"AstroTurf" Tea Parties and Pay-to-Play Endorsements - Who can you trust with your vote?

Does your mailbox look like mine? Overflowing with ads from candidates for the primary election? Stuffed with slates from various groups and organizations? Now then, are you ready to vote? Now you must walk through the gauntlet of poll workers handing out even more ads from candidates and slates of endorsements. You want to vote for the right candidate. But how do you know who to trust?

The Problem...

Trying to figure out who to vote for in down ballot races can be very difficult. There are organizations that do a good job of interviewing candidates and have a true desire to find the candidates that best reflect their organization's values. There are also groups that have made a personal financial and political power enterprise out of the elections process - the so called "Pay-to-Play" slates. There are also "AstroTurf" groups. These are groups that want you to believe they are a true grass roots organization, but in reality they are a made-up group of people with a political agenda who want you to support their candidates.

Currently, in Montgomery County, there is a good example of this. Voters at the polls are being confronted by "volunteers" of a group allegedly called "The Original Tea Party of Montgomery County". They are passing out a slate of candidates attempting to look like grass roots volunteers for these candidates.  A simple Google search reveals there is no trace of any such organization.  

Steve Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Texas slate and ROBO calls in Montgomery County has also created quite a stir prompting a press release from the Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman, Dr. Wally Wilkerson. The Republican Headquarters in Conroe and the County Elections Administrator’s office had to field complaints about a mailing that included an application for a ballot by mail and a Republican Primary election sample ballot that had been marked to show candidates favored by Hotze’s group (discussed in more detail below under “Pay-to-Play” Slates).  

Chairman Wilkerson issued a statement sharply criticizing the mailing stating that the majority of the candidates were not interviewed by Hotze or any representative of the committee and voters were misled to believe that the Montgomery County Republican Party was responsible for the mailing.  The Montgomery County Party’s Bylaws prohibit endorsement of any candidates in primary races.  Moreover, if someone does a Google Search for a Montgomery County Sample Ballot, the first item to appear is the following which could make someone think that the ballot is from the Montgomery County Elections Administrator:

Montgomery County Sample Ballot | Conservative Republicans 


Click Here To Download A Printable Copy Of This Sample Ballot You Can Take With You When Voting”.

In Harris County, we have slates of candidates showing up in mailboxes from Terry Lowry's Link Letter, Steve Hotze's Conservative Republicans of Harris County and former Harris County Republican Party Chairman, Gary Polland's Texas Conservative Review. These are what many are calling the "Pay-to-Play" slates. In these publications, candidates are asked to either buy ads in the publication or make contributions to their PAC. In the Link Letter, ads run as much as $10,000-15,000 each. Count the ads in the "Link Letter" and see how that ads up quickly. 

David Jennings, in Big Jolly Politics, takes an extremely critical view of Lowry's religious stand in politics saying, "...the Link Letter this year is a hate filled rag that puts all Republicans in a negative light."  He takes the Link Letter apart page by page in its content and what some might say, religious bigotry with Lowry's attack on Mormonism and the apparent Republican Presidential Nominee.  

Clearly Lowry portrays himself as a deeply religious man and his Link Letter is aimed at conservative and religious Republicans. The Link Letter prominently contains articles from such religious notables as Franklin Graham, Dr. James Dobson, Phyliss Schlafly of the Eagle Forum and other similar figures. While I would never question another person's faith, I do have to ask, when does religion cross over from being about love to spewing hate filled bigotry?  And, when does pursuing religious values cross over from being a noble calling to an exploitative personal commercial enterprise?  Some might say that line was crossed well before the $750,000 dollars in revenue collected by Lowry (according to my sources).  A fair question of personal gain remains unanswered.  Unlike the candidates, Lowry's personal earnings from this venture does not have to be publicly reported.  Certainly, $750,000 is not spent on printing and mailing his Pay-to-Play slate. And that's just in Harris County.  Lowry has expanded his commercial and political enterprise into ten other counties. 

Perhaps personal gain is why you see endorsements in a conservative Republican-targeted Link Letter of a candidate who ran in the last election as a DEMOCRAT, or of other candidates who have extremely questionalble Republican credentials.  One case in point - Lowry's endorsement of Harris County Precinct 3 Constable Candidate, William Norwood.  Norwood, it seems, received a five day suspension for insubordination, making violent threats and being AWOL (absent without leave) while working for the Harris County Sheriff's Department.  He then hopes to surf in on the Obama wave, running for Constable in the 2008 Democrat primary. Now, low and behold, he is trying to surf in on what he believes will be a 2012 Republican wave and is running for the same office as a REPUBLICAN. So, how does Norwood get this endorsement over a well-qualified, proven Republican like David Cruzan?  I guess money talks and ...   well, you get the point...

Hotze is not shy about telling endorsed candidates, in public, to make certain their family and friends get their "contributions" into his PAC so he can send out his mailer...

