29 October 2010

News and views roundup (10/29/10 edition)

Here's a Friday-night edition of News and Views:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/29/10 10:05 PM |

28 October 2010

News and views roundup (10/28/10 edition)

It's the "we're posting late because a flier told us to" edition of local news and views:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/28/10 10:28 PM |

27 October 2010

News and views roundup (10/27/10 edition)

Welcome to the "long day of flying" edition of news and views:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/27/10 09:19 PM |

25 October 2010

News and views roundup (10/25/10 edition)

It's the "Athens or Jerusalem?" edition of the news and views roundup:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/25/10 03:39 PM |

23 October 2010

News and views roundup (10/23/10 edition)

Friday was busy, so the news and views piled up:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/23/10 04:01 PM |

21 October 2010

News and views roundup (10/21/10 edition)

The news and views roundups keep coming later for some reason...

* Of course, now that the Lazy MSM Narrative of the first couple of days has been laid to rest, we imagine that a few new examples of "voter intimidation" will be manufactured for some members of the local press to obsess over. Look for that in breathless reports tomorrow, or early next week.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/21/10 09:19 PM |

Chron: Scary "new" trend of big money in politics hits Houston!

In today's Chronicle, Bradley Olson reports on what he calls "a new national trend in politics in which corporations and the wealthy can spend big in election season under the cloak of anonymity."

The story cites two local nonprofit organizations, King Street Patriots/True the Vote and Renew Houston, as manifestations of this "new" trend that various campaign-finance-reform advocates and others who decry the influence of money in politics find scary. The story goes on to insinuate (via these same advocates) that the problem was made worse by the Roberts Court's Citizens United decision on campaign finance.

Now, we certainly wouldn't want to dissuade any Chron journalists from digging into campaign finance records and looking for conflicts of interest. Goodness knows, that would be a welcome change from the sorts of rah-rah stories that too frequently show up in the newspaper.

But "new national trend?"


Since the McCain-Feingold "reforms" that were going to check the influence of big money in politics (right), we instead have seen the rise of 527s (remember the Bush-Kerry race?) not to mention the sorts of independent organizations cited by Olson in today's piece. There's nothing that "new" about it, unless you've haven't been following politics for the last six years.

Indeed, in recent blog posts, we've referred to the Colorado Model, in which a handful of committed millionaire progressives managed to flip formerly reliably Republican Colorado to the Dems over a few election cycles, through strategic funding of down-ballot political races, creation of a loose network of "independent" news organizations and "ethics" groups to pound targeted opponents, and liberal use (no pun intended) of the legal system to tie up ostensibly conservative organizations. Here's a deep excerpt from the definitive account of the successful effort:

The group immediately recognized that campaign finance reform had completely changed the rules of the game. By limiting the amount of money candidates and political parties could raise and spend, the new law had seriously weakened candidates—and all but killed political parties.

“In the past, the party ran this whole apparatus, they called it the ‘coordinated campaign,’” said Polis. “The party chairs were largely responsible for the fund-raising. The candidates helped raise money for the parties. It all went into one pot.” After campaign finance reform, that pot shrunk to the size of a tea-cup. Polis knew that campaign finance reform “basically guaranteed that the party itself, Republican or Democrat, could not possibly be the main entity that…ran campaigns. The biggest thing is it took parties out of the mix as a money entity.”

The vacuum left by the diminishment of the Colorado Democratic Party also created a tremendous opportunity for the Roundtable.


The people at the Roundtable recognized that they, for all intents and purposes, were the party.


With campaign finance reform, the Gang of Four couldn’t give much money directly to candidates, so they looked to other avenues. And the most obvious were 527s. Named after the section of federal tax law under which they are regulated, 527s were not new, but until campaign finance reform laws were passed in 2002, they rarely played a significant role in elections, especially at the state level. The Roundtable changed that.

In hindsight, it’s remarkable how quickly members of the Roundtable adapted to the new campaign finance reality. While national political groups were beginning to use 527s (the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is a famous example from the same time frame), in 2004 it was unusual for state-based organizations to understand these exotic organizations and complex rules that governed them—much less master them to the point that they could be used effectively. The Roundtable capitalized on a key provision of post-campaign finance reform election law, namely, that while nonprofits were no longer allowed to coordinate their activities with candidates or political parties, they were perfectly free to coordinate among themselves.

