Monday, February 17, 2014

Texas Tribune and Pay for Play Journalism

The topic of pay for play is hot in political circles in Harris county as early voting begins for the March 4 primary election.  It appears that pay for play is alive and well in the not for profit journalism world, too.  An excellent four part piece is up written by James Moore.  I encourage you to take a little time and read all of it.  It is quite an eye-opening look at some real ethical questions begging for answers.

The opening:

The Texas Tribune was supposed to be the best new idea to save journalism. Instead, it is destroying it. What believers hoped was going to be a watchdog has turned into a lapdog by taking big dollars from lobbyists and corporations.

You may remember that the Texas Tribune began with much fanfare.  It was a non-profit organization, to be supported by loyal readers and cool people all around Texas.  Evan Smith, the editor of Texas Monthly, was recruited to be CEO and executive editor of the Texas Tribune.  

As time has progressed, from that beginning in 2009, it seems the whole not for profit thing was harder than expected.  The answer to a need for a bigger cash flow?  Advertisement dollars.  Sponsorships, too.

If the readership of the Texas Tribune were to ever put together all of the relationships and fundraising and money making functionalities of the operation, they could be forgiven for their skepticism about the credibility of the journalism. The Trib is, by almost any definition, a pay for play operation, a digital protection racket where donations and sponsorships will prevent scrutiny of your issues and operations. And readers will never know what’s missing.
Mr. Moore, a seasoned political and media consultant, gives example after example of a descent into a pay for play system for journalism.  Whether it is round table discussions to promote a lobbyist's pet project or a panel discussion at their annual event -  Texas Tribune Festival - the deck appears to be stacked in favor of those writing the advertising and sponsorship checks.  

It is not unusual in conservative circles for the Texas Tribune to be called a liberal publication.  The question is why the journalists in Austin, in particular, allow this to continue.  Why haven't there been stories about this before Mr. Moore put the pieces together?  Are ethics in journalism dead?

No one has written about the Tribune’s hypocrisies and contradictions with any detail simply because they feared sounding petty or self-serving. Texas newspapers, some of which use the Tribune’s stories, can hardly be expected to criticize an editorial service they use or to publicly whine about unfair competition. The Quorum Report and Capitol Inside could expect its lobby and legislative information sources to go quiet because they, too, must function in a culture of cooperation that is implicit in the way business is conducted by the Texas Tribune. Politics is a cruel game. Journalism is not supposed to play it, though. Reporters are expected to cast little lights into dark corners and illuminate the way government works and who has influenced its decisions. The Texas Tribune rarely lives up to that mandate and, instead, takes big cash from the people and institutions it is supposed to hold accountable. Money is coming in the door as fast as integrity and credibility are running out. 
A conservative alternative to the Texas Tribune is now in play in Texas.  Rather quietly, Breitbart News launched Breitbart Texas.  Reading the list of contributors, it looks to be a mix of a couple of true reporters along with a couple of political bloggers and gadflys, a filmmaker, and a lobbyist who 'scores' the votes of the Austin crowd in hopes of getting his message out to voters.  What could go wrong?

Lots. Maybe their fate will not be the same as that now of the Texas Tribune. Keep your eyes open and pay attention to who is writing about what topic.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Simpson and Woodfill Spar Over Pay for Play Endorsements

A couple of interesting political events this week have brought about even more interesting results. The hot topic remains the issue of the pay for play endorsement slates in the Harris County Republican primary.

On Tuesday, February 11, 2014, the Harris County Republican Party Executive Committee met and a resolution was passed condemning the pay for play endorsement slate system. The resolution is the product of a conservative blogger.  As written in Big Jolly Politics:
Precinct Chair Greg Aydt, who started working on the resolution a couple of weeks ago and gathered six co-sponsors to help passage, deserves major kudos for making this happen. Greg also happens to be a prolific conservative blogger at RhymesWithRight ...