According to Ed Hubbard, "...the perception among many candidates (is) that Conservative Republicans of Harris County amounts to little more than a rubber-stamp for Blakemore’s clients". Blakemore is a Republican political consultant in Harris County that not only represents individual Republican political candidates but is also paid to promote Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Harris County and Conservative Republicans of Texas. Through these efforts, Hotze’s influence has expanded from Harris County throughout Texas. And, personal revenue of political consultants, or payments made from political consultants to individuals, do not have to be reported to the Texas Ethics Commission; thus, any personal financial gain from the “founders” of these slates, and slates such as the The Texas Conservative View, are not disclosed.

Polland catches a lot of flack from people about his pay-to-play system as well.  However, I will say this for Polland, he makes his endorsements early on and then seeks money from those candidates to pay for the cost of distribution of his magazine.  I might also note, his magazine contains the kind of political analysis you might expect from a former chair of the Harris County Republican Party. I would say this is a slightly more ethical pay-to-play system, but still troublesome.

And then there are some PAC's, like The Texas Conservative View (I wonder if ABC Television's liberal talk show, The View, has looked at them for a potential trademark violation?) which claims "No candidate is asked to donate for an endorsement" but has asked its candidates for money.  Still another Pay-to-Play slate...  This slate is tied to a political consultant whose candidates are endorsed in the slate mailer.  The address listed after the name of the campaign Treasurer is even the consultant's home address.  The representation in the mailer is that the six self-appointed women decision makers are "Harris County Conservatives with the Right View."  One of these women, Robin Lennon, Co-founder of a local Tea Party places on her Tea Party website the warning not to “Don’t Trust Those Pay to Play Voter Guides!” but is involved in The Texas Conservative View's candidate-funded mailer.

The Solution...

So... What do we, as voters, do? How can we figure out who to vote for? Of course, the best answer is to do your own research. But, as that is impractical for most voters, I suggest finding organizations that do the research from an unbiased position and who do not take money from the candidates. In Montgomery County, the Texas Patriots PAC has put together a slate of candidates that match the values of their organization and voters. They back up this slate with a thorough explanation of the reasons for the endorsements. Recently, they backed a slate of candidates in The Woodlands Township election. They were very successful in turning out the vote and because of this success, the "AstroTurf" group has shown up at the polls to try and block their effectiveness.

In Harris County, Saddle Up Texas has spent a great deal of time this year evaluating candidates and produced a slate of candidates. This is the group, associated with Republicans and Tea Party groups, who support Constitutionally-limited government. The Houston Realty Business Coalition has also put together a slate without taking any money from candidates and has also strongly denounced Pay-to-Play slates on its website and in its mailer.  Many voters are carrying this slate to the polls to guide their voting efforts. United Republicans of Harris County has a large group of Republicans who have been active since 1992 who spend a great deal of time doing an unbiased series of interviews to determine the best candidates.  Quoting the URHC website, "Our hands on process of interviewing candidates in person and providing them with questionnaires regarding their qualifications makes us unique to the political process. We are the ONLY such organization in Harris County that has continually and consistently provided a venue for candidates to be considered fairly based on merit, qualifications, and participation in the Republican Party." One candidate who had earned their endorsement volunteered to contribute to the cost of mailing after receiving the endorsement and was told that it was URHC's very strong policy to NEVER take money from candidates.

What about your area?  Do you have questionable endorsement slates that should be exposed?  If these Pay-to-Play slates come to your part of Texas, will you follow the lead of Montgommery County and stop them?  It is important to do your own research on candidates.  Carefully check out any group making slates of endorsements to figure out if they are taking candidate money or if one particular political consultant's candidates are being promoted.

Many Tea Party groups are already starting to put candidates on notice saying any participation in Pay-to-Play slates in future elections will result in non-consideration by their Tea Party for endorsements and support.  Whatever your thoughts, this is an issue for future discussion.  Is there a better way?


Make sure to check out the comments on Facebook.

Bob, I can't comment on the Link Letter, Conservative Republicans of Texas, or Texas Conservative Review slates, because I didn't receive their endorsement. I can say, however, that I was never asked for a single thin dime by the Texas Conservative View PAC, and I'm not aware of any other candidates whom they endorsed who were asked for money.

Well Bob, you have certainly exposed the "Obama Game Plan" being played on us by what used to be respected groups and individuals.  Seems that as "Rush" describes it, they are drinking too much of their own Kool Aid and can no longer focus or deliver what they claim.  It's sad with those that went to clean up and played the Christian Card on us are nothing but hypocrites in their own rite.

You got one here and one there all claiming innocence and righteousness but they are the biggest thieves of them all....and they are not recommending the best and brightest, but those that will surcumb to their backroom, under the table tactics......

But fear not;;;;;they are going to be exposed and those that try to protect them will meet the same fate...one by one....WATCH!

Bob Price is a friend , but his attempt to paint or label Doctor Steve Hotze's conservative Republican efforts as a "pay to play" operation is  misleading and is absolutely false.

Authoring a list of endorsements in a primary race is a thankless job.  I know, because I have been doing it for more than 30 years.  As Bob Price knows, I do not have a PAC.   I send my voter guide to customers and friends and members of my church.  That also means I do not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to distribute my list, as does Dr. Hotze.  It also means my endorsements are less influential.