And coordinate they did. (Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer, The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado)

2004. Not "new."

As we've noted previously, there has been a concerted effort since 2005 to bring the Colorado Model to Texas, with implications for Harris County this election cycle. This may be news to the Houston Chronicle, but it's not "new."

Now, as to what it suggests in terms of the futility of various campaign-finance-reform efforts... we'll let folks have at that one in the comments.

BLOGVERSATION: Chron Houston Politics, Harris County Almanac.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/21/10 06:38 PM |

Texas Watchdog: Harris County officials find no evidence of voter intimidation...

We've editorialized on the "voter intimidation" narrative that emerged at the start of early voting this week, a meme that (sadly) found its way into news reporting for two leading Houston MSM news organizations. Today, we are pleased to reprint (via the Creative Commons license) Texas Watchdog's in-depth review of those early voter-intimidation allegations. Thanks again to Texas Watchdog for making their work available via Creative Commons (we noticed the Chronicle took advantage of their excellent reporting earlier this week as well).

Harris Co. officials find no evidence of voter intimidation; co. attorney Ryan mediating election spat, says no conflict in donation to Houston Votes; feds not investigating tea party group

by Steve Miller

polling place sign
An hour-long meeting Tuesday between representatives of the Harris County Democratic and Republican parties, the Harris County District Attorney's office and the County Attorney's office was fairly unremarkable. It was a place for the two political parties, who are twisted in an acrimonious battle of lawsuits not between each other but by groups tightly connected to the right and the left, to discuss allegations of intimidation at the early voting locations.

The state Democratic Party says that Republicans are using a group called the King Street Patriots to recruit poll watchers, who are in turn intimidating mostly Democratic and minority voters. Democrats have come to the defense of Houston Votes, a left-leaning group accused of voter registration fraud.

But among the mediators of the meeting was Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, who has accepted and given donations to groups tightly connected to the Democratic side.

In April 2009, Ryan donated $1,000 to Houston Votes for its voter registration effort. Houston Votes was accused in August of numerous voting violations by Harris County Voter Registrar Leo Vasquez, including falsification of government documents. (See the Texas Watchdog story here.)

In May 2009, Ryan, a Democrat, accepted a $500 donation from Fred Lewis, who heads Texans Together Education Fund, for which Houston Votes serves as the get-out-the-vote arm.

And in March, Ryan donated another $100 to the Texans Together Education Fund for a luncheon ticket, and has given other similarly sized donations to Texans Together over the past few years, records show.

Ryan's first assistant, Terry O'Rourke, said the donations presented no conflict. 

"Take a look at the size and the timing of that. There's nothing unlawful," he said. 

Earlier this month, Ryan's office punted a public records request from a King Street Patriots volunteer to the attorney general, who will decide whether certain voter applications and volunteer deputy applications should be released. The AG's decision, called an open records letter ruling, would likely come after the election.

Ryan told the folks gathered in his office Tuesday that he would send investigators to take statements from "various people in the early voting stations where the trouble had occurred," according to Harris County Democratic Chairman Gerry Birnberg.

County officials found no proof of trouble

And all accusations of intimidation were looked into by the Harris County Clerk’s Office, which found no proof of any malfeasance, said Hector DeLeon, a spokesman for the office.

"We processed 26,031 votes, we had 14 complaints, all from Democrats, of intimidation," DeLeon said. "We had no complaints on Tuesday or [Wednesday]."

Representatives from his office went to each site of a complaint, spoke with officials there and found nothing to uphold any allegation of trouble, he said.

Still, Ryan called for a monitor from the U.S. Department of Justice, although reports that the DOJ was looking into any particular group – including declarations that some tea party members were involved in the intimidation accusations -- were incorrect.

DOJ: No investigation into any specific political organization, tea party

"The department is looking into allegations of misconduct in polling places that occurred in Harris County during the first day of early voting," DOJ spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said via e-mail. "There is no investigation into any specific political organization, including the tea party, at this time regarding this matter."

Birnberg, the Democratic party chair, insists there was intimidation and that it has continued. 

"The complaints the clerk's office deals with are different from the complaints we are receiving," he said. "We get the documented stories of intimidation, from credible sources. One was on the board of trustees at Houston Community College. One worked for a Texas senator."

The fracas, which involves investigations, lawsuits, ethics complaints and allegations of intimidation and improper activity at polling sites, stems from Vasquez' assertion in August that Houston Votes had turned in thousands of faulty voter registrations. The lame-duck Republican compared the work of Houston Votes to that of the much-maligned ACORN in a press conference.