Here is the resolution:

WHEREAS the Republican Party has long taken the lead in fighting for the integrity of the electoral process, andWHEREAS the 2012 Republican Party of Texas platform opposes conflicts of interest in the form of attempting to influence votes by appointed or elected officials on behalf of paying clients, and
WHEREAS the 2012 Republican Party Platform calls upon "every citizen. . . to preserve the integrity of the vote", and
WHEREAS we recognize that the appearance of impropriety is itself a form of impropriety, and such appearances in campaign and electoral practices undermine the confidence of voters in the integrity of our electoral system,
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Harris County Republican Party condemns the practice of "pay to play" endorsements, in which supposedly independent individuals, groups, or organizations request, solicit or require any fee, payment, or contribution as a condition of making or publicizing said endorsement;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Harris County Republican Party opposes the practice of groups, clubs, or organizations requiring candidates for office to pay a sum of money as a condition of being placed on the ballot for any straw poll, whether this is called a fee, contribution, sponsorship, or any other name;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Harris County Republican Party urges all elected or appointed officials of the Harris County Republican Party, Republican Party of Texas, Republican National Committee and any affiliated or associated club or organization to refrain from offering endorsements of any primary candidate when the candidate is a paying client;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Harris County Republican Party opposes the practice of providing money to "politiqueras" or other paid agents of campaigns so that they may provide money or any other thing of value to a voter in return for casting a ballot for a candidate;
AND BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED THAT the text of this resolution shall be posted under the "Voter Info" section of the Harris County Republican Party website within 48 hours of its adoption by the Executive Committee. Furthermore, within one week of its adoption a copy of this resolution shall be distributed to all candidates currently seeking a contested or uncontested nomination in the Republican primary and that it shall be distributed to all candidates at the time of filing for office in all future Republican primaries.
Greg Aydt -- Precinct 333
Rudy Balciunas -- Precinct 473
Cyndi Lawrence -- Precinct 804
Dee Carroll -- Precinct 728
Ed Sarlls -- Precinct 644
Jeff Larson -- Precinct 349
David Wilson -- Precinct 923

Pretty straightforward, right?  As you can imagine, the small group of men who profit off this corrupt system are not pleased.  You will note that in the last of the resolution, a call to post the resolution on the Harris County Republican Party (HCRP) website is made, as well as distribution to all candidates currently seeking the party's nomination in the Republican primary.  That has now brought about a threat of legal action should the chairman move on it.

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle has published an interview with Greg, the conservative blogger, and his resolution.  That's right.  Greg is a school teacher on the east side of town.  He's a regular guy teaching the next generation a course in Government.  Leading by example, he is participating in local politics and working for ethical change.

Wednesday night, February 12, 2014, the Texas Asian Republican Club (TARC) held a forum for the two Republican candidates in the Tx District 149 race and for two Republicans on the ballot for Harris County Republican Party chairman.  Current chairman Jared Woodfill and challenger Paul Simpson participated.   Woodfill, while explaining payments to those who endorse in mailers or a newsletter, brought in the name of a party activist who challenged Woodfill in a past race for HCRP chairman. In the case of this person, he used his former challenger's name as an example of one who ran for the office and when he wasn't successful, continued to work with the party and for the benefit of the party, unlike how he characterized Simpson, who is now challenging Woodfill for the third time.  Simpson has his own questions to answer on participating in the pay for play system, as he did give money to one of the big three participants in this corrupt practice.  If a candidate is to speak out about a system while it is a popular topic of conversation, yet then participate in that system, however limited, questions arise.  The only way to kill off the system is for all candidates to refuse to participate.  As long as some do, others will see the real challenge of ignoring the system in place.

Thursday, February 13, 2014, the Texas Conservative Review went out via email.  Along with updates on endorsements, the piece went on the attack against those speaking up against pay for play slates.  Just like clockwork.  And, conveniently, the author also drags in the name of a former challenger of Mr. Woodfill in a previous race.  The author of this email claims it is those who are not endorsed by the system that are now coming out against it.  That is a shallow explanation.  Those who have run for elected office and have spoken with the men who endorse with the payment system see first hand how it works.  Who better to speak against it?  What the author doesn't tell the reader is that the corrupt pay for play slates system discourages good men and women from running for office - especially is the slates are predisposed to endorse others in the race.  Cronyism is alive and well with little room for fresh faces and ideas to keep the Republican party healthy in Harris County.

