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Among three Republicans from southwest Travis County running for a seat in the Texas House, lawyer David Sewell calls himself "the true conservative."
Need an indicator? In a campaign flier that hit mailboxes Feb. 22, he claims to "never" donate to Democrats while accusing his opponent, businessman Paul Workman, of padding Democratic warchests.
"Paul Workman contributes to Democrat Kirk Watson and other Democrats running against Republicans," the flier states.
Them's fighting words. Does Sewell have it right?
Let's start with the attack on Workman.
Chad Wilbanks, a consultant for the Sewell campaign, pointed us to the Texas Ethics Commission's campaign finance reports that show Workman made contributions to state Sen. Kirk Watson, former state comptroller and U.S. Senate candidate John Sharp, former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, and state Reps. Patrick Rose and Dawnna Dukes — all Democrats.
Eric Bearse, a consultant for Workman's campaign, said that in each instance, Workman gave to Democrats who had "no or nominal Republican opposition."
We looked at how much Workman donated to the aforementioned Democrats and which Republicans they were running against at the time.
Watson: According to campaign finance reports, Workman donated $350 to his campaign before the 2006 November election. Watson was unopposed in the Democratic primary and faced Libertarian Robert "Rock" Howard in the general elections. No Republicans joined the race, which Watson won with 80 percent of the vote. Workman donated another $250 in 2007, less than a year into Watson's four-year term.
Sharp: Workman donated $200 to his campaign in 2002 before the former state comptroller lost a November bid for lieutenant governor to Republican David Dewhurst.
Rose: In 2006, Workman donated $100 to Rose's campaign. Rose won re-election to his House seat with 60 percent of the vote, swamping Republican Jim Neuhaus and Libertarian Tom Gleinser. In 2008, Workman gave $250 to Rose, who went on to beat Republican Matt Young and Gleinser with 59 percent of the vote.
Dukes: Workman gave $100 to her campaign in 2006. She won re-election to her House seat after winning 85 percent of the vote against Independent Richard Wedeikes.
Laney: Workman donated $250 to Laney's campaign in 2000 when Laney was unopposed in November for re-election to his House seat.
Clearly, Workman made donations to Democrats — Sharp and Rose — who ran against Republicans.
Next, let's check Sewell's claim that he never donated to Democrats.
Our search of campaign finance reports filed with the ethics commission didn't find any donations to Democrats by Sewell. Yet we found that Stahl, Bernal & Davies, the law firm where Sewell is a partner, has contributed to Democrats, notably donating at least $5,000 to Democratic judges since Sewell started working at the firm as a clerk in 1998.
Among other contributions during the past decade, the firm gave $800 before the 2000 general election to Democrat Woodie Jones, who lost to Republican David Puryear for the Third Court of Appeals. Before the 2008 election, the firm gave $750 to Jones who wound up besting Republican incumbent Ken Law for a seat on the Third Court of Appeals.
Wilbanks said a portion of money that the firm's partners make each year is diverted to a company account from which each partner can independently spend money on political contributions in the firm's name.
"David does not support contributions to Democrats from the firm," said Wilbanks, his campaign consultant. We couldn't confirm Wilbanks' claim; the law firm declined to comment.
Where does that leave us with the declarations in Sewell's mailer?
Workman donated to Democratic candidates at least seven times leading up to general elections. Republicans were challenging the Workman-backed Democrats in three of the races. But Watson was never running against a Republican when he donated to Watson, as Sewell's claim implies.
As for Sewell, we found no evidence that he has contributed to Democrats in his own name. Still, his firm has contributed to Democrats — running against Republicans — throughout Sewell's time there.
We rate Sewell's statement as Half True.
Interview with Chad Wilbanks, consultant for David Sewell's campaign, Feb. 24, 2010
E-mail interview with Eric Bearse, consultant for Paul Workman's campaign, Feb. 24, 2010
Texas Tribune, State Sen. Kirk Watson, District 14 (D), accessed Feb. 24, 2010
Office of the Secretary of State, 1992-current election history, accessed Feb. 25, 2010
Texas Ethics Commission, Campaign finance contributions from Paul Workman, accessed Feb. 24, 2010
Texas Ethics Commission, Campaign finance contributions for David Sewell, accessed Feb. 24, 2010
Texas Ethics Commission, Campaign finance contributions for Stahl Bernal & Davies, accessed Feb. 24, 2010
Texas Ethics Commission, Campaign finance contributions for Stahl Martens & Bernal, accessed Feb. 24, 2010
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