The King Street Patriots is a conservative group that has taken up squelching voter fraud as a key issue, through its True the Vote arm. It provided Vasquez research of its findings before that press conference.

It’s too early for the King Street Patriots to file a tax form 990, which would shed light on the scope of its operation.

Claims, finger-pointing between political parties common in Houston, across U.S. around Election Day

But the maelstrom that has engulfed the Rosenberg-based political operation has moved the group from tea party niche status into the bulls-eye of Democrats and progressives.

Shortly after Vasquez announced the voter fraud investigation, state Dems responded by suing him

The Patriots skated on that legal action, but this week the Texas Democratic Party amended an existing lawsuit against the Green Party to include the group.

"We're not interested in political gamesmanship," said Catherine Engelbrecht, who leads King Street Patriots. "We're interested in free and fair elections. We're doing nothing more and nothing less than any citizen has the right to do."

Houston Votes has not returned calls over the past several weeks.

Late last week, Texans for Public Justice, a liberal Austin-based group that focuses on corporate abuses of the political system, filed a complaint against the King Street Patriots with the Texas Ethics Commission.

The election next month has galvanized legions of special interest groups as well as the Democratic and Republican parties. Polls hint at large Republican gains in all levels of government, ginning up actions that traditionally provide as much news as the election itself.

In 2008, Wisconsin voters were allegedly targeted by Republicans with pre-printed absentee ballots that, if not mailed, would potentially thwart that voter’s in-person ballot.

In 2002, it was falsely predicted that Republicans would post poll watchers at strategic national locations to intimidate voters.

And in 2000, voter intimidation was part of a wholesale effort to change the results of the presidential vote in Florida, triggering a six-week recount and court battle.

An investigation into race-related intimidation in Florida by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found no evidence of voter intimidation but instead blamed flawed technology for possible miscounts.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or [email protected]

Photo of a polling place sign by flickr user momboleum, used via a Creative Commons license.

Texas Watchdog story reproduced via Creative Commons license. Original story is located here.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/21/10 01:23 PM |

20 October 2010

News and views roundup (10/20/10 edition)

Today's news and views roundup comes late....

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/20/10 08:08 PM |

Voter Intimidation: Correcting the "narrative"

The first two days of early voting are done, and the Big Story so far, if we follow the Lazy MSM Narrative (tm), is that a bunch of thug pollwatchers from a local Tea Party group are busy intimidating voters right and left.

Two of the worst examples of this sort of reporting yesterday came from the Houston Chronicle and KTRK-13. Neither report actually rounded up any voters who had legitimate stories of pollwatcher efforts* to prevent them from voting (which would outrage us, to be sure), so rumor, innuendo and invective directed against the King Street Patriots/True The Vote pretty much carried the accounts. And according to Catherine Engelbrecht of King Street Patriots/True The Vote, neither news organization actually asked her for comment before running their stories, a violation of journalistic norms given the serious attacks being made. The Chronicle, apparently realizing that a story about voter intimidation that could feature no actual intimidated voters was not really journalism, ran a somewhat more balanced piece today (with contributions from beat journalists) that emphasized the efforts of election officials to calm the charged situation by reminding everyone of the election rules (including the fact that pollwatchers are a legitimate and legal part of the election process, and that they must operate under fairly restrictive rules that certainly don't give them the power to turn away voters).

Interestingly, as these area news leaders** worked to cover alleged early-voting irregularities, neither one reported on allegations about electioneering by Dem Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in a polling place (discussed by Michael Berry about halfway through this recording of yesterday's KPRC-950 show) or allegations of inappropriate intimidation of a poll worker by Dem Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee in his polling place (reported by Melissa Clouthier at Liberty Pundits) -- the sorts of behavior (among others) that pollwatchers are actually sent out to dissuade.

Cory Crow suggests the endgame of Texas progressives in what appeared to be a choreographed effort over the first couple of days of early voting to smear King Street Patriots/True The Vote and establish a narrative of voter intimidation (through their blog networks and faux-news outlets, and even ultimately in some Lazy MSM Narratives), is to lay the groundwork for legal challenges in any close races. Perhaps it's also an effort to gin up turnout among unenthusiastic Democrats, lest Matt Angle's effort to flip the Texas House in time for redistricting (nearly successful!) be thwarted (and thwarted, in part, by little old ladies volunteering to be pollwatchers! The gall!).

