Mike Kueber's Blog

February 8, 2012

Annie’s List makes a move in San Antonio

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:15 am
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In yesterday’s San Antonio Express-News, Metro columnist Brian Chasnoff wrote an extensive piece on former city councilman Phil Cortez’s seemingly quixotic campaign for the Texas House of Representatives.  The piece reminded me of a highly favorable column written in 2010 by an earlier Metro columnist in favor of my opponent in a congressional primary, with the only exception that Chasnoff’s column was not a full-fledged puff piece because he declined to white-wash Cortez’s checkered past.

The information in Chasnoff’s column that most interested was the report that Cortez’s opponent, political neophyte Tina Torres has received a contribution of $50,000 from Annie’s List, a political action committee (PAC).  Incongruently, PACs can only give $5,000 to candidates for federal office, but they can give unlimited amounts to state candidates in Texas.  Prior to reading this article, I had never heard of Annie’s List, but I suspected it was some variation of the famous EMILY’s list.

EMILY’s List is a nationwide political action committee (PAC) that tries to help elect female candidates to political office. Its modus operandi is revealed by its name/acronym – Early Money Is Like Yeast – i.e., it raises dough.  The thought is that giving early money to promising female candidates will increase their credibility, which will enable them to obtain later money from practical, non-ideological contributors.  It was founded in 1985 and since then has given over $86 million to female candidates.

Annie’s list is a Texas-based imitation of EMILY’s List, and according to its website it was for founded in 2003 because:

  • In 2002, due to crafty Republican redistricting, the Texas House lost five Democratic women and our numbers stayed stagnant in the Texas Senate. Today, only 17 out of 181 Texas legislators are Democratic women. And in Texas history, only 132 women have ever served compared to approximately 6,000 men.”

The stated purposes of Annie’s List are as follows:

  • Target legislative and down-ballot statewide races;
  • Recruit, train and support progressive women to run for office;
  • Train and place professional campaign staff on targeted races;
  • Raise early money so that women become viable contenders; and
  • Engage and activate women voters on behalf of endorsed candidates

Thus, it would be accurate to say that Annie’s List is not looking just for women or progressives; it is looking for progressive women.  Further, it seems that it is more involved that EMILY’s List in controlling the candidates’ campaigns.  (Incidentally, the name Annie is not an acronym, but rather is the first name of the first woman elected to statewide office in Texas, Dr. Annie Webb Blanton, who in 1918 was elected State Superintendent for Public Instruction even though women were not yet allowed to vote.

Getting back to Chasnoff’s column, he reports that, although Cortez has previously represented much of District 117 on the City Council and he enjoys the support of the San Antonio political establishment, he is running an uphill race against political neophyte Tina Torres because of the money she has received from Annie’s List.  That is disturbing on two levels:

  • Unless a candidate has name recognition, pundits usually determine candidates’ viability on based on their cash.  This gives organizations like EMILY’s List and Annie’s List immense influence.
  • What has attorney Torres done to earn this largesse from Annie’s List?  According to Torres’s modest bio, her mom was a school teacher and her dad was a lawyer who served on San Antonio’s city council in the 1960s.  The Annie’s List website is a bit less modest – “Tina Torres is a seasoned and well-regarded attorney that comes from a legendary family of public servants in San Antonio. Her father, Pete Torres Jr., was one of the first Latinos elected to the San Antonio City Council in the 1960’s and her mother, Yolanda P. Torres, was the first Latina elected to the State Board of Education.”  She’s almost part of the aristocracy. 

In researching Torres a bit more, I came across an earlier column about the Torres/Cortez contest by the lead columnist in the Express-News Bruce Davidson.  In the column, Davidson commended Torres for taking on the so-called Boys Club in San Antonio politics.  That helps explain why the Chasnoff piece was as balanced as it was.

I wonder if Davidson is a supporter of Annie’s List.  I wish candidates would be evaluated by their values and abilities instead of their race, religion, or gender.

October 15, 2011

Campaign financing gone wild

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:18 am
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Earlier this week an article in Politico.com reported on the crop of promising political stars who were looking to make a big move up in the next election.  What were the criteria for earning a place in this prestigious grouping?  Actually there was only one criterion – how much money the candidate had been able obtain raise in the past few months.  Thus, Politico could have labeled this group as the greatest money grubbers, but instead it generously adorned them as promising stars.

Who is on the list of ten?

  1. Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren is attempting to unseat Scott Brown, the Republican who claimed Teddy Kennedy’s seat.  She is a lightning rod for controversy, and her claim to fame is her role in creating a consumer-protection agency for the Obama administration.  In a mere six weeks, she has collected $3.1 million.
  2. Illinois’ Tammy Duckworth is also an alumnus of the Obama administration, but that apparently is not the sole reason for her fundraising prowess.  She ran for Congress in 2006, and lost despite raising “an eye-popping $4.5 million,” but the profile fails to say how she was able to raise so much money back then.
  3. Texas’ David Dewhurst is the Lieutenant Governor who is running to replace Rick Perry as governor.  In addition to the $2.4 million that Dewhurst raised in the first quarter, he added $2 million of his own money.  [Loaning that results in a significant financial advantage over your opponent is like buying an election.  Un-American!]  Lieutenant governor is an exceptionally powerful position in Texas, with the occupant of that position having almost unlimited access to special-interest money.  Rick Perry is known for his “pay-to-play” corruption, but that game has been played in Texas for a long time.
  4. Florida Democrats Lois Frankel and Patrick Murphy are competing for the opportunity to retire conservative talk-show star freshman congressman Allen West.  Frankel raised $415k in the first quarter and Murphy $313k.  Florida Democrats hope
    that their candidates don’t spend all of this money to do permanent damage to each other, with the result that the winner vulnerable to West, who raised $1.9 million in the quarter.
  5. Ohio’s Joe Mandel raised $3.8 million in six months for his Senate race.  The profile fails to explain why money is flocking to Mandel, but there is a mild suggestion that his opponent Senator Sherrod Brown is the cause.
  6. San Antonio’s Joaquin Castro raised $500k in the first quarter, but he will need more than that because he is leading an intra-party mutiny against Austin’s Lloyd Doggett, who raised $375k and has $3.3 million in the bank.
  7. Arkansas’s Tom Cotton is a Republican Young Gun, and while the profile describes his financial connections, it neglects to specify the amount of money collected.
  8. Iowa’s Christie Vilsack has raised $750k in her first six months.  She is relying on connections made through her husband who is Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture and who was governor of Iowa.  Inexplicably, her incumbent opponent raised only $200k in the first six months of the year.
  9. New Hampshire’s Ann McLane Kuster has raised $730k in the past six months.  She is planning to raise $3 million, which is
    $500k more than she raised in 2010, losing to the same guy.  The money will allow her to buy TV ads in the expensive Boston market.  According to the article, Kuster is so successful at raising money because nationwide liberal special-interest groups, such as EMILY’s List and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, really like her.

Politico explains the fundraising acumen of these candidates as follows:

  • “Some are tapping national fundraising networks, casting their nets far beyond the states and districts where they are
    running. Others are raking in funds from the party activist set.  A few are enjoying the fruit that comes from running against a controversial foe who stirs partisan passions.”

Instead of exploring the skillset that enables a candidate to amass a huge war chest, I think Politico should be focusing on the systemic dysfunction that enables moneyed special interests to have outsized influence on who succeeds in politics.  The voters are supposed to select the winner, but in the practical world of politics today, the special interests select the winners – which is exactly what one of the leading liberal special interests admit – EMILY’s List or “early money is like yeast.”

We should be working to decrease the influence of money whenever we can.