it’s on the list of laws that have got to go when Dems get a turn.

(There’s also an unofficial “audit” of 2020 primary ballots going on in Tarrant County. I can’t even read that story, I start seeing red two sentences in.)

Meet the new billionaires in charge of Texas

Somewhat worse than the old billionaires, who were already pretty bad.

Gun owners allowed to carry handguns without permits or training. Parents of transgender children facing investigation by state officials. Women forced to drive hours out-of-state to access abortion.

This is Texas now: While the Lone Star State has long been a bastion of Republican politics, new laws and policies have taken Texas further to the right in recent years than it has been in decades.

Elected officials and political observers in the state say a major factor in the transformation can be traced back to West Texas. Two billionaire oil and fracking magnates from the region, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, have quietly bankrolled some of Texas’ most far-right political candidates — helping reshape the state’s Republican Party in their worldview.

Over the last decade, Dunn and his wife, Terri, have contributed more than $18 million to state candidates and political action committees, while Wilks and his wife, Jo Ann, have given more than $11 million, putting them among the top donors in the state.

The beneficiaries of the energy tycoons’ combined spending include the farthest-right members of the legislature and authors of the most high-profile conservative bills passed in recent years, according to a CNN analysis of Texas Ethics Commission data. Dunn and Wilks also hold sway over the state’s legislative agenda through a network of non-profits and advocacy groups that push conservative policy issues.

Critics, and even some former associates, say that Dunn and Wilks demand loyalty from the candidates they back, punishing even deeply conservative legislators who cross them by bankrolling primary challengers. Kel Seliger, a longtime Republican state senator from Amarillo who has clashed with the billionaires, said their influence has made Austin feel a little like Moscow.

“It is a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple,” Seliger said. “Really, really wealthy people who are willing to spend a lot of money to get policy made the way they want it — and they get it.”

[…]

Texas’ far-right shift has national implications: The candidates Dunn and Wilks have supported have turned the state legislature into a laboratory for far-right policy that’s starting to gain traction across the US.

Dunn and Wilks have been less successful in the 2022 primary elections than in past years: Almost all of the GOP legislative incumbents opposed by Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee primarily funded by the duo, won their primaries this spring, and the group spent millions of dollars supporting a far-right opponent to Gov. Greg Abbott who lost by a wide margin.

But experts say the billionaires’ recent struggles are in part a symptom of their past success: Many of the candidates they’re challenging from the right, from Abbott down, have embraced more and more conservative positions, on issues from transgender rights to guns to voting.

“They dragged all the moderate candidates to the hard right in order to keep from losing,” said Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper who’s covered 18 sessions of the Texas legislature.

“I don’t think regular Texans are as conservative as their elected officials,” Kennedy said. “The reason that Texas has moved to the right is because the money’s there.”

There’s more, so read the rest. I’m old enough to remember when James Leininger was the scary right wing billionaire main character of Texas. We have a never-ending supply of these assholes. Yes, gerrymandering is a part of the problem here, but there will always be some number of deep red districts, and the same problem exists at the statewide level as well. Money is a big factor, though as noted it’s not always the difference-maker. Ultimately, the problem and the solution remain the same. I don’t know any way out of this but through it.

Paxton so petty

This guy, man. What a stain.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton is escalating his feud with the State Bar of Texas by banning his office’s lawyers from speaking at any events organized by the bar.

Paxton’s office also will not pay for any attorneys to attend bar-sponsored events, according to an internal email obtained by The Texas Tribune.

The state bar is suing Paxton over his 2020 lawsuit challenging the presidential election results in four battleground states. Paxton has denounced the lawsuit, which alleges professional misconduct, as political harassment.

The internal email — sent Monday by Shawn Cowles, Paxton’s deputy attorney general for civil litigation — references the lawsuit, calling it “just the latest instance in the Bar’s ongoing evolution into a partisan advocacy group.”

“Let’s be clear: these are politically motivated attacks that violate separation-of-powers principles and offend our profession’s values of civil disagreement and diversity of thought,” Cowles wrote.

The new office policies are effectively immediately.

[…]

The state bar is an agency of the judiciary that licenses lawyers to practice in Texas and hosts regular training and networking events around the state.

Let’s put aside any question for a minute about whether or not Paxton has a legitimate gripe with the State Bar’s actions against him. (He doesn’t, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend he does.) He’s taking out his anger on his employees. How would you feel if your boss forbade you from doing any professional development because he’s in trouble with the cops? You have to be an exceptionally shitty person to act like this.

Grifters always stick together

Two shitty tastes that taste even shittier together.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is pretty familiar with Catherine Engelbrecht. He’s been a guest on her podcast, chatting about their shared passion: rooting out voter fraud. They both have gone to great lengths to try to support former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

And when Engelbrecht, founder of the nonprofit True the Vote, has found herself in hot water, Paxton’s office has turned out to be a helpful ally.

Most recently, a state judge sided with Engelbrecht’s argument that it should be Paxton’s office – not a court – that should probe allegations made by a True the Vote donor who says he was swindled out of $2.5 million.