The fact of the matter is that Harris County is the only county in Texas to be in this mess.  Harris County is one of a very few counties in the whole country to allow the corruption of pay to play come in and take over.  It is not the norm, no matter how the men in charge of this system try to justify it.  That is just lipstick on a pig.

It's big money, don't kid yourself.  It is not thousands of dollars at play here.  It is hundreds of thousands of dollars.  There is already an action in play to take this act on the road - some involved want to take their system statewide.  It has to be stopped.  Texas is on the brink of some really ugly times for Republicans.  There is no time to waste.

HCRP should have condemned this process long ago.  Thanks to a conservative blogger who wrote the resolution and organized support for it,  HCRP is now on record against the pay for play endorsement system.  Now the candidates must step up and say no.  They must go back to campaigning and meeting the voters.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Harless Smacks Scofield in Tx District 132 Race

A hot topic in political circles recently is the explanation of and criticism of the corrupt pay for play system that has consumed Harris County Republican politics for far too long.  A small group of men set the prices for candidates to pay them for endorsements in Republican primary races.

This issue has been spoken of in the past and even during some recent election cycles, with little being done to end the practice that is having the effect of turning Harris county from a 'red' county to a 'blue' county.  The system stifles good, viable candidates from running for office.  The system produces a very lazy way of governing - candidates feel obliged to take part in the system to win an election and the voters simply take the slate of their choice to the polls when voting day rolls around.

The latest criticism has come from a different source - not a blogger or a reporter - but an elected official currently serving in the Texas House of Representatives. Rep Patricia Harless first exposed a chain of emails that named names and exposed some nasty plotting of some of the people leading the politics of Texas Senate District 7.  I wrote about it HERE.  Others did, too, and the buzz generated around political circles and meetings.

Thursday, Texas Representative Patricia Harless (Tx Dist 126) came out with another swing at the corrupt Harris County Republican Party's pay for play system with THIS interview.  In specific, she addressed a Republican primary race in the Katy area - District 132.  She spoke about one candidate in particular, as his is a story of shopping for a district in which to run for elected office. I know he shopped for the district because the man was a resident of my own district - my own subdivision, in fact - in his last foray into seeking an elected political office.  He was unsuccessful in that election cycle running in his home district and it is no secret he wasted no time shopping around for another district which might present an opportunity for him.  He has the support of the pay for play slates.  Surprise, surprise.

I would like to take this opportunity - while the topic is hot - to point out that there is an established group who has taken on this corruption since the early 1990's.  The group is United Republicans of Harris County.  I have written about this political action committee (PAC) in previous posts, the last one is HERE.

Full disclosure:  I am a member of the Board of Directors of United Republicans of Harris County.

So, there is a vehicle in place to fight the corrupt pay for play system, if only enough people would pay attention and support United Republicans of Harris County.  Each primary election, except in citywide races, United Republicans of Harris County puts out a list of endorsements in contested Republican primary races.  Candidates are interviewed and questionnaires are studied.  It is a long and tedious process, but it is necessary to be an informed voter.  The Board of Directors then votes on endorsements.  Sometimes no endorsement is made.  Occasionally a double endorsement is made.  There is no easy way out here.

Your vote is valuable.  Your vote is your contribution to our democratic system.  Voting participation is at an all time low.  You can make a difference.

I encourage everyone concerned about the corrupt pay for play system in place in Harris County - that should be every voter except maybe that handful of men living comfortably off the candidates - to get active.  One way to start is to attend events hosted by United Republicans of Harris County and also to contribute financial support so that the endorsements can reach the maximum number of Republican voters possible.

For more than two decades now, United Republicans of Harris County has toiled away, doing the work necessary to make a better Republican party in the county and electing the most qualified candidates to elected office.  It is time for all to step up and show support with a presence at events and financial donations, too.  I encourage you to do so sooner rather than later.  There is no more time to waste.

Do the right thing.  Make a difference.  As Harris county goes, so goes Texas.