Holy handouts

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

Indeed, many of the GOP candidates in statewide races, including Gov. Bush, visited Winning Strategies last year, local Democrats say.

Meanwhile, Reese says he's far exceeded his employment projections. "We have 141 full- and part-time employees," he says, adding that payroll has topped $1 million.

"I don't know who's paying for it, but Bob's building a hell of an operation out there," says John Tello, the conservative former GOP committee member who says he visited the tightly secured building in November. "He's talking about putting in a TV studio and a graphics computer to produce TV ads...He's already run out of room."

Tello, who received a tour of the operation from Reese, carries on about the huge print shop and up-to-the-minute databanks. Winning Strategies' employees fanned out over the state's 254 counties for fresh voter lists--and pumped them into the company's computers, Tello says.

"Most of the time, 20 percent of your mailing is returned because the consultant has old lists. Reese learned that when he ran. He's a perfectionist," he adds. "It's a wonderful resource for conservatives. It's state-of-the-art...If Reese runs against Cain again, he could wallpaper the district with signs. They're his presses."

Tello's enthusiasm was blunted considerably when he was informed that Canton sales tax money is underwriting the business. "You're kidding," he said. "Bob told me he bought the building himself. Incredible...I don't think that's gonna help Bob at all when people hear about it."

It's easy to spot a Winning Strategies political mail-out once you've seen a few of them. They're apt to include a fuzzy, unflattering photo of the opposition, references to "the record," and an abundance of hot-button issues and political raw meat.

Typical was a mailer that went out this fall for Dan Flynn, who took on incumbent Democratic state Rep. Bob Glaze in the 5th District, which includes Canton. In bold type it accuses Glaze of being for "special rights for homosexuals," against "private property rights," and for "abortion surgery on children without parental notification."

Flynn, whose involvement in a messy corporate bankruptcy came to light during the campaign, lost badly.

Besides Flynn, Winning Strategies worked in East Texas for a group of Republican hopefuls in statehouse races, and used many of the same tactics.

"There were people calling voters suggesting I was very much in favor of same-sex marriages, that kind of stuff," says Mark Homer, a hamburger-stand owner in Paris who beat the Winning Strategies-coached candidate, Sue Fancher. Homer won 57 percent of the vote and believes he lost at least five percentage points because the other side "sent out a piece of mail a day for the last 10 days." Some of those were party mailings. Some were Winning Strategies'.

Although Reese won't discuss wins and losses in races Winning Strategies worked, other GOP operatives and political observers say it fared poorly in state house races, despite the GOP sweep behind Bush.

"Mail and phone work is a highly effective way you can target people who vote. My quarrel with what they're doing is not what they are doing, but the message they're using," says one GOP consultant. His analysis reflects the broader schism in the Republican party between religious conservatives and more traditional Republicans who aren't as concerned about issues like abortion.

"Winning Strategies tells candidates they can deliver the religious right. But their message doesn't unite a broader range of people," the consultant says.

"It makes sense they would focus on rural races, because they're easier to manipulate and there's a better base when you move out from the center of Dallas. In Oak Lawn and East Dallas, the Christian Coalition has no following. Out to Mesquite and Garland, they get a little stronger. By the time you get out to Canton, they're everywhere."

Winning Strategies was active over the past year in Northeast Tarrant County, and helped bump off a moderate or two in the Republican primary, one professional campaign consultant says.

Back in District 2, Democrats have so far done little to challenge the subsidies that are fueling their new nemesis.

"Obviously, it's right in the middle of my district," says Cain, saying the Legislature may revisit its approach to local economic development this session. "I believe in economic development, but never did I contemplate that public money would be used for partisan political purposes."

Craig Pinkley, director of finance for the Texas Department of Economic Development and an expert in the tax program being used in Canton, says there is almost no state oversight of how localities use their sales tax money, and few restrictions. Nowhere are political activities even mentioned in the law empowering these so-called "4B" corporations, the Development Corporation Act of 1979.

Pinkley says local opposition is the only thing that prevents misuse of the monies. "That's all there is to make sure it doesn't become a good ol' boy system."

In Canton, Ray, the lawyer and former Democratic officeholder, says the three projects Canton's economic development board has backed--Winning Strategies, a metal-building manufacturing company, and a hardware store--suggest that a Christian-right good ol' boy system is in place in his city. "I know the people, and they're all in the same circles," he says.

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