What is unfortunate is that so much acrimony choreographed from above is filtering down to the ground, where a lot of civic-minded folks (election judges, clerks, and yes, pollwatchers) are just trying to make sure all valid votes are counted and that we have honest elections under trying circumstances. King Street Patriots/True The Vote put out a statement today that concludes:

True the Vote trains citizens that a polling place is a sensitive site and all actions must be carried out in a civilized and lawful manner. True the Vote is dedicated to ensuring that elections in Harris County are free from fraud and intimidation of any voter.

Should those goals really generate the smears, harassment, threats of violence, and vulgarities that have been directed at pollwatchers who may have been trained by this organization (or by any other group, political party, or candidate, for that matter)?

* The KTRK story led with the tale of a voter (Willie Jones) who claimed to have all required paperwork being turned away from a polling location. The implication of the story was that mean King Street Patriots/True The Vote pollwatchers somehow prevented him from voting. In reality, under Texas law, a precinct judge ultimately makes that call (never a pollwatcher). Indeed, even then, Engelbrecht tells me today that based on what she saw in the report, the voter should have been allowed by the precinct judge to cast a provisional ballot. So much for voter intimidation.

** The Chron is the area's default newspaper of record. KTRK-13 news frequently wins the sweeps period, and has long described itself as "Houston's News Leader."

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/20/10 03:51 PM |

19 October 2010

News and views roundup (10/19/10 edition)

A nasty head cold derailed yesterday's news and views roundup, but we're turning the corner today:

* Hat tip to Slampo.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/19/10 01:02 PM |

18 October 2010

Colorado Model, meet Harris County

The Chron Houston Politics blog passes along today's press-release news that the Texas Democratic Party has amended its lawsuit against the Green Party to include local grassroots tea-party group King Street Patriots.

The King Street Patriots' voter-integrity project True the Vote, of course, made news earlier this year in exposing potential vote-fraud efforts by Houston Votes, a Dem-activist-dominated "nonpartisan" voter-registration group.

King Street Patriots has also been active in inviting candidates and newsmakers to informational meetings, and their audience's affinity for certain candidates* has led to today's countercharges from progressive "ethics" front groups of possible campaign ethics violations**. Interestingly, reporting*** by an "independent" news organization is cited as part of the basis for the complaint, which is also then reported by the "independent" news organization. Circular (and "coincidental") enough?

The cherry on top is Matt Angle today announcing his support of the Democratic Party lawsuit because, in his words, "The King Street Patriots is not a legitimate nonpartisan or nonprofit organization. It is the most extreme and intolerant arm of the Harris County Republican Party."

Of course, Matt Angle features in The Blueprint, a fine piece of political journalism that describes how a handful of committed millionaire progressives managed to flip formerly reliably Republican Colorado to the Dems over a few election cycles, through strategic funding of down-ballot political races, creation of a loose network of "independent" news organizations and "ethics" groups to pound targeted opponents, and liberal use (no pun intended) of the legal system to tie up ostensibly conservative organizations. Angle all but promised to bring the Colorado Model to Texas, in the form of his Lone Star Project (and associated groups).

And if you begin to connect the dots locally -- as Cory Crow also does -- you can see elements of the Colorado Model at work, right here in Harris County. Now, There's nothing illegal or unethical per se about the model. In many ways, The Blueprint is a great political novel that just happens to be true. However, given the state political media's occasional interest in the influence of big money in politics (when it happens to be a donor like, say, Bob Perry), it would be nice to see that same interest extend to progressive big money and the machinations of nominally "independent" front groups.

*It's probably no coincidence that Jim Murphy's visit to the King Street Patriots attracted the attention of Matt Angle and affiliated progressive organizations. Murphy's effort to reclaim his old seat in HD-133 from progressive (and former ACORN) darling Kristi Thibaut makes Harris County, in some ways, Ground Zero for conservative efforts to beat back the Colorado-style onslaught in Texas.

** The accusations and lawsuits are everything, of course. Even if the charges -- as repeated by friendly "independent" media organizations -- ultimately have no merit, they work their way into mainstream coverage (since our state's political media reveals itself too frequently as an incurious, non-analytic lot), create doubts among the less informed about King Street Patriots, and generally occupy time and effort that the organization might otherwise put into its mission.

*** Straight news reporting usually offers some semblance of balance, at least a quote from the people being attacked.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/18/10 06:28 PM |

17 October 2010

News and views roundup (10/17/10 edition)

It's the two-week-vacation catchup edition of the roundup:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 10/17/10 01:24 PM |


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