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Casting your political foe as a lobbyist — and hence beholden to some special interest — can make for explosive campaign fodder.
So it is that the Republican Party of Texas targets first-term state Rep. Kristi Thibaut, D-Houston. "Dem State Rep Kristi Thibaut was an #ACORN lobbyist," the party tweeted Aug. 31, linking to a web video. Earlier the same day, the party had tweeted: "Democrat State Rep. Kristi Thibaut, HD133, was a lobbyist for corrupt ACORN" and before that, "find out which Dem state Rep was a lobbyist for ACORN."
ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, dissolved in March 2010 after a video sting showed ACORN employees in one office telling people posing as a pimp and a prostitute how to conceal their criminal activities. The 40-year-old, liberal-leaning group, which sought more affordable housing options, a universal health care system and increased voter access, also faced questions — mainly from conservatives — about its voter registration drives.
Congress cut off federal funding to the group in September 2009.
When we asked the Republican Party to substantiate its claim, spokesman Bryan Preston pointed us to the website kristiworksforacorn.com, where the party posted its research. The web page features a photo of Thibaut with President Obama and links to the web video, which starts with a 2008 audio clip of Thibaut being asked about legislation she'd like to see passed in 2009. "There's a bill that we got behind and supported... we being ACORN," she says. "Being Acorn" is repeated in a sound loop, then the web video jumps to TV news coverage of the ACORN-related uproar.
The GOP notes that according to Thibaut's lobby report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, Thibaut was registered as an ACORN lobbyist in 2007, and expected to earn between $10,000 and $25,000. Also, Thibaut appeared April 25, 2007, on behalf of ACORN at a committee hearing about a proposed constitutional amendment related to home equity loans, according to a Texas House list of witnesses posted online.
Also noted on the GOP site: a Feb. 4, 2009, Texas Observer article profiling Thibaut and calling her an "ACORN activist" who unsuccessfully lobbied state lawmakers during the 2007 session for lower utility rates.
We confirmed each of the party's citations from state records.
Next, Keir Murray, a spokesman for Thibaut's campaign, told us Thibaut was a contract lobbyist for ACORN for the 2007 legislative session. Murray said she "specifically lobbied around the issue of utility rate reduction and affordable housing."
"She's proud of the work she did on behalf of low- and moderate-income Texans," he said. "We've never hid from this."
In an e-mail, Murray suggested the GOP attack is a red herring: "This is a real stretch to equate her work here in Texas, where ACORN was never, to my knowledge, implicated in any 'fraud,' with the salacious accusations leveled at the organization in other states."
There was no evidence of ACORN-driven voter registration fraud in Harris Country — Thibaut's home turf — according to a October 2008 Houston Chronicle article.
So, Thibaut lobbied for ACORN, as the GOP tweet says and her campaign acknowledges, though the linked web video associates Thibaut with ACORN's voter-registration fraud and tax evasion issues; there's no evidence of Thibaut having a connection to such activities.
Far as it goes, the GOP statement we reviewed is True.
Republican Party of Texas Twitter account, accessed Aug. 31, 2010
Texas Ethics Commission, 2007 Lobby list, accessed Sept. 2, 2010
Texas House, House Research Organization bill analysis, April 25, 2007
PolitiFact.com, Marco Rubio says Charlie Crist worked with ACORN to restore voting rights to felons, March 29, 2010
Houston Chronicle, ACORN voter sign-ups in Harris seem legitimate, Oct. 16, 2008
Congressional Research Service, PDF: ACORN investigations, Oct. 20, 2009
Interview with Bryan Preston, communications director, Republican Party of Texas, Aug. 31, 2010
Interview with Keir Murray, spokesman for Kristi Thibaut's campaign, Sept. 2, 2010
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