Anti-incumbent super-PAC puts Texas House lawmakers in its sights

The Campaign for Primary Accountability, the anti-incumbent super-PAC that has struck fear into the hearts of lawmakers, has turned its attention to next week’s Texas primary.

The Texas-based super-PAC has spent nearly $361,000 opposing Reps. Ralph Hall (R) and Silvestre Reyes (D) since the beginning of May. The money is buying everything from mail pieces to Internet, television, and radio ads to flood their districts with anti-incumbent information.

ADVERTISEMENT
Together the two lawmakers have served almost a half-century in Congress and are prime targets for a group that has assisted in unseating at least three incumbents so far this cycle.

The group, which aims to equalize the “message monopoly” of incumbents, has become a boogeyman for congressmen facing tough primaries.

“I’m not nervous, I’m pissed,” Reyes told The Hill.

“Unfortunately, smearing and sliming good people works in the current political climate,” Reyes noted. “They’re not afraid of putting misinformation out there because there aren’t any consequences.”

The super-PAC, which targets incumbents regardless of party, made its influence known in several primaries earlier this year.  Reps. Tim Holden (D-Penn.), Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.), and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) lost in part because the group opposed their candidacy.

But other incumbents proved more resilient to the super-PAC’s money binge, including Reps. Tim Murphy (D-Penn.), Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), and Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.).

The group has plenty of money to back up its agenda.

It has taken in more than $2.8 million since its creation in September and has spent almost $2.5 million in the same period, according to the Federal Election Commission records, with most of that money spent supporting or opposing candidates.

And it has close to $431,000 remaining in its coffers.

The founder of the group, Leo Linbeck III, president and chief executive officer of Aquinas Companies, donated $130,000 in April alone, bringing his total donations to the super-PAC to nearly $1.3 million this cycle.

He’s one of several Texans who’ve given to the super-PAC. Robert Zorich, a managing partner for EnCap Investments based in Houston, gave $75,000 in April. Ashford Hospitality Limited Partnership of Dallas donated $50,000 last month.

Reyes was critical of the business’s involvement in the outspending group.

“I fought for this country, I’m a veteran and I think it’s the most disrespectful thing for anyone just because they were fortunate enough to make a lot of money on the backs of those of us that have defended their right to do business in this country, for them to turn around and betray the basic principles of democracy.”

“I think it is beyond the pale,” he added.

But Reyes is confident that his grassroots campaign efforts will be enough to counter the near $200,000 the super-PAC has spent against him.

“If you want to call me on Tuesday, I’ll tell you what it feels like to be re-elected for a ninth term,” Reyes said.

The Hall campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Campaign for Primary Accountability spokesman Curtis Ellis told The Hill the group believes in competition.

“We believe in competitive elections,” Ellis explained. “We firmly believe that the first step in getting [good policy reforms] enacted is getting lawmakers in there who are accountable to the people, not to the corrupt system that’s in place now.”

He noted: “Of two things I’m certain. This is the world we live in now and the incumbents have a tremendous advantage in money and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to give up that advantage.”

Ellis also described how they pick an incumbent to target: they choose to oppose lawmakers who have been in Washington long-term and are in a safe district for that party, meaning their aim isn’t to flip a seat from one party to another.

The committee also conducts its own research to ensure citizens in those districts want change and verify that there is a "credible challenger" on the ballot.

Paul Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, said the impact of super-PACs and outside spending groups will be “most significant” on the House and Senate level.

“It takes a lot less money to influence [congressional] elections,” Ryan said. “I think its possible or even probable this year that we will see super-PACs or outside spending groups out-spend the candidate campaigns themselves in some congressional races.”

That influence is the result of the Citizens United case, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited money into politics as long as the independent groups did not coordinate or donate directly to a candidate or party committees.

The decision led to the creation of more than 500 super-PACs or independent expenditure committees that have spent more than $113.5 million during this election cycle, according to watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics.

As to what happens to the super-PAC after the primaries are over, Ellis said the Campaign for Primary Accountability will look to 2014.

“In many congressional campaigns it takes a couple of cycles to knock off an entrenched incumbent,” he said.

“We hope to see more challengers, encouraged by the example we set in this cycle, step forward in the next cycle to take on more incumbents.”