But more than a year after the case was dismissed, Paxton’s office won’t say whether it ever investigated the donor dispute. Last month, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that True the Vote had engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than $1 million to Engelbrecht and other insiders, while failing to back up its voter fraud claims.

In the reporting of that story, Paxton’s office withheld financial documents and email communications from Reveal and issued contradictory and inaccurate statements about the nonprofit, which has been a leading voice in driving the voter fraud movement from the political fringes to the core of GOP ideology.

The embattled attorney general this year skated through a contested primary race. But he faces potential disbarment for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, is under investigation by the FBI, is getting sued by whistleblowers in his office and awaits trial for a seven-year-old felony indictment for securities fraud. In their lawsuit, former staff members have accused him of using his office to provide legal favors to an ally, saying he appointed a special prosecutor to target adversaries of a donor who was under investigation.

His office advocated on Engelbrecht’s behalf before the Texas Supreme Court in 2016 when she got into legal trouble with her previous nonprofit organization, King Street Patriots, for being overtly political. He appeared on her podcast in July 2020, during which Engelbrecht said she considers Paxton a friend.

“I can’t say thank you enough for the dignity and the respect that you bring to that office,” she said.

“I feel blessed to have this opportunity, especially in a time like this. It’s really a crisis,” Paxton replied.

“God bless you. God bless you, Ken Paxton, God bless you. And thank you for all that you and your team do,” Engelbrecht added.

See here for the earlier story of Engelbrecht’s 2020 election-related grifting. Of course Ken Paxton would be her buddy and would be there to help cover up her misdeeds. It’s his core competency. If Rochelle Garza wins election this year, she’s going to have to create an entire division at the AG’s office to investigate all of the malfeasance that Paxton buried, including his own. She may need multiple terms just to get to the bottom of it all. Go read the rest and remind yourself of what could be if she does win this fall.

The State Bar’s response to Paxton

As you know, the State Bar of Texas filed a lawsuit against Ken Paxton in a Collin County district court in order to proceed with the complaint filed against Paxton for his attempt to overthrow the 2020 election by filing a massively dishonest and bad-faith lawsuit against four states won by President Biden. Paxton filed his response to that lawsuit a month ago, and now the State Bar has responded to his response.

Best mugshot ever

Weeks before the May 24 primary runoff election for attorney general, Paxton publicly tweeted the State Bar was following a “political narrative” by filing its action “just a few weeks before” his election. Paxton made the same argument in his court answer to the petition.

The commission filed its response last week, emphasizing the petition was filed the day after the election and the only significance to that filing date is that it occurred on the same day the presiding judge of the First Administrative Judicial Region signed the Order of Assignment; the commission couldn’t have filed sooner.

Moreover, the complaints were presented to an investigatory panel Jan. 5. After the panel found “credible evidence” to support a finding that Paxton violated the code of ethics, “the commission attempted to negotiate a resolution with (Paxton),” the response states.

It was Paxton that elected to have the disciplinary action heard in Collin County, and it was Paxton that “conjured up the specter of a political narrative,” the commission stated, to politicize an otherwise straightforward disciplinary proceeding.

In Paxton’s answer, he cited several defenses, including a lack of jurisdiction, a violation of separation of powers, and sovereign immunity.

Paxton asserts in his plea that he is unique, and unlike every other licensed attorney holding the position of state attorney general in the United States, is altogether exempt from having to comply with his state’s rules of professional conduct, even when acting directly as counsel of record before a court, the commission response states.

[…]

Paxton argued that as part of the executive branch the courts had no jurisdiction over him. The commission said this premise was tested and failed in two other states, Minnesota and Connecticut. Referring to In Re Lord, the Minnesota Supreme Court held, “the governor has no power to clothe the attorney general with immunity for disciplinary powers of the court when the attorney general appears in court as an attorney,” and that such a finding would “reduce the court to a tool of the executive.”

The commission said that, despite Paxton’s contentions that the disciplinary action was brought for political or retaliatory purposes, that action is not about his decision as the attorney general to file the case.

“Rather, the commission contends that the pleadings respondent prepared and filed contained numerous statements that were false, dishonest, and deceitful,” in violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the response states.

Referring to Paxton’s separation of powers argument, the commission told the court the State Bar Act gives the Texas Supreme Court administrative control over regulations governing the practice of law, and the high court has inherent regulatory powers as well within the state Constitution.

On sovereign immunity, the commission said Paxton isn’t being sued in his official capacity, but personally in his capacity as a licensed attorney.

See here and here for the previous updates. A major component of the State Bar’s response has been to take on Paxton’s claims that the whole process is political, because that’s the main tool he has in his bag whenever someone tries to hold him accountable for anything. Indeed, the headline of this story notes how the State Bar turned Paxton’s complaints about the process against him, because Paxton can’t help but be a lying liar who lies a lot. I can’t say how effective any of this will be, but you do love to see it. I don’t know when the next update is, but as always I’ll be watching. The Statesman has more.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: Congress

The runoffs are now over, and we’re fully into the fall election season. As before, I’ve consolidated this list down to the elections of interest, which means I’ve dropped CD30 as it was a primary-only affair. I’m also dropping CD10 and CD22, because while those are districts that are of interest to me, neither Linda Nuno nor Jamie Jordan has managed to file a report so far, and so I just can’t be bothered. Better candidates next time, please. The October 2021 reports are here, the July 2021 reports are here, the January 2022 reports are here, the April 2022 reports are here, and you can get the links to the previous cycle’s reports from there.