I have personally sat through dozens of candidate interviews with Dr. Hotze.  I can vouch for the fact that Dr. Hotze's endorsement is not predicated on or dependent upon any candidate's commitment to contribute to his PAC.  I personally contribute to Dr. Hotze's PAC every year and have encouraged many of his endorsed candidates to contribute to it.  In many cases, Dr. Hotze's endorsement is more influential than all of the mailings, phone calls, and signs that an individual candidate can buy.  Although my endorsements do not always agree with Dr. Hotze's, my endorsement list typically will resemble his.  I know of no one who spends more hours interviewing candidates.  I am confident Steve Hotze has personally interviewed every candidate he has endorsed.  Sometimes I disagree with him based on personal knowledge.  However, I have not invested the number of hours that Steve has interviewing candidates.  Some of them I know personally, but when selecting my endorsements, I confer with Steve Hotze, Texas Right to Life, and Texans for Lawsuit Reform.  There are other conservative sources, but I have confidence in my sources, especially in Steve Hotze. 

As I said, Steve and I do not always agree.  For example, in this current Republican primary, my endorsement varied from Steve Hotze's on eight races.  The purpose of this post is to set the record straight and set the record straight regarding Bob Price's blog.  Steve Hotze's endorsement is no "pay to play!"  No candidate can buy a spot on Conservative Republicans of Harris County/Texas. 

Norman E. Adams

Thank you for your feedback Lief.  I am glad to hear that.  I have heard directly form at leat one of their endorsed candidates that was asked for money, after the endorsement was awarded.  Much like way TCR does it.

By the way, congratulations on your new baby and good luck with your race.

Because he should at least be getting paid for the slimy attack mailer his "Conservative Republicans of Harris County" organization did supporting Jim Murphy, a client of,....wait for it, Blakemore.

Ann Witt, the target of the hit peice has thorough documentation for the major conflict of interest and apparent kickbacks Murphy has been getting through his position at Westchase District. Instead of debating this evidence and explaining how somehow Murphy’s actions are in the best interest of voters, the mailer simply calls her a desperate liar and a loser. (a pretty good liar, apparently, because she must have went to a lot of trouble to fake all those documents.) 

Since attacking a fellow staunch conservative with no basis doesn’t seem like a reasonable action for the “Conservative Republicans of Harris County”, it seems logical that they are being “persuaded” to do so in some manner. 

Doesn't take a lot of critical thinking skills to smell a rat here.

Norman, please the word on the street is that to get the hotze endorsement you need to hire Allen Blakemore.

This comment is a joke. Murphy received every major endorsement from slates and prominent figures alike except for....Link Letter. Ann Witt threw her money at this just like she has at everything else in this race. 

Thanks for mentioning the Precinct Three Constable Race.  Like they say, any publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name right.  Unfortunately, like a lot of stuff you see on the internet, it would be a better story if it were true.

Fortunately, you used enough weasel words to avoid a defamation suit, not that Bill would ever file one. (By the way, is calling someone a democrat defamation per se?)<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Bill Norwood’s finance reports are online.  He has paid for advertising, but it has been in small local papers in the precinct.  He didn’t give a dime to Terry Lowry.  I got my copy of the Link Letter finally, and there are 22 full page ads from candidates who were endorsed and 17 who were not endorsed.  The half page ads break down to 10 from endorsed candidates and 6 from candidates who were not endorsed.

The idea that someone ran in 2008 anticipating an “Obama wave” is ludicrous.  When the filing deadline hit, the conventional wisdom was that Hillary was going to be the nominee.  But in the larger picture, Precinct Three was drawn to be a democrat stronghold.  No Republican has ever won office there (or in 1, 2, 6 or 7, for that matter).  The incumbent got 69% of the vote in the primary and 68% in the general election.

As for the story about Bill’s disciplinary record, this is based on a single incident from 2005.  Bill was working in the Courts division, and Hurricane Rita was projected to hit the Houston area Friday night.  Baytown (where Bill lives) was ordered to evacuate.  Court dockets were cancelled, and bailiffs were ordered to “basement standby for emergency.”

Bill requested comp time to evacuate his family.  One sergeant told him it was ok, another told him no.  He put his badge on his supervisor’s desk and said “This is (insert word used by Rick Santorum).” I don’t think that qualifies as “making violent threats.”  Bill did what I would expect any dad I would support for public office to do: he put his family ahead of his job.  He evacuated his family on Thursday and was back at work on Friday.

Bill took his lumps, which was a 5 day suspension without pay, and a transfer to the detention division.  Not to be confused with the week suspension without pay that Chuck Rosenthal was given for setting off firecrackers in a stairwell at the DA’s office, which caused a call for “shots fired at 201 Fannin” with 200 police cars responding.

I see you have advertising from David Medina on your website.  He can’t endorse, but next time you talk to him privately, ask him his opinion of Bill Norwood.

But the best news of all: in 6 days most of this will be over, and we can get busy with the real work!

Thank you on both counts, Bob!



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