Holy handouts

How taxpayers -- including you, if you hit the flea market in Canton -- are subsidizing the Christian right

A decade ago, Reese moved his wife, the former Connie McGatlin, and children from suburban Frisco to a 160-acre farm located 10 miles south of Canton near the picturesque crossroads of Martin's Mill. He renamed it Genesis Ranch, saying later it was a better place than the morally suspect suburbs to raise his nine children, all of whom have been home-schooled.

Polished, well-spoken, and affable, he's known around town for carting his big family around in a bus--on Sundays to the Lakeside Baptist Church. More recently he formed his own church, which meets at his ranch.

A Richardson High School graduate who received a two-year degree in 1972 from Parks College of Engineering and Aviation at St. Louis University, Reese had worked for years for his father-in-law's Dallas-based industrial-meter company, McGatlin Industries. He took over the company in the early 1980s, renamed it Inotek Technologies, and sold it nine years later for $3.1 million.

Reese dabbled in several other companies in the early 1990s and came to the attention of state GOP stalwarts in 1994. When Tom Pauken became state party chairman--ushering the conservative wing into power--Reese "showed up to do the transition," recalls Steve Hollern, a former Tarrant County GOP chair. According to one person who was there when Pauken and Reese met, Reese introduced himself as an efficiency expert. Pauken took an immediate liking to him and brought him along to Austin.

Reese garnered wider attention as a first-time political candidate in 1996, when he took on state Sen. David Cain, an incumbent Democrat and a lawyer in Dallas, in District 2. The 10-county district runs from central Dallas to Tyler and north to the Oklahoma border.

He ran as a social conservative--against gay rights, against abortion--and a fiscal one too, opposed to such things as providing public education to the children of undocumented workers. Reese told The Dallas Morning News he was for less government, less taxation, and against--yes--taxpayer support for sports arenas. "When residents see sports-figure salaries they're gonna say, 'Why should I fund an arena?' Let free enterprise work," the paper quoted him saying.

The campaign against Cain was bruising and expensive. Cain recalls spending more than $800,000 and estimates his opponent's expenditures at more than $1 million: numbers more in line with a U.S. House race than one for the state legislature.

From the start, Reese's campaign was a rallying point for social conservatives--including the nonpartisan, Bedford-based Texas Christian Coalition--who opened their checkbooks for one of their own. No one gave more than Dr. James Leininger, who individually contributed $150,000, Texas Ethics Commission records show. Immediate Leininger family members kicked in another $50,000.

He also gave to Reese through PACs. For example, Leininger gave $140,000 to the A+ PAC for Parental Choice--a group with only a handful of contributors. The A+ PAC in turn gave Reese $20,000.

When it was all over, Cain rode a thin, four-point margin to victory. Reese, politically energized and champing at the bit for a rematch, had to find something else to do.

The key to his future, it turns out, was located in San Antonio.

Corporate records show that Leininger formed Winning Strategies Inc. in August 1996. His associate, Thomas Lyles, is its registered agent and current vice president. Its corporate address was--and still is--a suite in one of Leininger's San Antonio office buildings, where dozens of Leininger enterprises and conservative public-policy groups are headquartered. Leininger did not respond to several telephone messages requesting an interview.

Although it is unclear what Winning Strategies was doing in its first 16 months, its name shows up in campaign disclosure reports as a "campaign research" outfit that did work for candidates funded by Leininger's A+ PAC in the 1996 election year.

It is Leininger's money and willingness to put it to work politically that drive Winning Strategies' story.

A former physician at Brooke Army Medical Center, the 54-year-old Leininger in the late 1970s bought a struggling business that produced high-tech hospital beds. His beds can rock or vibrate and thereby keep blood flowing in coma patients and others with serious illnesses. At $40,000 apiece, they made Leininger a rich man. In 1992, Leininger's Kinetic Concepts Inc. landed him on that ultimate of entrepreneur status lists, the Forbes 400. Net worth: $285 million.

According to the San Antonio Current, an alternative weekly, Leininger (pronounced with a hard "g") owns 13 office buildings through his Mission City Properties; a television news service--TXN (not to be confused with TXCN, the Belo Corp.'s Texas news channel, which began airing January 1)--that plans to air in 16 Texas cities beginning this month; a direct-mail firm named Focus Direct with $50 million in annual revenues; and smaller endeavors as diverse as a children's Bible publisher, Sunday House smoked turkeys, and the Promised Land Dairy.

(The dairy sells milk in thick, old-fashioned glass bottles under the Promised Land label, complete with Bible verses on the sides. According to Chris Garner, Southwest regional administrator for the Whole Foods grocery chain, the Floresville-based Promised Land supplies Whole Foods' house-brand bottled milk in Texas and several other states. So when Whole Foods advertises its "happy Jersey cows in South Texas"--in its Austin-Berkeley-environmentally correct shtick--they're talking about Leininger's herd. One of his pet political aims, it turns out, is fighting the Endangered Species Act.)

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