Dan Crenshaw – CD02
Robin Fulford – CD02
Keith Self – CD03
Sandeep Srivastava – CD03
Michelle Vallejo – CD15
Monica de la Cruz – CD15
Chip Roy – CD21
Claudia Zapata – CD21
Tony Gonzales – CD23
John Lira – CD23
Beth Van Duyne – CD24
Jan McDowell – CD24
Henry Cuellar – CD28
Cassandra Garcia – CD28
Vicente Gonzalez – CD34
Mayra Flores – CD34
Wesley Hunt – CD38
Duncan Klussman – CD38


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Crenshaw     14,140,850 13,216,975        0  2,776,589
02    Fulford         109,995    100,957   15,595      9,038
03    Self            314,699    240,821        0     73,877
03    Srivastava      160,121    141,656   65,000     18,464
15    Vallejo         699,131    540,643  100,000    158,488
15    De la Cruz    2,914,515  2,366,992        0    555,028
21    Roy           1,757,556  1,047,612        0  1,173,526
21    Zapata           77,500     68,918        0      8,581
23    Gonzales      3,346,655  2,054,016        0  1,323,998
23    Lira            486,541    395,459        0     91,081
24    Van Duyne     3,022,405  1,366,847        0  1,723,967
24    McDowell         44,677     27,975    3,843     16,701
28    Cuellar       3,351,820  4,664,602        0    237,690
28    Garcia          695,640    470,707        0    224,932
34    Gonzalez      2,251,211  2,201,071        0  1,420,633
34    Flores        1,765,515  1,651,532        0    113,983
38    Hunt          4,238,227  2,390,809        0  2,071,360
38    Klussman        180,323    145,198    7,000     35,125

I get kind of a 2012 vibe from looking at these numbers. Dems raised big money in two races – the eternal target of CD23, and the open seat CD14 which only drew interest because former Congressman Nick Lampson made a run at it – and decent money in CD27, a former Dem district lost in the 2010 debacle that was made more Republican in redistricting. No Dem candidate in a red district approached raising as much as $100K for the entire cycle outside of those three; I remarked on that multiple times in 2018 as Dem candidates were shattering records left and right.

It’s a little less bleak this time, but the shape is similar. CD15 is the new CD23, though for this cycle at least it’s still a Dem hold and not a flip. CD23 is redder than before though still closer to 50-50 than any other district, with a stronger Republican incumbent; Quico Canseco was a typical “dog that caught the car” in 2010, and that surely helped Pete Gallego in his quest to win it back. John Lira is not in Gallego’s fundraising neighborhood, but he might approach a million bucks before it’s all said and done. Duncan Klussman, Sandeep Srivastava, and Robin Fulford have all topped $100K already, with Claudia Zapata likely to get there. That’s a symbolic figure more than an impactful one, but given how bleak things were in 2012 we can at least reset some expectations. I have hope that the districts I’ve quit following will rejoin the conversation in future cycles. As for Jan McDowell in CD24, at least some things never change.

The top Democratic fundraiser in a district that ought to be competitive this fall was Jessica Cisneros, who raised over $6.5 million in her ultimately losing race against Henry Cuellar. Cisneros complained loudly and at length about Dem leadership supporting the incumbent in this race. I get that and I will not offer any defenses of Cuellar, but I will note that the lack of support she got on that front did little to hinder her ability to raise money. I’m pretty sure we’ve not heard the last of her. She did succeed in wiping out Cuellar’s cash on hand advantage over Cassy Garcia, but I assume Cuellar will reopen that gap this quarter.

Along those lines, that special election in CD34 certainly helped Mayra Flores rake it in, though Vicente Gonzalez still has a large lead in cash on hand. Flores has a lot more visibility now, but she’s running in a different CD34 in November, one that was drawn to be a lot friendlier to Dems. We’ll see if she has a big Q3 or if she comes back to earth in that reality.

On the Republican side, I still have no idea what’s going on with Keith Self. How is it he hasn’t raised more than $314K at this point, having had all of Q2 to himself as the nominee in CD03? It’s a mystery to me. Unlikely to matter much, as he should easily win this year, but it will get harder for him in this blue-trending district. Mostly, I just don’t understand why he’s lagging his peers. Not complaining, you understand, just puzzling.

I’m working on posts for the other finance reports of interest. Let me know what you think.

Some ideas for improving elections in Harris County

Put it on the new guy’s to do list.

When Harris County’s new elections administrator starts the job next month, he will have less than three months to get ready before polls open on Oct. 24 for early voting in the November election. On top of the tight timeline, he will run his first Harris County election under intense scrutiny from political insiders who will watch to see whether the county repeats its mistakes from the March primary.

There is work to be done to prevent those and other missteps in the upcoming November election, according to a new report commissioned by the county to look for weak spots in the March primary. The findings point to numerous changes Harris County could make, such as improving training and resources for workers and voters, strengthening recruitment of election workers and streamlining operations.

