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DATELINE TEXAS Market-Driven Elections BY NATE BLAKESLEE Campaign spending in Texas is far easier to predict than, say, an Atlantic hurricane. No calculating when or where, no guessing. It’s simple and formulaic. Political Action Committees raise money for ten months and spend it in two. The Texas Ethics commission requires that PACs and candidates file financial reports in July, and during the twelve months ending June 30 the five biggest Republican PACs raised almost $2.5 million. Only one is an official Republican organization, the Texas Republican Campaign Committee. The other four are “issue PACs,” unaffiliated with any one business, political party, union, or trade association. In the last few election cycles, these PACs have been used by a small group of wealthy donors to funnel huge sums of cash to select candidates almost all of them Republicans. Since its creation in 1995, Texans for Lawsuit Reform has been one of the wealthiest PACs in the state and it continues to be a fundraising juggernaut, bringing in just under $800,000 in twelve months. The group has enjoyed considerable success, particularly in the 1995 Legislature, pushing through a number of laws that ,fall under the broad category of “tort reform” a euphemism for limiting corporate liability. Raising almost as much money as the T.L.R. is the Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, which brought in a little more than $700,000 over the past twelve months covered by the most recent Ethics Commission filing. The Texas Republican Campaign Committee has raised $523,000, while 8 in 98 \(a PAC that takes its name from the number of seats the Rs need to take over out the top five, with $150,000, is the school voucher PAC, Putting Children First. Texas is one of six states that do not limit individual donations to PACs or candidates. Of the total amount these five PACs raised in twelve months, fully a quarter of the money came from just three sources. Ultraconservative San Antonio C.E.O. James Leininger gave $175,000. A physician who made his fortune selling medical beds, Leininger might be the state’s biggest funder of Republicans and right-wing causes. He sponsors the San Antonio-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, which churns out an avalanche of literature on privatization, education reform, and legal reform. Wal-Mart heir John Walton gave $150,000, all of it to Putting Children First. Based in Arkansas, Walton was a major funder of the A+ PAC, a voucher group that made a big splash in the last election cycle in Texas, and he recently has spent millions of his personal fortune on charter school projects in California. And $304,000 came from three executives of the Sterling Group, Bill McMinn ton, Sterling is one of the state’s biggest players in the petrochemical industry. Although the serious spending won’t begin until after Labor Day, the July expenditure reports give an early indication of where these PACs will put their money. In the Senate, the focus is on preserving the narrow Republican majority, which means defending junior senators Mike Galloway of Houston, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, and Steve Ogden of Bryan. All three face formidable Democratic opponents. In the twelve months prior to June 30, the five PACs gave a total of $106,688 to these three Republican senators. In the House, a special election in May prompted some early spending. In Corpirs Christi, Republican candidate Rene DeAlejandro received $26,000 for his unsuccessful attempt to defeat Democrat Jaime Capelo in the contest to replace the retired Hugo Berlanga. Also this spring, T.L.R. spent $20,000 in the Democratic primary for the South Texas seat held by Richard Raymond, the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner. \(T.L.R.’s canT.L.R. has also made early contributions to Republican candidates for six other open House seats held by retiring Democrats. But T.L.R. is still sitting on a huge amount of accumulated contributions as are all of the big five. And if the 1996 elections are any prediction of what’s to come, the big PACs will soon begin to pour money into critical races that they will fund collaboratively. Liberty County Democratic Representative Zeb Zbranek has some idea how this all works. In the last general election, T.L.R. spent $83,000 against Zbranek, who sits on the House Committee on Civil Practices, through which House Speaker Pete Laney moved almost all the tort reform bills considered last session. “I’m not someone they can pressure to vote their way. I’m not going to vote for something that I know will be detrimental to the interests of most Texans,” Zbranek said in a telephone interview. After T.L.R. failed to oust him in 1996, its campaign has become what Zbranek calls a “personal vendetta.” This year the tort reform PAC spent $30,000 on Scott Doyen, Zbranek’ s Democratic opponent in the Democratic Party primary. After Zbranek won the primary, the PAC switched its support to Eddie Shauberger, Zbranek’s Republican opponent in the general election. Zbranek said he wouldn’t even have had an opponent if it weren’t for T.L.R., and observed that the Republican he defeated in the 1996 election, Kent Batman, is now Shauberger’ s treasurer and that the PAC has paid for two full-time campaign managers. As Zbranek observes morosely, the spending has only just begun. ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512-453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 11, 1998