Last fall in the city of Houston elections, my client, City Council
District H candidate Adrian Garcia was the target of sleazy mail pieces that attacked his character. No one would
ever take credit for sending out the mail pieces. (see the attached Houston Chronicle article). I filed a complaint
with the Texas Ethics Commission and the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Both entities found no wrong doing.
I guess you can get away with cheating in a political campaign in Houston.
May 10, 2004
By John Williams
THIS IS A whodunit about a political consultant scrutinizing clues left last year at the scene of some political skulduggery. The consultant - Marc Campos - is investigating without the help of state law, which aids and abets the very activities he's probing.
The mystery started last fall, during city of Houston elections. Campos was working for Houston police officer Adrian Garcia in his campaign for the District H council seat vacated by Gabriel Vasquez. At the height of the crowded and competitive race, fliers appeared in voters' mailboxes with unflattering pictures of Garcia and criticisms of his work as director of the city's anti-gang task force. The group identified as sending the material had the patriotic-sounding name Citizens for a Better America. At the same time the group was hatcheting Garcia, at least three others also were in its cross hairs: mayoral candidate Bill White, District G council candidate Pam Holm and Houston Community College System trustee candidate Herlinda Garcia. Independently, the campaigns set about to learn who financed the political sniping. That usually is a simple task. The city secretary's office or the Texas Ethics Commission normally provide disclosure forms of those who finance political activity. But checks with those offices turned up no disclosure forms for the ads. So the campaigns checked with a Citizens for a Better America political action committee based in California. That group claimed innocence and posted a denial on its Web site. The search continued.
In time, the campaigns for White, Holm and Adrian Garcia located another Citizens for a Better America, a nonprofit group based in Princeton, N.J. White and Holm won their races despite the ads. Herlinda Garcia lost, and said the ads contributed to her defeat. None of the campaigns pursued the search for the source of the attacks. But Campos continued the hunt, even though his client, Adrian Garcia, won election to council. Campos wanted to finger the perpetrator, figuring that might discourage similar dirty tricks in future races. A check of the postal permit on the ads against Adrian Garcia lead Campos to a mailing service in the Timbergrove neighborhood. The mailing service directed him to a print shop near Interstate 45 North and West Gulf Bank. The print shop said a "Spencer" was its contact and that a graphics arts company in Meyerland prepared the ad. Campos checked the campaign finance reports of those who opposed Adrian Garcia. He learned that Hector Longoria, one of Adrian Garcia's opponents, had hired political consultant Spencer Neumann and the graphic arts company. Campos then reviewed the campaign finance reports of an opponent of Herlinda Garcia. Neumann was there, too.
At this point in the story, it is instructive to know that Campos is no squeaky-clean political gumshoe. He's been involved in his own political shennanigans. In 1999, Campos orchestrated what started as an anonymous campaign against then council candidate Vasquez, calling him "Gabriel Vendido" or "sellout." It wasn't until after the advertising appeared that Campos registered the Friends of District H as the group responsible for the ads. Campos later said he was remorseful, and that the "Vendido" piece was a "bad mistake." Thus reformed, Campos earlier this spring packaged his investigation for the Harris County district attorney. He felt that a law had been broken because the mail-outs targeting Adrian Garcia contained no financial disclosure as required by state law for political advertising.
The district attorney's office investigated and determined that the ads for Citizens for a Better America were prepared by Jamestown Associates. Jamestown Associates and Citizens for a Better America share the same New Jersey address. But the DA's investigators determined that no law had been broken because Citizens for a Better America is a nonprofit corporation that can take part in issue advocacy. Issue advocacy means that voters are not urged to vote for or against a particular candidate or position. The advocate, in this case a nonprofit group that promotes Republican causes, was merely telling voters its thoughts on Adrian Garcia. Such ads don't require the same financial disclosure that Texas law requires of direct campaign advocacy, which specifically urges a vote for or against a particular candidate or position.
Assistant District Attorney Don Smyth said Citizens for a Better America did the same thing as Texans for True Mobility
did during the fall rail referendum.
That nonprofit group spent more than $1 million on information explaining its belief that light rail cost too much and
did too little. The corporation has not disclosed its contributors.
"They are putting out information, not directly asking for a vote," Smyth said.
So the question remains: who done it?
Tom Blakely, a partner with Jamestown Associates who helps Citizens for a Better America, said he does not know
the person or persons responsible for seeking the ads that were disseminated in Houston.
Campos and Holm believe it was Neumann, who worked for candidates who opposed White, Holm, Adrian Garcia and Herlinda
Neumann says he has been wrongly accused.
"This is a ridiculous and absurd claim," he said. "I had nothing to do with it. We need to get Marc some work so he
can concentrate on business rather than this stuff."