Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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March 1, 2014

Political fundraising means mailers, signs, controversy

Corsicana — They’re hard to miss — the giant postcards that have to be folded over because they’re too large for an average mailbox. Political mailers have been flying fast and furious this season, in time for the Republican primary election Tuesday.

That’s just one reason why there’s so much money invested in these races.

Typically, the bigger the race, the bigger the price tag for the campaign. A presidential race costs upwards of $1 billion, while a U.S. Senate race can cost $10 million or more, and for a big state governor’s race, like the one ongoing in Texas now, will cost $50 million or more.

But at the local level, where the stakes are more modest, the expenses usually reflect that. This District 8 state representative race is unusual in that some serious cash is being spent on it.

It’s accepted wisdom in politics at every level that people already in office will raise more money, partly because of name recognition and partly because people like to bet on a previous winner.

But over the last 12 years, State Rep. Byron Cook’s reserves have built up to nearly at $700,000, with much of it coming from political action committees. Political Action Committees, or PACs, allow individuals to combine their money into large lump sums, giving greater leverage than a bunch of small donations would.

Cook has also gotten money from within the district in the form of dozens of checks from local business people, according to his Ethics Commission Report, and at least one local fundraiser garnered more than $40,000 in an evening.

“I have great support in the district and great support from groups all around the state that appreciate what I’m trying to do,” Cook said. “If you look at mine (finance reports), you’ll see PACs representing tens of thousands of people in the district and around the state — teachers groups, ag groups, Realtors, firefighters’ associations, business groups.”

In the primary race thus far Cook has spent about $217,000 on everything from billboards and signs to those big expensive postcards, and he’s making one last big push right before the election with more ads, mailers and appearances.

What they expect for that money is representation, Cook said.

“The people that support you expect you to go and do a great job doing what’s right for Texas and the district and future generations,” he said. “And remember, all these groups are fully disclosed. It’s the kind of transparency we should have.”

Cook has accused challenger Bobby Vickery of having so-called “dark money” support, coming from groups like Empower Texans and Accountability First.

“Almost 85 percent of my constituents are opposed to dark money,” Cook said. “I think those groups’ involvement is disturbing. Dark money is disturbing because you don’t have the ability to know where that money’s coming from.

“This should be transparent. You have a right to know who’s trying to affect an election,” Cook said.

Vickery denies having the support of “dark money,” or being closely tied to Empower Texans, although he was endorsed by the group, and they did send out an anti-Cook mailer.

“He’s hollering about ‘Empower Texans,’ who’s endorsed me. They’ve mailed out mailers but not on my behalf, just saying (people) need to be informed,” Vickery said. “He’s calling that ‘dark money.’”

Most of the money for Empower Texans comes from Michael Quinn Sullivan, a relatively controversial figure for his anti-public education stance. “They’re a 501(c)3. They haven’t given me any money,” Vickery said. “If you look at my Ethics Commission Report, Empower Texans didn’t give me any money.”

The Young Conservatives of Texas PAC also did an anti-Cook mailer, this one asking voters to support Vickery’s campaign. Vickery claimed that on his financial reports as an in-kind donation. “It was directly mailed for me,” Vickery said.

Another anti-Cook mailer linking Cook to Obamacare was put out by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, but because it didn’t cite Vickery, he doesn’t have to claim it on his financial report, and didn’t.

Vickery said he’d prefer for the campaign to focus on non-financial report issues, like the closure of the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center, illegal immigration, and the state budget.

“I’d really like to get back to the issues instead of him saying I’m taking dark money,” Vickery said. “What’s fair? Would (Cook) agree to give me half of his money to make the race fair? We have some wonderful people here in Navarro County and I want to represent those people and not the PACs.”

Certainly the lowest-cost campaign is that of Charles Morgan, who’s running for state representative against both Cook and Vickery and who’s raised almost no money and spent only about $2,000 on his campaign, according to his reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.

“I don’t like to ask people for money,” Morgan said. “The other reason is I don’t want to be beholden to any corporation. I can be committed to the people. That’s my personal money, and I’m spending some more.”

As for which groups are supporting whom, Morgan didn’t have any opinions on the Cook/Vickery disputes. His own supporters include the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and the Seed Coalition, although he hasn’t sought any formal endorsements, he said.

“I’m pretty much running this campaign on my own, paying for it myself. I’ll be responsible to the people,” Morgan said.

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