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r COMMENTARY I BY ANDREW WHEAT Patriots for Hire ast fall a group of well connected Republicans formed a new lobby and consulting firm in Austin. The Patriot Group’s partners boast strong ties to Tom DeLay’s indicted Texans for a Republican Majority PAC rious and largest PACs, respectively. TLR worked closely with TRMPAC to help elect a Republican House majority in 2002. That new majority helped enact TLR’s agenda by capping medical malpractice damages and making it harder for consumers-to file lawsuits against builders of lemon houses. Not long ago, operatives with these connections might have written their own tickets. Yet so far this year the Patriots have reported just nine lobby contracts worth up to $710,000a seemingly anemic performance for such players. One explanation is poor timing. The Patriots opened last October, shortly before voters disgruntled by the ruling party’s war and corruption took away some of the GOP’s seats in Congress and the Texas Legislature. When the Patriot Group announced its launch, executive assistant Haley Cornyn, daughter of U.S. Senator John Cornyn, told the Austin Business Journal that the Patriots soon expected to open a “very, very large D.C. shop.” After the midterm elections a few weeks later, however, special interests in Washington rushed to hire another breed of lobbyists: those peddling stroke with the new Democratic majority. The new year has not improved this business climate. As the case against DeLay crawls along in Texas, a Democrat represents DeLay’s old district. Americans for a Republican Majority PAC, TRMPAC’s federal cousin, went out of business. And Texas House Speaker Tom Craddickthe leading beneficiary of DeLay’s meddling in Texas’s 2002 electionsconfronts another mutiny within his own ranks. Such times will test even pedigreed Patriots. The Patriot with the closest ties to TRMPAC is Kevin Brannon, a longtime aide to former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm. TRMPAC hired Brannon in 2001 to identify which candidates it should back in its quest for a Republican House majority. As part of this vetting, Brannon often asked candidates if they would support Midland Republican Rep. Tom Craddick to be the new Speaker. TRMPAC then paid Brannon to work directly on some of these campaigns. Today two of Brannon’s three lobby clients at the Patriot Group boast TRMPAC ties. Client AT&T contributed $20,000 in corporate funds to TRMPAC. Brannon also lobbies for the Association of Electric Companies. One of its members, Reliant Energy, contributed another $25,000 to DeLay’s now-indicted PAC. The single largest contributor to both TRMPAC and TLR is Houston homebuilder Bob Perry. This wealthy recluse’s public spokesman, Anthony Holm, brought Bob Perry’s business with him when he joined the Patriots. Holm declined to comment on the Patriot Group’s business for this column. Another top underwriter of both TRMPAC and TLR, San Antonio hospital-bed magnate James Leininger, also boasts Patriot ties. Patriot general counsel Marc Levin runs the Center for Effective Justice at Leininger’s conservative think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Former Phil Gramm aide Matt Welch ran Texas’ largest PAC at TLR before joining the Patriots. In 2003 a grand jury in the TRMPAC case subpoenaed Welch to testify on the extent to which TLR and TRMPAC ,coordinated political activities the year before. With the Patriots Welch lobbies for TLR as well as Maritime Jobs for Texas, a new tort reform group pushing legislation on behalf of dredging companies and other shipping interests. If Gov. Rick as expected, injured dredging workers will be required to sue their employer in the county where the injury occurred or where their employer’s headquarters are based. Currently injured dredging workers can .file such cases in their home counti e s. As a result, Maritime Jobs and TLR argue that more than 100 such cases have been filed in recent years in South Texas, where Hispanic judges and juries are considered sympathetic to such claims. For their part, dredging companies have recruited heavily from this impoverished Hispanic region in their search for relatively low-cost labor to do dangerous dredging work. HB 1602 could be called the Buzbee Bill, after Houston-area lawyer Anthony Buzbee. Last year this attorney for numerous injured dredgers made a pr6entation to a conference of maritime defense attorneysincluding one who secretly recorded his remarks. In his talk Buzbee extolled the Rio Grande Valley’s Starr County as a plaintiff’s dream. “That venue probably adds about 75 percent to the value of the case,” Buzbee said. “You’ve got an injured Hispanic client, you’ve got a completely Hispanic jury, and you’ve got an Hispanic judge.” Patriot Group founder Denis Calabrese, a longtime spokesman for TLR, told The Wall Street Journal in February that his client widely circulated Buzbee’s remarks as a persuasive argument for dredging-lawsuit restrictions. Patriot Jill Warren previously lobbied for Rudy Giuliani’s Bracewell & Giuliani, where 11 clients paid her up to $630,000 last year, according to the Texas Ethics Commission. One of Warren’s Bracewell clients, private prison giant Cornell Companies, gave $10,000 in corporate funds to TRMPAC. It was TRMPAC’s expenditure of such taboo corporate funds that made prison 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 1, 2007