Lieutenant Governor's Race
12:44 pm
Mon May 26, 2014

A Mysterious Mailer Closes the Heated Runoff for Texas Lieutenant Governor

Update: Today, KUT's Ben Philpott talked to WBUR's Here and Now about the Lieutenant Governor primary. Listen to the interview here

Original story (7 a.m.): A political mailer was sent to hundreds of thousands of Republican voters recently, calling on them to elect what it called “Tea Party Champions” in tomorrow’s Republican runoff elections. But many Tea Party leaders in the state have never heard of the group that put out the glossy ad.

The previously unheard of "United Texas Tea Party" isn't the only fishy thing about this mailer, according to Tea Party activist Katrina Pierson. It shows Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst alongside Tea Party-backed candidates like Attorney General candidate Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Sid Miller. That’s despite the fact that most Tea Party groups back Dewhurst's opponent, State Sen. Dan Patrick.

"And the reason why we started looking at this closely is because it gave the illusion that the United Texas Tea Party mailer was a collaboration of several tea parties in Texas," Pierson says. "And it turns out that that is not the case."

The mailer doesn't include a website, email, phone number, or even the usual political disclaimer stating who paid for it. And it arrived just days before the election. Shocking right? Not really says Quorum Report editor Harvey Kronberg.

"Pretty much every general election in Tarrant County, you're gonna see mailers or door hangers in African-American districts informing them that election day is a different day then it actually is," Kronberg says. "You're going to have candidates being promoted in the wrong district."

Just because it's common, doesn't mean Tea Party leaders can't get mad anyway. Pierson says a mail fraud complaint has been filed while she and others continue to search for the mailer's creator.

"This isn’t the first time that a candidate or a group has tried to co-opt the Tea Party name, " she says. "However this is the first time that it's been done on such a massive scale. It's suggested that this mail piece was a half-million dollars, or at least a quarter-million." 

But Harvey Kronberg says over the years, many of these anonymous mailers remain anonymous. And even if the backer is outed, not much happens.

"Eventually the group or individual is identified, usually after the election," Kronberg  says. "And then there's somebody files a complaint with the local district attorney or the ethics commission. But it rarely produces anything other than a slap on the wrist."

And in a Lieutenant Governor runoff that's featured questions about one candidate’s mental health, name calling and reporting on a suicide attempt, a misleading mailer appears kind of quaint.

Download an MP3 of the story