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Cornyn's Corporate Sponsors

I. Introduction

In Texas’ 1998 general election, the fix usually was in long before November, with one candidate in most races establishing an overwhelming fundraising advantage early on. Against this dull backdrop, three competitive statewide races projected an air of choice, with the attorney general race posing the most striking contrasts.1

On the campaign trail, business-backed Republican John Cornyn called his Democratic opponent a “junkyard dog,” referring to Jim Mattox’s reputation for running nasty campaigns.2  Rather than disputing this moniker, Mattox embraced it, saying he would fight like a junkyard dog for “working folks…against the corporate powers-that-be.” Mattox wielded far greater name recognition and a 20 percentage-point lead in the polls two months before the election. But Cornyn prevailed on election day with a 10 percent lead. Money was a key factor in this outcome, with Cornyn raising $6.1 million—or almost twice the $3.3 million that Mattox raised.3

Cornyn’s aggressive fundraising has sustained—as well as stained—his political career. Cornyn’s previous elected office was the Texas Supreme Court, where no justice raised a greater share of his or her campaign money from donors who had cases before the court.4  After Cornyn resigned from the court to run for attorney general in October 1997, the corporate law firm of Thompson & Knight hired him to work on six appeals before his old Supreme Court colleagues. In five of these six cases, Cornyn defended business interests against consumers or workers.

Soon after becoming attorney general in 1999, Cornyn helped found the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which promised to slam the brakes on states filing industry-wide lawsuits such as the tobacco litigation. After Cornyn mailed a 2000 RAGA fundraising pitch to companies that fear state lawsuits, however, RAGA started looking like a lawsuit protection racket. Microsoft, tobacco lobbyists and the National Rifle Association have openly supported RAGA (see “Selling Lawsuit Protection?”).

The estimated $3 million that Cornyn has left over in his Attorney General campaign coffers could benefit his current U.S. Senate bid. Although federal law bars Cornyn from transferring state campaign funds to his federal Senate campaign, Cornyn could give the money to one or more state or federal political party committees. These committees then could spend this money on “get out the vote” or other efforts that would indirectly aid Cornyn's Senate campaign.

Cornyn raised $10.6 million in attorney general money between September 1997 and June 2001. This report analyzes the $9,767,257 that Cornyn collected in big checks of $500 or more; these large checks accounted for 92 percent of all the money that he raised. Cornyn raised much of this money from the “corporate powers-that-be” that Mattox vowed to subdue.


1  The other close races offering some semblance of choice were for lieutenant governor and comptroller.
2  In the 1990 gubernatorial primary, for example, Mattox called opponent Ann Richards a substance abuser.
3  Although Cornyn faced tougher primary challenges than Mattox, both candidates raised the vast majority of their funds after the primary.
4  Justices Cornyn and Greg Abbott (who is now seeking Cornyn’s job) led the court in their dependency on docket-related donors. They both took 46 percent of their money from lawyers and litigants with cases before the court. See “Payola Justice,” Texans for Public Justice, February 1998.

Copyright © 2002 Texans for Public Justice