Texans for Lawsuit Reform: How the Texas Tort Tycoons Spent Millions in the 2000 Elections
IV. Who Did TLR’s PAC Finance?
What did TLR do with the PAC money that it raised? TLR spent almost three-quarters of this money on just two Republican Senate candidates. Nonetheless, it had enough money left over to buy access to most legislatiors and to finance some state appeals judge candidates.
A. Two Republicans Got 73 Percent of the Money
Remarkably, just two non-incumbent Republican Senate candidates—Todd Staples and Bob Deuell—accounted for 73 percent of the $1.4 million that TLR’s PAC spent in the 2000 election cycle.
Under the Radar:
TLR Aid To Staples
in Last Week of Campaign
Check Date Check Amount 11/7/00 $10,000 11/2/00 $15,515 11/2/00 $40,000 11/1/00 $177,386 TOTAL $242,901
Former Rep. Todd Staples won the East Texas Senate seat vacated by vice-squad-stung Sen. Drew Nixon. TLR spent an extraordinary $535,082 (39 percent of its total) to help Staples beat trial lawyer David Fisher in Texas’ most expensive legislative race. With TLR providing 16 percent of his total war chest, Staples won 61 percent of the vote. Staples received almost half of his TLR cash ($242,901) in the last week of the campaign. This hid the extent of Staples’ dependence on this special-interest group until after the election. Under Texas elections law, contributions received this late are poorly disclosed until January of 2001.
A recent book on Texas political money puts the $535,082 that Staples took from TLR into some perspective. Commenting on another state senator who got $100,000 from Richard Weekley’s TLR PAC, lobbyist A.R. “Babe” Schwartz said, “Hell, that state senator doesn’t have a vote anymore—Weekley has a vote.” Schwartz added, “Anybody who accepts $100,000 from a PAC belongs, body and soul, to that PAC. And I would defy anybody to find me a vote for any motion or committee action, where that person wasn’t a slave to that $100,000 contribution.”22
A Republican PAC Recipient's
% No. of
Democrat $111,293 8% 25 $4,452 Republican $1,266,156 92% 97 $13,053 TOTAL $1,377,449 100% 122 $11,291
TLR’s other favorite candidate was Bob Deuell, who made a failed bid to unseat Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas. Cain retained his seat with 53 percent of the vote despite the fact that TLR gave $490,434 to his opponent (35 percent of TLR’s total PAC expenditures). TLR accounted for one out of every three dollars that Deuell raised.
All in all, 97 Republicans walked away with 92 percent ($1,266,156) of TLR’s 2000 PAC money; the remaining $111,293 went to 25 Democrats. Significantly, one third of the money that TLR spent on Democratic candidates went to new Senator Leticia Van de Putte—who had no Republican challenger in her bid for the Senate seat vacated by former Senator Greg Luna. TLR moved $40,042 to Van de Putte prior to the March 2000 Democratic primary. Van de Putte won 54 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, defeating David McQuade Leibowitz, a trial lawyer who specializes in toxic torts. Few voters in the primary could have known the extent of Van de Putte’s TLR debt: she received 37 percent of this money just seven days before the day of the primary election.
Politicians Who Got the Most
TLR Money in 2000
Name Party Sum Office Status Outcome Todd Staples R $535,082 S3 O W Bob Deuell R $490,434 S2 C L Leticia Van de Putte D $40,042 S26 O W Paul Woodard R $32,730 H11 O L Wayne Christian R $27,500 H9 I W Al Gonzales R $25,000 SC I W Jill Warren R $11,660 H48 O L John Whitmire D $10,000 S15 I W David Gaultney R $10,000 9thCA O W John Cornyn R $10,000 AG I NA Tom Ramsay D $10,000 H2 I W Betty Brown R $10,000 H4 I W Rick Perry R $7,500 Gov O NA Rob Junell D $7,500 H72 I W Nathan Hecht R $7,000 SC I W Rebecca Simmons R $5,000 4thCA C L Ken Armbrister D $5,000 S18 I NA David Sibley R $5,000 S22 I NA Judith Zaffirini D $5,000 S21 I W Priscilla Owen R $5,000 SC I W Robby Cook D $5,000 H28 I W Robert Duncan R $5,000 S28 I NA Teel Bivins R $5,000 S31 I NA Bill Ratliff R $5,000 S1 I NA Status: I=Incumbent; C=Challenger; O=Open Seat.
