Holy handouts

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

He also owns 10 percent of the San Antonio Spurs professional basketball franchise--an investment that perhaps educated him in the kinds of taxpayer goodies available to people holding out the carrot of "economic development" or major-league status.

It appears Leininger first found his way to political activism via the tort-reform movement. It was certainly in his interest to throw up a few more barriers to patients who might sue claiming injury from his hospital beds, which lawsuits allege can malfunction from time to time. In a pending case in Santa Ana, California, for instance, a patient claims he was harmed by inhaling silicon beads that leaked from a Kinetic Concepts therapeutic bed.

In 1988, Leininger started a political action committee, Texans for Justice, whose generous contributions to judicial candidates helped turn the Texas Supreme Court from a plaintiffs' paradise to a panel filled with pro-business conservatives. Leininger has since created a family of conservative think tanks and PACs, including the Texas Justice Foundation, a legal organization that has opposed applying federal environmental protection to several South Texas salamander species.

According to the Current's account, he and his family have contributed more than $125,000 to the Heidi Group, which issued a San Antonio "prayer calendar" containing daily entries such as "Pray that Reproductive Services would close." One day's entry named an abortion doctor and asked people to pray that he "see Jesus face to face," a phrase some people construed as incitement to murder, given the prevalence of clinic shootings.

In perhaps his most well-publicized move, he funded the Children's Educational Opportunity Foundation, which last year offered parents in the Edgewood School District, near San Antonio, $50 million to take their kids out of public schools and send them to private ones.

Like Reese, Leininger home-schooled all his kids.
In the last four years, the Houston Chronicle estimated, Leininger has given more than $1.5 million to political candidates and $3.2 million to nonprofits opposed to abortion, in favor of using tax money to fund Christian home-schooling, and other right-leaning causes.

If ever a campaign tool were identified with a cause, it's direct mail and telephone marketing and the constellation of groups in the New Right--the Christian Coalition, the Eagle Forum, the American Family Association, to name a few of the largest. Use of computerized lists seems especially well-suited to mobilizing the New Right's core constituents.

Leininger turned his San Antonio-based marketing company, Focus Direct, to the cause when he helped finance the election of three ultra-conservatives--Donna Ballard of the Woodlands, Randy Stevenson of Tyler, and Richard Watson of Gorman--to the state education board in 1994.

Leininger funded the candidates through direct contributions and a PAC, Texans for Governmental Integrity. They in turn hired his company, Focus Direct, which attacked their more moderate opponents in a last-minute mailing. The incumbents were lambasted as promoters of how-to instruction on oral and anal sex in the classroom. One of Focus Direct's pamphlets featured an inter-racial gay couple kissing.

During this time, Bob Reese was getting interested in direct marketing too.
In 1994, when he was advising the GOP's Pauken, Reese pushed the party to buy more than $150,000 worth of computer equipment and software so it could do its own telemarketing, two insiders say. Pauken and a second source recall that Reese pushed to beef up the party's in-house telephone fundraising.

In the summer of 1997, Pauken stepped down from the GOP chair post and Susan Weddington, the vice-chair, stepped in. During her first weeks in office, Reese was in party headquarters, interviewing new staff for the Weddington regime. Within a few months, he managed to end up with the party's telemarketing computers and software, two former party officials say.

"He paid fair market value for them, but Weddington was shutting down operations, and the executive committee wasn't even informed," recalls John Tello, a Rockwall accountant who, at the time, was on the state GOP's executive committee. Reese was then awarded a piece of the party's fundraising contract, says Tello, who adds that he was questioned by several members of the GOP board who were concerned about Reese's dealings with the party and the secrecy surrounding these moves.

"Reese got mad at me and ran one of his employees, Jeff Fisher, against me and got my position," Tello recalls. "I got run over by a tank." Since last summer, the two GOP committee people in District 2 are Reese's wife, Connie, and Fisher, who quit his job as executive director of the Texas Christian Coalition a year ago and moved to Canton to go to work for Reese.

Interestingly, corporate records in Austin show that Weddington, the current state GOP chair, preceded Reese as president of Winning Strategies. (Neither, however, has ever been listed as a director of the company. Directors' posts are held by Leininger's people in San Antonio: Lyles and Charles Staffel, state records show.)

In that same time period, in the late summer of 1997, Reese got busy making Winning Strategies what it is today: a welfare queen in pinstriped drag, a sucker of Canton's public teat.

On September 18, 1997, Reese introduced himself and his wife to the board of the Canton Economic Development Corporation.

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