Democrats protesting 'foreign influence' on U.S. elections accepted $500k from foreign-connected committees
Monday, Nov 01, 2010, 01:35PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
That unnerving racket you have been putting up with throughout this election season is the sound of glass houses shattering and the people inside them whining, "But, but, but they threw first."
The occupants of the latest house to go to pieces are 14 Democratic U.S. senators who signed a letter imploring the Federal Election Commission to “repair and strengthen protections against foreign influence of American elections.” Each one of these senators has received donations from political action committees connected to American companies that are owned by foreign corporations, nearly $500,000 in all since January 2009, according to an investigation posted by OpenSecrets.
Near the top of the OpenSecrets list of elected officials taking money from committees with foreign ties this election cycle is Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader. Reid did not sign the letter but has stood near the front of the Democratic mob lobbing stones at Republicans for taking advantage of the Supreme Court ruling in January invalidating laws against corporate donations in political campaigns.
The story does not suggest Reid and the "Chucking 14" have done anything wrong. These donations are perfectly legal. Of the top 12 lawmakers getting these donations, six are Republicans and six are Democrats.
The difference is Democrats have attempted to use Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission as a campaign issue, vilifying Republicans for taking corporate money whose original sources can be kept secret. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will almost certainly be remembered as the most quotable stone thrower when she lamented at a fundraiser Saturday in Minneapolis, "Everything was going great, and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where -- because they won't disclose it -- is pouring in."
The Supreme Court's ruling, however, also applies to unions, whose funding sources may also be kept from the public. And so when the New York Times reports on the corporate money pouring into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce political action committee, benefiting mostly Republican candidates, the Wall Street Journal comes back the following day reporting that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a supporter of mostly Democratic hopefuls, is the biggest Supreme Court beneficiary in this election cycle.
"We're the big dog," said Larry Scanlon, the head of AFSCME's political operations, told the Journal. "But we don't like to brag." Well, then, put down that rock-like projectile and step away from that clear residence.
As we are reminded every election cycle, there is big, big money in Texas politics, too. And no surprise to people who follows these things closely, the biggest of all is Bob Perry, whose not-at-all-secret contributions to Republican candidates and causes were profiled last week by the Texas Tribune. Perry and his wife, Doylene, have donated $7.5 million in the election cycle from Jan. 1, 2009 through Oct. 28, according to the numbers crunchers at Texans for Public Justice.
Deep into the story is a mention of Steve Mostyn, a Houston trial lawyer who, the story says, has spent $7 million of his own money pretty publicly in this election season to benefit Democrats and their ideas. Texans for Lawsuit Reform looked at the most recent reports filed with the state Ethics Commission, though, and found that Mostyn is the biggest Texas donor of the them all this election season. Records show that Mostyn, his firm and his family have contributed $9.6 million through Oct. 28.
Time and generous courtroom settlements may allow Mostyn to one day catch up to Perry's lifetime donation total. Which isn't a bad thing if you think you have cornered the market on stones.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or email@example.com.
Photo of money by flickr user athrasher, used via a Creative Commons license.
Hurricane Ike settlement info should be released: Galveston Daily News
Friday, Oct 15, 2010, 11:14AM CST
By Steve Miller
An editorial in The Daily News in Galveston today supports state Rep. Larry Taylor’s request to uncover details of a settlement between plaintiffs and the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
Taylor co-chairs the Texas Joint Windstorm Insurance Legislative Oversight Board, which oversees TWIA. He wants to know some details of a $189 million settlement between TWIA and around 2,400 plaintiffs in a deal announced in July. Those details include information on the fees, expenses and work performed by the 100-plus lawyers on the case, who reportedly received around $86 million in fees.
Steve Mostyn, lead counsel in the settlement case, has been granted a temporary restraining order in the case by state District Court Judge Susan Criss.
Mostyn, a well-heeled Democratic donor, contends that Taylor, a Republican, is using his position as a state representative to gain political leverage and that his request "strongly suggests that he his using his position on the legislative oversight committee for non-legislative political and partisan purposes," as Mostyn alleged in a letter to TWIA chief Jim Oliver.
The Daily News editorial asserts that the information is very public, seeing as it is public dollars being awarded to both the claimants and their lawyers.
"Every resident has the right to see any audits or reports made about the handling of those claims in general. All residents have the right to see the records of votes on the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, a pool of insurers created by the legislature. Any general documents on the methods of how the organization resolved complaints and settled claims also are public information. And, of course, the fees paid to attorneys are presumed to be public under the law. The average, ordinary resident has a right to that information so he or she can judge how efficiently a pool created by the state to provide coverage in cases where it’s not otherwise available is functioning."
Listen to the Sept. 27 hearing on the case here.
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo of damage in Galveston from Hurricane Ike in September 2008 by flickr user Simmich, used via a Creative Commons license.
Judge weighs release of Hurricane Ike settlement details (updated)
Monday, Sep 27, 2010, 11:17AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
A Galveston County judge is expected to decide today whether the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association must release details of a $189 million Hurricane Ike settlement that has become a pitched political battle between Democrats and Republicans, trial lawyers and tort reformers.
The Texas Tribune today delivers a detailed backgrounder on the struggle between state Rep. Larry Taylor, a Republican, trying to win release of the information which includes payments to more than 2,000 homeowners and dozens of attorneys including Steve Mostyn, whose law firm provided some of those attorneys and who expects to spend millions on Democratic campaigns in this election.
