Anti-gay mailer attacking Texas Senate District 10 candidate Libby Willis traced back to organization that is part of an ‘archconservative cabal’; tie to Burton consultant also found
James Russell | Staff Writer
Their names are simple, but clearly ideological: National Association for Gun Rights, National Pro-Life Alliance and National Family Coalition.
They blast voters with mailers and pre-recorded calls using meaty buzz terms: The candidate “voted for Obamacare,” “supports the radical anti-gun agenda,” “will leave the unborn defenseless.”
Last week, mailers distributed by the National Family Coalition appeared in Senate District 10 mailboxes, asking the Democratic candidate “to stop pushing the radical homosexual agenda.” As first reported in Dallas Voice, Luke Macias, consultant for Konni Burton of Colleyville, the Republican candidate for the Texas Senate District 10 seat, denied any knowledge of the mailer attacking Libby Willis, the Democrat running for the open District 10 seat.
“The campaign is not affiliated with the group that sent this mail piece in any way. … We are unaware of who sent the mailer, as the group claiming credit has no website, no telephone number, and only a mailing address,” Macias assured the Voice at the time.
The campaign was sticking to what matters to voters of Senate District 10, he said.
But Dallas Voice has since learned that the National Family Coalition is connected to a web of national, influential right-wing organizations linked to individuals with troubling legal histories and questionable backgrounds. They are white supremacists, anti-abortion purists, anti-gay pastors and hard-right political operatives. And they are linked to numerous shell organizations that routinely break the law.
Figuring out the connections among the complex web of organizations, their affiliations and associates emerging in the final days of the 2014 elections is like following a paper trail with no end. Figuring out why the National Family Coalition, which has neither an Internet presence nor listed phone number, chose to hit a senate district in Texas as its second target one week before the general election is just as complicated.
During the summer of 2013, a filibuster against the final passage of legislation restricting abortions propelled Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, into the international spotlight.
It also riled Konni Burton, a Colleyville Tea Party operative who worked for Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Dan Patrick.
Burton announced she would challenge Davis for the seat with a fiery anti-abortion television advertisement. Her campaign coffers were immediately padded with donations from around the country.
One of those was a $25 donation from Lawrence “Larry” Pratt of Springfield, Va. He’s the executive director of Gun Owners of America, a far-right, Washington, D.C. lobbying organization that makes the National Rifle Association look like a gun control group. A former associate to right-wing presidential candidate Pat Buchannan, Pratt has been affiliated with white supremacist groups and violent anti-abortion groups.
Pratt is also a well-known operative for Dudley Brown, the right-wing Colorado operative who founded the National Association for Gun Rights. The NAGR’s PAC formally endorsed Burton in the May runoff election. The endorsement came with a plump $1,500 donation on April 23, 2014.
The National Family Council’s mailer was sent by VoterDirect Texas, the campaign arm of the New Braunfels direct mail firm WishLIST Direct.
According to state campaign finance records, the majority of VoterDirect’s clients are linked to Macias’ consulting group, Macias Strategies. Many of them are also affiliated with the state’s prominent hard-right organizations, most notably Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, a conservative group funded by West Texas oilman Lee Dunn, for which Macias conducts a majority of the consulting.
According to the Texas Ethics Commission, Burton’s campaign has paid WishLIST around $200,000 since July 8, 2013. The most recent payments came on Oct. 14, when it paid $4,530.81 for campaign mailers. On Oct. 23, the campaign paid $50 for graphic designs and $2,870 for push cards in two separate payments totaling $2,920. The mailers in question hit mailboxes on Oct. 27.
“Wishlist does a significant amount of political work for other campaigns,” Macias said, “but it gets run through consulting firms. I run my business differently. All my clients pay the vendors directly.
Macias repeatedly denied affiliation with the group. “We had never heard of the National Family Coalition until their mailer landed in District 10,” he said.
The National Family Coalition, like the NAGR PAC, is a 501(c)4 not-for-profit social welfare organization. It cannot legally endorse, oppose or support candidates in elections.
“Its primary goal must be education,” said Matthew Wilson, an associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “As long as most of its expenditures are dedicated to issue-based education, the rest of the expenditures can go to electioneering.”
The organization can accept as much in donations as it wants without reporting it. Money can flow among groups without public knowledge. For wealthy donors who support a controversial cause and don’t want to hurt their business, Wilson said it’s a great resource. If there is no paper trail, there’s no way of knowing if there is any collusion among candidates and committees.
No paper trail? No problem.
Matt Angle, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Lone Star Project which provides opposition research on Texas Republicans, prefers to call them “dark money groups.”
“That’s where it gets murky,” Angle said. “Consultants and campaigns can claim plausible deniability. They can say ‘We don’t have control,’ but it’s obviously part of a coordinated effort among Republicans.”
The National Family Coalition fits that mold of the typical “dark money” group: It operates out of a post office box in a UPS store at 8116 Arlington Blvd., Ste. 142 in Falls Church, Va.
The Senate District 10 race wasn’t the National Family Coalition’s first rodeo.
Two Democratic Colorado senators, including Senate President John Morse, were recalled in September 2013 due to passage of gun control legislation. The effort was lead in part by Dudley Brown.
With two senators successfully recalled, Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak of Senate District 19 was next. Recall petitions were gathered. Given her colleagues’ defeats, she knew she couldn’t face a recall. She knew she’d lose. So she resigned, allowing Democrats to appoint Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, in order to hold onto their one-seat edge in the Colorado Senate.
Senate District 19 is one of two swing districts in Jefferson County, Colorado, or JeffCo, considered the state’s bellwether county. “As goes JeffCo, so goes Colorado,” said Mario Nicolais, an attorney who ran in the Republican primary in the county’s other swing seat Senate District 22.
Nicolais and Lang Sias, who narrowly lost to Hudak in the Senate District 19 race in 2012, were considered top Republican recruits. But Brown and his cohort of conservative activists didn’t think so. They targeted both Republicans for defeat. Nicolais faced a challenge from the “hand-picked” Tony Sanchez. Sias faced Laura Woods.
Both districts were soon flooded with mailers, some of which were provided by Nicolais. They have the generic names: Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Colorado Campaign for Life and Colorado for Family Values. They all stuck to the red meat that riled up a Republican base.
The National Family Coalition was the newest entry in the race. The coalition’s mailer hit Senate District 19 before the Republican primary election.
In it, Sias was a “Democrat until 2006” whose campaign was funded by “millionaire homosexual activist Tim Gill.” Dotted with the footnotes to prove it, the mailer strikes a similar cord as the Willis mailer: “Call Lang Sias today and demand he cut his ties with the liberal Democrats who are attacking Coloradans’ traditional family values.”
On June 24, 2014, Sias lost the primary by 10 percentage points. Nicolais lost by 33. All signs point to the two incumbent Democrats retaining their seats on Election Day, Nov. 4.
Nicolais described the Colorado cabal as “a far right, fringe element of the Republican Party — an archconservative cabal” — a potent but viable cabal that has officially flooded into Texas, linked to a simple mailer in Senate District 10.