[…]

The draft report from the research firm Fors Marsh Group offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the primary election — and an accounting of the many challenges the county elections office faces as employees adapt to new leadership, new voting machines and new state laws.

Before Commissioners Court created the appointed elections administrator in October 2020, the county clerk and tax assessor-collector managed voter registration and elections in Harris County. Longoria took on the newly-created position just as the county began to roll out its new voting machines in May 2021.

According to the report, executives at Hart InterCivic — the company that makes the county’s voting machines — pointed to several reasons behind difficulties in the March primary, such as “the transition of electronic to paperbased voting, compounded by the creation of a new Elections Office, the pandemic, and the lack of funding for execution of an effective training and voter education effort.”

A survey of Harris County election judges and poll workers included in the report showed 91 percent were satisfied with the instructors who trained them and the answers they received. However, only 66 percent of those who served as election judges in March thought the training was sufficient, while 35 percent of first-time election judges and poll workers said they did not feel adequately prepared to serve in the election.

Voters would benefit from training on the new machines, too. According to the report, however, “much of the funding initially planned for education and outreach had to be repurposed as part of the office’s internal budgeting process in order to meet other pressing elections needs.”

There also is room to improve how election judges and poll workers are recruited, according to the report. Many election workers were recruited at the last minute for the March primary, the report revealed; 30% were recruited three to four weeks before the election, and 29% recruited one to two weeks before the election.

The report indicates Harris County could streamline its election operations by switching to joint primaries. In Harris County, the Democratic and Republican primaries are operated separately at each voting location, with separate lines and separate machines. In the March primary election, the county had 90 voting locations open during early voting and 375 locations on Election Day, but the report suggested the county really operates double those numbers since each polling place housed two separate primaries: “This system effectively meant setting up and managing 750 polling locations on Election Day, each with its own equipment pick-ups and drop-offs.”

Honestly, a lot of this sounds like growing pains to me, with adjustments needed to get used to new voting machines and the new Election Administrator office. I haven’t gone looking for a copy of the report, but I would also put the issue of collecting election results on Election Day, which also needs a clear answer from the Secretary of State office about what is legal. There’s nothing here that suggests to me that this is a big broken mess that’s going to require a total redesign of the entire system. More training of election workers and of voters on the new machines, both of which will require some more funding, is the big takeaway. That sounds very doable to me, and it sounds like a clear and measurable mission for the new Elections Administrator. Welcome to the job, Clifford Tatum.

Paxton responds to State Bar lawsuit against him

Blah blah blah, you can’t sue me, blah blah blah.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking to dismiss a professional misconduct lawsuit filed by the state bar against him related to his legal challenge of the 2020 presidential election, court documents show.

In a court filing June 27, Paxton asked a district court in Collin County to dismiss the Texas State Bar’s lawsuit. The state’s top lawyer, a Republican who is seeking a third term in office, said state bar investigators are biased and politically motivated against him.

[…]

In the court filing, Paxton said the state bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline, which filed the suit, had no authority to “police the decisions of a duly elected, statewide constitutional officer of the executive branch.” Paxton also stood by his decision to challenge the results of the 2020 election.

See here for the previous update. This is more or less the standard way to respond, and indeed Paxton is making the same arguments he’s made in the past, because there’s nothing new here. It’s just a matter of eventually getting a judge to rule on it. I don’t know what the potential for delay is here, but we know from past and recent experience, if there’s one thing Ken Paxton is good at, it’s throwing up every possible obstacle in the path of holding him accountable. I don’t expect this to be any different, but maybe I’ll be surprised.

Paxton escapes open records lawsuit

Sheesh.

Best mugshot ever

The Travis County district attorney’s office will not proceed with a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for refusing to release his communications around the time of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Despite determining that the attorney general likely violated the state’s open records law, the district attorney’s office said it would not sue because journalists who had requested Paxton’s records declined to testify in court in order to protect their sources.

The district attorney’s office launched its investigation of Paxton’s office after editors at Texas’ largest newspapers filed a complaint earlier this year alleging that the attorney general was breaking the state’s open records law.

In a hand-delivered letter to Paxton on Jan. 14, Jackie Wood, the district attorney’s director of public integrity and complex crimes, stated her office concurred with the allegations in the editors’ complaint and gave Paxton four days to cure the violations or face a lawsuit.

“We were encouraged that the district attorney agreed that Paxton’s office violated the law,” said Maria Reeve, executive editor of the Houston Chronicle. “We hoped that those facts would be sufficient for a lawsuit to proceed — and that our reporters would not need to testify.”

Paxton’s general counsel, Austin Kinghorn, said the allegations were “meritless.”

Wood later asked the journalists if they’d be willing to testify in court about the roadblocks they encountered trying to obtain records from the attorney general’s office. The newspapers declined to do so over concerns that reporters could be forced to testify about their unnamed sources or newsgathering methods. If they refused to answer, they’d risk being found in contempt of court.

“Therefore, it is the decision of this office not to proceed to seek declaratory and injunctive relief in order to bring Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Office of the Attorney General into compliance with the public information requirements of the Texas Government Code,” Public Integrity Unit Team Leader Rob Drummond wrote in a July 1 letter to Reeve.