Taylor, R-Friendswood, contends he is well within his rights to request the payment information as co-chairman of the board overseeing the state's windstorm insurance fund. Mostyn, incoming president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, has argued for the privacy of the clients in the class-action lawsuit and says that Taylor is doing the bidding of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, an assertion that Taylor refutes.
The fight has claimed some collateral damage. When Texas Watchdog reported that Mostyn had given a $25,000 donation to Republican Rep. Todd Hunter weeks before Hunter mediated the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association settlement, Mostyn filed for a temporary restraining order, falsely alleging that Texas Watchdog was publishing stories for political reasons benefitting Taylor. Mostyn subpoenaed two Texas Watchdog staff members, which Texas Watchdog contested.
(Updated 12:18 p.m.) The judge has granted a temporary restraining order, keeping the attorneys' fees closed for another two weeks, the Tribune's Elise Hu reports via Twitter, @elisewho.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or email@example.com.
Hurricane Ike lawyer, Democratic mega-donor Steve Mostyn makes false accusations against Texas Watchdog
Wednesday, Sep 15, 2010, 10:45AM CST
By Trent Seibert
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.
Hunter accepted $25K from Dem mega-donor Mostyn's firm, then mediated firm's Ike lawsuit
Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010, 11:35AM CST
By Steve Miller
State Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, mediated a $189 million settlement for homeowners, including plaintiffs represented by Steve Mostyn, in the weeks after the prominent Democratic donor's firm gave $25,000 to Hunter's campaign.
In the weeks before he mediated a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over Hurricane Ike damage, state Rep. Todd Hunter received a $25,000 campaign donation from the leading firm in the case, state records show.
Hunter, a Corpus Christi Republican, received the contribution from the firm of Steve Mostyn, a Houston trial lawyer and major donor to Texas Democrats. Mostyn's firm led negotiations on behalf of 2,400 Galveston-area homeowners who had sued their insurer, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which they said under-assessed damage their homes suffered from the 2008 storm.
Hunter mediated a $189 million settlement for the plaintiffs, which was announced in July. The Mostyn Law Firm exclaimed in a press release, “Our clients are excited with the results!”
In the release, Mostyn quoted the presiding judge, Susan Criss of the 212th District Court in Galveston: "I appreciate all of the hard work by the plaintiffs' lawyers, the TWIA lawyers and the mediator, Todd Hunter, put into mediating these cases over a period of six full days.”
It is unclear whether Hunter had already been confirmed as mediator at the time of the May 11 donation, but he had been put on the short list of potential mediators by late 2009, Criss said.
Criss, who received $5,000 in separate donations from Mostyn and the Mostyn Law Firm on Sept. 17 of last year, said Hunter was agreed upon as mediator by both parties earlier this year as the cases wound through the system.
Hunter also received a $10,000 donation on June 30 from another party connected to the suit as the case began mediation, Riley L. Burnett Jr., of the Houston firm Clark Burnett Love & Lee.
Burnett declined to comment on his contribution to Hunter, and Hunter did not return calls or e-mails last week. Mostyn declined to answer questions about his firm's donation or Hunter's role. Criss said she knew nothing of the donations from the litigators to Hunter.
Campaign finance records since 2000 show no previous donation from the Mostyn Law Firm or from Mostyn himself to Hunter.
In the role of mediator, Hunter was dealing with familiar faces at the the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.
He had previously served as a lobbyist for TWIA.
As of late last year, he was serving on the legislature's Windstorm Insurance Legislative Oversight Committee. The committee received a Dec. 10 letter from the general manager of TWIA, Jim Oliver, pertaining to the case. Oliver defended his group against a volley of claims from Mostyn and cited the $86 million in legal fees alone demanded by Mostyn's firm.
"We wholly disagree with the pleaded accusations, dispute the basis and contextual accuracy of the 'factual' references, and regret the general hysteric tone of the petition and media coverage. You will no doubt see additional inflammatory allegations from Mr. Mostyn."
Hunter is assured of keeping his House seat this year, with no opponents in the March primary or the November election.
First elected to the legislature in the late '80s, Hunter has been an outspoken advocate for lawsuit reform, and in 2008 received more than $60,000 in campaign donations from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. In October, Hunter was praised by the group for standing up to trial lawyers.
Texans for Lawsuit Reform spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester said that the organization was not concerned about the Mostyn donation.
Sylvester said that Hunter had a history -- as a Democrat and later as a Republican -- of being "a leader in the tort reforms first proposed by TLR" as well as "opposing numerous trial lawyer initiatives."
"TLR deeply appreciates Todd Hunter’s leadership on the critical issue of lawsuit reform," Sylvester said. "We believe he will continue his principled commitment to a fair and predictable civil justice system that improves access to health care and contributes to a strong pro-growth business environment in our state."
Hunter's stance has been starkly different from Mostyn's, who has made a career off punishing insurers and other corporations for practices that hurt his clients and is in line to become president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association.
Mostyn told the Austin American-Statesman, which profiled him in July, that his professional motivation is to help individuals go up against powerful interests.
"The reason I'm a trial lawyer is I believe in individual access to courts and that the little guy should get a fair shake against an insurance company or a big corporation," Mostyn told the newspaper.
The Ike settlement has become part of a political tug-of-war between Mostyn and Republican Rep. Larry Taylor, who is seeking information on the individual cases that composed the suit.
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or email@example.com. Trent Seibert contributed to this story.
Photo of money by flickr user athrasher, used via a Creative Commons license.
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