Major Democratic donor Steve Mostyn has publicly accused Texas Watchdog of conducting political activity, the day before we published a story about his firm's $25,000 campaign donation to a mediator in one of its cases. See that story on Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, here.
Mostyn, a Houston lawyer, made the accusations in unusual conversations with our staff and in a petition for temporary restraining order he requested Monday to block Rep. Larry Taylor from accessing information about the individual plaintiffs in lawsuit. The suit was brought by Galveston-area homeowners who said the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association under-assessed damage their homes suffered from Hurricane Ike.
First off, let us say clearly: We have a single agenda, for a more open, transparent government.
Texas Watchdog is an award-winning news organization with decades of journalism experience, and we have a track record in Texas of providing solid, impartial journalism. We believe that a better informed public makes for a better democracy.
Now, for Mostyn's claims.
-- Charge #1: That Texas Watchdog is political and working in coordination with a political consulting firm. As basis for this, Mostyn points out that we were incorporated at the same Memorial Street address as the Patriot Group.
When Texas Watchdog was launched in 2008, we temporarily rented space from the Patriot Group, a political consulting firm whose clients lean conservative. The landlord-tenant arrangement came about because we had received generous start-up funding from the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance, who knew a partner at the Patriot Group and knew that he rented out space.
We decided, though, that the arrangement might give the appearance of a conflict, and we immediately took steps to find a new office. We moved to another suite in the same building about four months after our launch.
In the two years since then, we have broadened our donor base and have maintained complete editorial independence. Our offices today are in a midrise at Rusk and Main in downtown Houston.
-- Charge #2: That we requested information about individual plaintiffs in the Hurricane Ike lawsuit.
This is untrue. We have requested no such information, and there is nothing in the petition or its exhibits to back up this claim.
Texas Watchdog's interest in the Hurricane lawsuit has been focused on the actions of a state lawmaker who accepted a large donation from a party he was then expected to be neutral toward in a major court case. To shed light on this, we contacted the major players in the case, such as the judge, the lawmaker himself and Mostyn to ask them questions about the donation. But we have no interest in the financial information for individual homeowners, and see no connection between that and the state lawmaker's role.
-- Charge #3: That we were "created by partisans to write stories about the interests of their clients and to author hit pieces about the enemies of their clients." The implication here is that we work on behalf of the Patriot Group, our landlord for a few months in 2008.
Also not true. The legal petition selects stories that seem to buttress this claim, conveniently ignoring others that do not. Check our archives. We have never shown fear or favor.
Incidentally, a cursory check of campaign finance payments to the Patriot Group show that some of the firm's clients have been the subject of critical stories at Texas Watchdog, including stories about Greg Meyers, HISD's board chairman, and state Reps. Ken Paxton and Wayne Christian.
The bottom line: We hope readers will judge us by our body of work. When we launched our site in 2008, we were sensitive to the fact that we were unknowns in Texas and that people in some quarters might be looking for a political agenda. The first two stories we published took aim at a Democratic funder and a Republican political operative, and we have continued in the same manner over the last two years, reporting on:
+ Potential conflicts of interest, like the case of GOP lawmakers who were initial investors in a company that secured a state contract to outfit patrol cars with video cameras, and the case of Democratic legislators whose relatives worked for a private prison contractor as the state pondered clamping down on its operations.
+ Government spending, like our piece highlighting travel spending by legislators from both parties.
+ Ethics issues, like our story exposing a loophole that allows officials to omit the incomes of their spouses from personal financial statements. To explain the loophole, we used ethics forms filed by a Democratic Houston city councilman and a GOP state senator from Katy.
+ Transparency issues, like open meetings issues and access to public records.
We find it odd that Mostyn, this most political of animals, is using the courts to accuse us of being political hacks.
Texas Watchdog remains committed to our mission of publishing stories that reveal the workings of government and actions of politicians, and that make government more open and transparent.
Any questions? Give us a call. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell phone: 832-316-4994.