See here, here, and here for the background. On the one hand, I understand that the papers didn’t want to put any of their employees in legal jeopardy. On the other hand, I feel like they had some duty to pursue this to a conclusion, since they filed the complaint in the first place. Was there no way for a private citizen, someone who wouldn’t have sources to risk, to testify in their place? I don’t understand the legal subtleties of this. I’m just frustrated by the outcome.

The continued Republican threat to voting

They cannot be satisfied.

Not satisfied with the new voting restrictions put in place less than a year ago, the Texas Republican Party is plowing ahead with yet new measures that would reduce the number of early voting days and end the practice of allowing any senior to vote by mail without an excuse.

At the same time, party leaders are threatening GOP state lawmakers who control the Texas Legislature with increased sanctions if they don’t support the platform, including potentially spending tens of thousands of dollars directly to oppose them in future primaries.

“We made a good step the last time, but we are not there yet,” State Sen. Bob Hall, a Republican from Edgewood, said about last year’s election reforms packages that reduced early voting hours in places like Harris County and put new restrictions on mail-in voting.

The push to further restrict early voting and mail-in ballots is rooted in former President Donald Trump’s continued claim without evidence that the 2020 election was stolen from him largely because of mail-in balloting. At the same convention where the state GOP adopted the new legislative priorities, more than 8,000 delegates also approved a resolution rejecting the “certified results of the 2020 Presidential election” and declaring “that acting President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was not legitimately elected by the people of the United States.”

“Texas Republicans rightly have no faith in the 2020 election results and we don’t care how many times the elites tell us we have to,” said Republican Party of Texas Chairman Matt Rinaldi, who was elected the leader of the party with no opposition.

What’s more, the Republican Party of Texas membership voted overwhelmingly at its statewide convention in June to make more election reforms its No. 1 priority for the next legislative session that begins in January. That would include increasing penalties for those who violate election laws even inadvertently, reducing early voting days and restricting mail-in balloting to only the military, the disabled and people who will be out of the county during the entirety of early voting.

Texas has allowed voters 65 and older to vote absentee without needing an excuse since 1975. If the GOP succeeds, that would end. More than 1 million Texans used vote-by-mail during the 2020 presidential election and more than 850,000 of those ballots came from people 65 and older, according to the Texas Division of Elections.

“There’s no reason, just because you’ve turned 65, that you can’t show up to vote,” Hall said in promoting the changes during the June GOP Convention in Houston.

[…]

Texas was a pioneer of in-person early voting. It created a 20-day window of early voting in the late 1980s and expanded it dramatically in the early 1990s to include more locations like shopping malls and grocery stores. Currently, Texas has two weeks of early voting before elections, though in 2020 Gov. Greg Abbott expanded early voting for an additional week to allow more people concerned about COVID-19 to vote before Election Day.

If the state cut early voting to just one week, as Hall has proposed, it would affect up to 6.5 million Texans — that’s how many voted in the first two weeks in 2020.

Look, there’s no point in deploying things like “logic” to point out that they seem to have no problems with the elections that they won, or that doing this would hurt their voters, too. It doesn’t need to make sense. It also doesn’t matter whether the “regular” Republicans support this madness or not. Once it has a foothold, the momentum only goes in one direction. Either we win enough power to hold them off, or we are left with nothing but the hope that the likes of Bryan Hughes is unwilling to go that far.

Also of interest:

The Harris County Attorney’s office on Thursday said it is looking into allegations a grass-roots group knocked on doors in Sunnyside and attempted to get residents to sign affidavits verifying the identities of registered voters living at their addresses.

The county attorney’s probe is based on a complaint from at least one Sunnyside resident who said two men came to her home and asked questions they said were to confirm the identities of registered voters who live at that address. The men gave her an official-looking affidavit form and asked her to sign it attesting to the residents at the address “under penalty of perjury.”

“We are investigating this issue and exploring legal options to protect residents and prevent this from happening again,” the County Attorney’s office said in a statement, adding it is working closely with the Harris County Elections Administrator’s office to fully understand what happened.

In a Wednesday evening news release, the elections office warned residents against “scammers” it said pretended to be from the county elections and voter registration offices and attempted to collect sensitive personal information from voters.

The County Attorney’s office, however, said it had no information that anyone had attempted to misrepresent themselves as public employees, which would be illegal.

The two men, according to doorbell camera video footage recorded by a Sunnyside resident, wore badges identifying themselves as members of Texas Election Network, a conservative grass-roots organization formed in 2021.

[…]

In video footage recorded Sunday and reviewed by the Houston Chronicle Thursday, a man carrying the clipboard explains to the resident: “What they told us to do is get a yes or no to confirm whether everybody is here. If not, we’ll take the ones off that are not, and then they update their records.”

The Texas Election Network website — which has minimal information about the organization and does not disclose its leadership — lists five objectives, including clean voter rolls and fraud-free absentee ballots.

In its release, the county elections office said it does request the information being asked on the form used by men and added that voters are not required to sign them.