Outcome: W=Winner; L=Loser; NA=Incumbent who did not face a 2000 election.
The two last candidates who received more than $25,000 in TLR money were both Republicans running contested House races. Republican Paul Woodward, Jr., got $32,730 from TLR for his failed bid to replace Todd Staples in the House. Woodward was defeated by Chuck Hopson, a Democrat who won 53 percent of the vote. TLR also gave $27,500 to incumbent Rep. Wayne Christian to fend off Democratic challenger Joe Evans. Christian prevailed with 55 percent of the vote.
B. Most Politicians Got Some of the Left Overs
Although just two Republican Senate candidates received 73 percent of TLR’s 2000 PAC money, TLR had enough money left over to buy access to most of Texas’ statewide and legislative incumbents (including some senators and statewide candidates who were not up for reelection in 2000).23 More than 100 Texas incumbents received a check from TLR. The average size of these checks was $2,201, enough to assure access to most Texas legislators.
TLR Buys Access to Most Incumbents Recipient's
% No. of
Incumbent $235,500 17% 107 $2,201 Challenger $502,934 37% 7 $71,848 Open Seat $639,015 46% 8 $79,877 TOTAL: $1,377,449 100% 122 AVG: $11,291
C. TLR Targets the Courts
Not content to merely invest in lawmakers, TLR also bankrolled candidates who were seeking to interpret Texas laws. In the past, TLR’s judicial focus has been on electing Texas Supreme Court justices. In the 2000 election cycle, TLR began to act on a 1998 pledge to bankroll candidates for lower state courts, too. All of TLR’s judicial contributions benefited Republicans.
TLR contributed $54,000 to judicial candidates in the 2000 cycle, with 69 percent of this money ($37,000) going to the three incumbent Supreme Court justices who were up for election. TLR moved most of this money prior to the March primaries. The two justices who received the most TLR judicial money—Al Gonzales and Nathan Hecht—faced relatively more competition in the primary than in the general election.24 On the eve of the primary, TLR made a special fundraising appeal that said Gonzales was vulnerable because, “as the newest member of the Court, [he] is not well known to the electorate.” Gonzales won with 58 percent of the primary vote, thanks in part to $25,000 in direct TLR money and $30,000 more that he collected in response to TLR’s urgent fundraising appeal.25
TLR's $54,000 Bench Press Candidate State Court Sought TLR Contribution Al Gonzales Supreme Court $25,000 David Gaultney 9th Court of Appeals (Beaumont) $10,000 Nathan Hecht Supreme Court $7,000 Priscilla Owen Supreme Court $5,000 Rebecca Simmons 4th Court of Appeals (San Antonio) $5,000 Sarah Duncan 4th Court of Appeals (San Antonio) $1,000 Paul Green 4th Court of Appeals (San Antonio) $1,000 TOTAL: $54,000
TLR also invested $17,000 in four GOP candidates for lower appellate court benches. Most of this money ($10,000) went to David Gaultney, a Mehaffy & Webber defense attorney who won an open seat on Beaumont’s Ninth Court of Appeals with 54 percent of the vote. TLR gave the rest of this appellate court money to three candidates for seats on San Antonio’s Fourth Court of Appeals. Most of this money ($5,000) went to Akin Gump litigator Rebecca Simmons’ failed bid to topple incumbent Democrat Alma Lopez. Lopez retained her seat with just 52 percent of the vote. TLR also contributed $1,000 apiece to incumbent Fourth Court of Appeals Justices Sarah Duncan and Paul Green, who narrowly prevailed over Democratic challengers.