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Will Corporate Ads Help Sink Solomon Ortiz?

Drug company front group attacks Democrat over health care bill.
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Until recently, Blake Farenthold wasn’t given much of a chance to win his race against Democrat Solomon Ortiz, who’s represented Corpus Christi in Congress since 1982. 

But grassroots Tea Party activists have helped make the race competitive. And, now, last-minute corporate-funded ads may put Farenthold over the top.

Farenthold, 48, runs a computer consulting business in Corpus and is the grandson of Texas liberal icon Sissy Farenthold. He’s the one congressional candidate in Texas who, until recently, could claim to be running a grassroots campaign. Nearly all of the $379,000 Farenthold reported raising as of Oct. 13 had come from individual contributions or loans to himself; he’d received almost no PAC money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

On-the-ground campaigning by Farenthold’s enthusiastic Tea Party supporters in a district tilting toward the GOP has made this a close race. As the campaign gained more attention—and Ortiz began to look vulnerable—shady third-party groups showed up on the scene.

A group called The 60 Plus Association, which bills itself as a conservative answer to the AARP, has been running attack ads against Ortiz the past two weeks, ripping him for supporting the national health care reform bill. It reported spending $166,000 on the ads, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission

Third-party groups like 60 Plus Association don’t have to disclose who their donors are. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, third-party groups like this can raise and spend corporate funds on elections—as long as the expenditures aren’t coordinated with campaigns.

The 60 Plus Association has long been rumored to be a front group for the pharmaceutical industry.

So in Texas’ 27th Congressional District, we have a front group that may be using hundreds of thousands in drug company money to unseat a congressman who voted for the health care reform bill, which the drug companies certainly didn’t like, and to replace him with a novice Republican who might repeal the bill.

If Farenthold does pull the upset, the Tea Party will likely get the credit. But corporate interests will have made the difference.

See more of our Election Night coverage.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.