“In the event that the Harris County Elections Office ever needs to contact you directly, our staff will have county ID badges to prove their identity, and/or paperwork with the logo or official seal of the office included,” the release states.

James Slattery, senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said for the average voter, the organization’s name, badge and paperwork could convey a sense of an official visit by the government without explicitly doing so.

“I’m sure they’ll say they’re just a bland nonprofit, but to a voter who does not have a law degree, who does not have a background in law enforcement, you are a lot more likely to believe that this is some kind of quasi-official visit,” Slattery said.

“This is one of the precise situations I have been most worried about this election — people in shadowy volunteer groups who suggest in one way or another that they are acting under official authority questioning the eligibility of voters directly by knocking on their doors,” Slattery said.

I’m sure this group is totally on the up-and-up and will spend an equivalent amount of time canvassing in Baytown and Kingwood and the Villages.

Still no new Election Administrator

C’mon, y’all.

Harris County officials canceled an election commission meeting for the second time this week, again citing a lack of quorum because only two members were able to attend in person. The rescheduled meeting now is set for Tuesday.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, one of five members of the commission, announced Sunday evening that she had tested positive for COVID-19.

When they meet, members of the county’s election commission are expected to pick a new official to run elections, as outgoing Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria’s resignation went into effect Friday.

At their most recent meeting on June 15, members of the commission narrowed their search to two finalists. Both candidates live outside Texas and have previous election experience, according to Hidalgo.

See here and here for the background. Again, I would like to know who (besides the presumably still-testing-positive Judge Hidalgo) was unable to attend and why, and I would like to know when we might reasonably expect the next meeting to occur. We may be at risk of losing out on one or both of these candidates if we don’t move forward, and that would be a catastrophe. I want to see this done by the end of next week. Please!

No new election admin yet

Hope this delay is brief.

Harris County’s top election position remains unfilled, after a Monday meeting of the county’s election commission to select a candidate was canceled due to a lack of quorum. Their final pick will face a narrowing time frame to prepare for his or her first test: Early voting for the November election begins Oct. 24, less than three months after the new administrator’s likely start date.

The tight schedule adds to an already daunting job in a sprawling county with more than 2.5 million voters, an adversarial political climate with frequent election lawsuits, and a startlingly high rejection rate of nearly one out of five mail ballots in this year’s March primaries under the state’s new voting laws.

Only two of the five members of the commission were able to attend the Monday meeting in person, a day after County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced she had tested positive for COVID-19. The commission has not yet rescheduled the meeting.

With outgoing Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria’s resignation going into effect Friday, Beth Stevens, chief director of voting for the county, will become the interim administrator until the new hire begins, which Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said is likely to be Aug. 1. The new administrator’s appointment will be voted on at a later meeting after the selected candidate meets a residency requirement to become a voter under the Texas Election Code.

The commission was slated to hold a closed-door executive session to interview two finalists for the position and take “possible action” to name the administrator at Monday’s meeting. Both finalists have prior experience running elections and are located out of state, according to Hidalgo.

See here for some background. I agree with Campos, it would have been nice to know who besides Judge Hidalgo (who had a perfectly good excuse) didn’t show up and why. May have been valid reasons, but the clock is ticking and we deserve to know. I get the impression that there’s no real dissension on the committee, they just need to finish the job.

The target date to have the new admin in place is still August 1. That’s a brief time to get up and running, but if they are hiring an experienced person and the operational staff is in place – and hopefully we have a way forward on the ballot collection question for Election Day – then I think we’ll be fine. So with that in mind, let me comment on this:

At the commission’s most recent meeting on June 15, Rob Icsezen, deputy chair of the Harris County Democratic Party’s primary committee, presented a letter to the commission signed by around 100 members of the public, many of them current or former Democratic election workers, asking that Longoria be reinstated as elections administrator. One of the reasons they cited was the time frame left until the November election.

“Any new elections administrator would have the same challenges as Ms. Longoria, without the benefit of a year and a half of hands-on experience,” the letter stated. “In short, they would be starting from scratch. November is rapidly approaching. The voters of Harris County do not have time for this.”

This will not be the first time an administrator has overseen a major Harris County election on relatively short notice. In June 2020, Chris Hollins took over as county clerk shortly before the November election, after outgoing clerk Diane Trautman resigned her position, citing health concerns during the pandemic.

“On my first day as County Clerk in 2020, we had just four months to figure out how to administer an election in pandemic conditions for the first time in Texas history,” Hollins said in a statement. “That included acquiring the necessary protective equipment, recruiting the election workers we needed, and creating and training our team on new safety procedures.”

Hollins benefited from an unprecedented budget to administer the 2020 election, after Commissioners Court approved $27 million — much of that coming from federal CARES Act dollars — to fund his plan, which included additional polling locations, up to 12,000 election workers and an extra week of early voting.

“Many core planning items (e.g., number and location of voting centers) should be well under way by August, but the new EA will need to ensure that solutions are in place for issues that have arisen in recent elections, as well as problems created by the recent voter suppression law,” Hollins said. “These include record rejection rates for mail ballots, which we saw in March, and intentional disruption by partisan poll watchers, which will be something we face for the first time in November.”

