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the rattle of dishes and the pouring of coffee to conjure up a fictitious couple sharing their morning repast. In the other, a man and woman drive along in their car, just another pair of commuters listening to the radio. In the dining room scene, the man chuckles to himself and says, “You can’t make this up. According to the San Antonio Express -News Tommy Merritt introduced a quote stupid bill that would allow people to simply hand the police officer a prepaid coupon when they got pulled over for speeding.” Admittedly, it was one of Merritt’s more peculiar legislative ideas, but the Express -News line was in fact taken from an overly cutesy book review of a tome called Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest: True News of the World’s Least Competent People and not, as AJS would have listeners believe, a news story. The ad also featured casual cuts like, “I always wondered what he did down there.” And it makes the charge that Merritt only “passed eight bills in eight years,” which is accurate but not a complete picture of the representative’s contributions as it does not take into account bills he co-authored or amended. In each ad, AJS shoots its favorite pro-tax bullet, accusing Merritt of wanting to expand the sales tax. It never mentions that this is to fund education. Instead, it sounds like a whim the Republican representative just likes to raise people’s taxes. \(An irony here is that Governor Rick Perry and the Republican Ikgislature Might well end up expanding the sales tax to end The tag line of the breakfast piece is, “Well that’s Tommy Merritt. Stupid bills and higher taxes.” Not surprisingly, Merritt didn’t reach the run-off. Although Dubke insists there was no coordination between AJS and Governor Perry’s office, the campaign benefited the state’s Republican leaders in two ways. It allowed Eltife more time to introduce himself to new constituents and it freed up other third-party Republican-leaning groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform to tenderize the Democratic trial lawyer for the Eltife run-off. It also sent a clear signal to Texas GOP moderates everywhere about just who was in charge. On January 15, the nonprofit watchdog group Campaigns for People filed a letter of complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle about the ads. The complaint asks for an investigation of the possible violation of the Texas prohibition on corporate contributions and expenditures for electioneering. Did AJS cooridinate in some way with the Eltife campaign? “[AJS has] been on the edge ofif not violatingthe law and the states and feds haven’t done anything about it,” complains Fred Lewis, executive director for Campaigns for People. Lewis believes that the negativity of the AJS ads discourages voters from participating in the political process. The secrecy of who funds AJS obscures whether the organization is deliberately skirting the century-old prohibition in Texas on corporate money in campaigns. “There is nothing redeeming about [the ads] at all,” he concludes. Gregg Cox, a prosecutor in Earle’s office, says the DA is still looking into whether the complaint merits a full investigation. The only other time it appears AJS was slapped by regulators or law enforcement for its activities was in Alaska. In 2002 the Alaska Public Offices Commission voted to direct its staff to consider sanctions against AJS for failing to file campaign disclosure reports for television ads aired on behalf of a Republican candidate for governor of the state. The commission ended up imposing a $150 fine that Dubke claims is still unresolved. Inevitably, when an AJS attack ad airs, the local media clucks about the tone and sometimes even the messenger. When there is an uproar over the ads the real beneficiary of the publicitythe person who’s running against the one being tarredalmost always condemns it and asks AJS to stop. AJS normally ignores the pleas. It’s a cost-free inoculation for the benefiting candidate. Dubke says such griping is typical. “It messes up their political plans whether they like what we say or they don’t like what we say,” he says. “That’s kind of a badge of honor for us.” A key to understanding how AJS really works can be found in the person of David Carney, who appears to be the wizard behind the curtain. An East Coast Republican with roots that stretch back to New Hampshire and the first Bush White House, Carney served Bush I as political director. He was also chief of staff for Governor John H. Sununu. In newspapers as diverse as The Dallas Morning News and the Chicago Tribune, Carney is described as a “GOP strategist?’ In Texas, the press has labeled him Governor Perry’s “chief advisor” and “general campaign consultant:’ AJS president Dubke calls Carney a “consultant” for the group. But as recently as 2002, the media reported Carney was “chief executive” of AJS. \(Carney did not respond to a request for comment from the Carney’s affiliation with Perry again spilled onto the pages of the Morning News recently. Over the President’s Day weekend last month, Carney joined the governor, Texas’ first lady Anita Perry, the governor’s top staff, and their spouses as well as the director of the right-wing think-tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Republican strategist Grover Norquist, and two of Perry’s biggest contributors, John Nau \($120,000 with their wives on a yacht in the Bahamas. The group flew a private jet to the Abaco Islands in what was billed as a private “retreat to discuss public school finance.” Leininger, an ardent proponent of vouchers and charter schools, is practically the only major donor to Perry and GOP legislators who didn’t have his wishes fulfilled by the 78th Legislature. It may take a special session on school finance to accomplish that. “I don’t think where we went has a thing to do with whether or not there was real, progressive conversation,” a defensive Perry told the Morning News. “And there was real progressive conversation. I’m glad I went.” \(It’s left to the imagination what subjects those conversations included, but if even a tenth of the rumors floating around the Capitol these days are true, for the trip from his campaign account. During the Merritt race, Carney told the political newsletter, the Quorum Report, that the AJS campaign was “not continued on page 28 3/12/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9