I was contacted by Icsezen and a couple of other folks, all people I respect, with this pitch. I did not join them. I like Isabel Longoria and I totally get where Icsezen and the others are coming from, but I just think that ship has sailed. It didn’t work out. That’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. Let’s get the new person in there, give that person all of the support and financing they will need to run a successful election, and do everything we can to help. At least COVID ought to be a much smaller issue this time around. We can do this.

Lock Louie up

He believes he committed at least one federal crime. Who are we to disbelieve him?

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert was one of a handful of Republicans in Congress who asked former President Donald Trump for a pardon after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, according to testimony shown by the House committee investigating the insurrection.

Witnesses told the committee that the president had considered offering pardons to several individuals, said U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican on the committee.

Cassidy Hutchison, who served as an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said in recorded testimony shown Thursday that the Tyler Republican was one of the members who had sought a pardon. Others included U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.

“The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you’ve committed a crime,” Kinzinger said.

Gohmert did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

What could he possibly say? His actions speak for themselves. Over to you, Justice Department.

Where are we with the Paxton whistleblower lawsuit?

We are in the familiar position of waiting for the drawn-out appeals process to conclude. Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable.

Best mugshot ever

The appeals process has grown a bit longer in state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to dismiss a whistleblower lawsuit by four top agency officials who claim they were improperly fired in 2020 after accusing him of accepting bribes and other misconduct.

Paxton turned to the Texas Supreme Court 7½ months ago after two lower courts rejected his bids to toss out the lawsuit.

Last month, the Supreme Court told Paxton and the whistleblowers to provide justices with a deeper dive into the legal issues involved, kicking off a second round of legal briefing that was recently extended when the court granted Paxton’s request for an extra month to file his expanded brief.

Paxton’s brief is now due July 27, and although the court told Paxton that additional extensions aren’t likely to be granted, the move means the final brief isn’t due until Aug. 31 at the earliest.

That moves the case into election season as Paxton seeks a third four-year term against a Democrat, Rochelle Garza, who has made questioning Paxton’s ethics a campaign centerpiece. Three opponents tried the same tactic against Paxton in this year’s GOP primaries without success.

The timing also puts the case close to the two-year anniversary of when eight top officials of the attorney general’s office met with FBI agents and other investigators to relate their suspicions that Paxton had misused the powers of his office to help a friend and political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.

See here and here for the most recent updates. Paxton’s argument is that as an elected rather than appointed official, he doesn’t count as a “public official” under the Texas Whistleblower Act, so the employees who fired him have no grounds to sue. He has other arguments, but that’s the main thing that will be of interest to the Supreme Court. I’m sure you can surmise what I think, but if you want to dig deeper you can click the Texas Whistleblower Act tag link and review other posts in this genre.

Just as a reminder, we are also waiting for the FBI to take some kind of action in their investigation of the Ken Paxton-Nate Paul dealings, the State Bar complaint against Paxton for his attempt to overthrow the 2020 election should have a hearing sometime later this summer, and of course there’s the granddaddy of them all, the original state charges that Paxton engaged in securities fraud, which are now eight years old. He’s sure been a busy boy, hasn’t he?

Look for the grifters

In any rightwing political movement, there will always be grifters. It’s absolutely an ants-to-a-picnic situation.

Over the last two presidential election cycles, True the Vote has raised millions in donations with claims that it discovered tide-turning voter fraud. It’s promised to release its evidence. It never has.

Instead, the Texas-based nonprofit organization has engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than $1 million combined to its founder, a longtime board member romantically linked to the founder and the group’s general counsel, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

A former PTA mom-turned-Tea Party activist, True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht has played a pivotal role in helping drive the voter fraud movement from the political fringes to a central pillar in the Republican Party’s ideology. Casting herself as a God-fearing, small-town Texan, she’s spread the voter-fraud gospel by commanding airtime on cable television, space on the pages of Breitbart News and even theater seats, as a new feature film dramatizing her organization’s exploits, “2000 Mules,” plays in cinemas across the country.

Along the way, she’s gained key allies across the conservative movement. Former President Donald Trump, who shouts her out by name during rallies and held a private screening for the film at his Mar-a-Lago resort, exploited the group’s declarations to proclaim that he won the popular vote in 2016. Provocateur Dinesh D’Souza partnered with Engelbrecht on the film. And she’s represented by the legal heavyweight James Bopp Jr., who helped dismantle abortion rights, crafted many of the arguments in the Citizens United case that revolutionized campaign finance law and was part of the legal team that prevailed in Bush v. Gore.

A review of thousands of pages of documents from state filings, tax returns and court records, however, paints the picture of an organization that enriches Engelbrecht and partner Gregg Phillips rather than actually rooting out any fraud. According to the documents, True the Vote has given questionable loans to Engelbrecht and has a history of awarding contracts to companies run by Engelbrecht and Phillips. Within days of receiving $2.5 million from a donor to stop the certification of the 2020 election, True the Vote distributed much of the money to a company owned by Phillips, Bopp’s law firm and Engelbrecht directly for a campaign that quickly fizzled out.

Legal and nonprofit accounting experts who reviewed Reveal’s findings said the Texas attorney general and Internal Revenue Service should investigate.

“This certainly looks really bad,” said Laurie Styron, executive director of CharityWatch.

And while the claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election have been dismissed out of hand by courts and debunked by audits, even those led by Republicans, the story of True the Vote highlights how exploiting the Big Lie has become a lucrative enterprise, growing from a cottage industry to a thriving economy.

The records show:

  • True the Vote regularly reported loans to Engelbrecht, including more than $113,000 in 2019, according to a tax filing. Texas law bans nonprofits from loaning money to directors; Engelbrecht is both a director and an employee.
  • Companies connected to Engelbrecht and Phillips collected nearly $890,000 from True the Vote from 2014 to 2020. The largest payment – at least $750,000 – went to a new company created by Phillips, OPSEC Group LLC, to do voter analysis in 2020. It’s unclear whether OPSEC has any other clients; it has no website and no digital footprint that Reveal could trace beyond its incorporation records. The contract, which one expert called “eye-popping” for its largess, did not appear to be disclosed in the 2020 tax return the organization provided to Reveal.
  • True the Vote provided Bopp’s law firm a retainer of at least $500,000 to lead a legal charge against the results of the 2020 election, but he filed only four of the seven lawsuits promised to a $2.5 million donor, all of which were voluntarily dismissed less than a week after being filed. The donor later called the amount billed by Bopp’s firm “unconscionable” and “impossible.”
  • The organization’s tax returns are riddled with inconsistencies and have regularly been amended. Experts who reviewed the filings said it makes it difficult to understand how True the Vote is truly spending its donations.

In one instance, True the Vote produced two different versions of the same document. A copy of the 2019 tax return Engelbrecht provided to Reveal does not match the version on the IRS website.

There’s more, but that will get you started. I hope this story will lead to a criminal investigation of Engelbrecht and Phillips and TTV; it seems to me that perhaps both state and federal laws may have been broken, so there’s room to go around. We know that Ken Paxton won’t touch this, but surely one of the local Democratic DAs could give it a go.

I wrote about Engelbrecht and her crowd a couple of times in 2010 and 2012. I’m honestly a little surprised they’re still around, but given the money people seem to have been willing to throw at them, why wouldn’t they milk that cow till it’s all dried out?

Juanita has far more experience with this crowd, and she just enjoyed the heck out of that story. I can add a little context to the story she tells in return, which you can see here.

Readers with long memories may also recognize the name of Engelbrecht’s co-conspirator, who has his own long history of grifting, which of course later morphed into Trumpian “election fraud” bullshit, because that’s where the money is these days. As I said in one of those posts, guys like Gregg Phillips are basically cockroaches – you just can’t get rid of them. But this time it sure would be nice to try.

Flores wins CD34 special election

Groan.

Republican Mayra Flores prevailed Tuesday in a special election for an open congressional seat in South Texas, marking a major breakthrough for Republicans eager to blaze new inroads in the historically blue region.

She beat Dan Sanchez, the leading Democrat, outright in the closely watched race and will be the first Mexican-born congresswoman. She will get to serve only until January, but Republicans heralded her win as a shot of momentum in their new South Texas offensive.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Flores had 50.98% of the vote and Sanchez had 43.33%. There were two other, lesser-known candidates — Democrat Rene Coronado and Republican Juana “Janie” Cantu-Cabrera — in the race.

Sanchez is a Harlingen lawyer and former Cameron County commissioner, while Flores, a respiratory therapist, is the Republican nominee for the seat in November.

[…]

Sanchez conceded in a statement that pointed the finger at national Democrats for not doing enough to defend the seat. They had argued the race was not worth the investment.

“Based on the results, we came up short tonight despite being outspent by millions of dollars from out of state interests and the entire Republican machine,” he said. “Too many factors were against us, including little to no support from the National Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”

The special election was called to finish the term of former U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, who resigned in March to work for the lobbying firm Akin Gump.

See here for some background. I don’t want to overreact or underreact to this result. Obviously, it’s not great – a longtime Dem seat, making the existing Dem margin that much smaller, furthering a lot of bad narratives about Dems and the 2022 election, etc etc etc. It’s also the case that this election was created in a lab to be friendly to Republicans, who had a ready-made candidate in place with money and an existing infrastructure, while Dems had to go looking for someone to run specifically as a temp. I was hoping to get this to a runoff, but nope. It is what it is, and what it is basically sucks.

It is true that Dems have done rather poorly in special elections in purple Latino districts in recent years, with HD118 in 2016 and SD19 in 2018 as Exhibits A and B. The SD19 result was for a brief minute seen as a bad sign for Dems in 2018, and we know how that turned out. Dems retook those seats, in 2020 in both cases. The new lines for CD34 are considerably more Dem-leaning than the old ones (CD15 took the brunt of that exchange), so Rep. Flores is probably also going to be a temp. Probably. It would have been nice to get some evidence of that in this race. We seem to like playing with matches, for some reason.

Not much else to say except to say once again that this is all because Filemon Vela couldn’t wait a couple of months to glom onto that cushy lobbyist gig he now has. If he had resigned in August instead of April, this election would have been in November and no one would have cared about it. He is forever invited to kiss my ass. The Observer has more.