Writing delegates to the Texas GOP’s state convention, Aledo activist David Barton depicted House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio as out of line in his bipartisanship.
Barton, a former party vice chairman, levels nearly 20 charges in his letter, including: "Powerful Houston Democrats Sylvia Garcia (Democrat county commissioner in Harris County) and Elyse Lanier (wife of the former liberal Democrat mayor Bob Lanier) sponsored a Democrat fundraiser for Speaker Straus with numerous Democrat officials and high-ranking union officials."
Democrats passing the hat for the Republican speaker? We wanted details.
Barton subsequently told us in an e-mail: "I knew several of the key Democrats who put it together (including the head of the union based in Houston who was a principal in the event) and I also heard about it from influential business leaders who were invited to the event by Garcia and Lanier." He said guests were summoned by phone or e-mail.
Straus’s spokeswoman, Tracy Young, confirmed that Straus raised money for his campaign at a May 4, 2010 party held at the Laniers’ Houston home. Young said, though, the event was hosted by Harris County’s entire House delegation—not just Democrats. Also, she said, Garcia, the county commissioner, did not attend.
We reached Garcia, who said she was invited to the party, but couldn’t attend -- nor did she call or e-mail anyone to invite them. Barton’s suggestion that she did so, Garcia said, "is just not true." Asked if she’s a Straus supporter, Garcia replied: "Not really ... The only campaign I am worried about is the Sylvia Garcia re-election campaign."
By e-mail, Young forwarded a document inviting recipients to the "Bayou Tribute to Speaker Joe Straus." Under "Honorary Host Committee" it lists 29 Houston-area House members, 17 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
Young also shared a document titled "Host Committee" listing more than 30 sponsors of the event including Bob Perry and tort-reform advocate Dick Weekley, Houston homebuilders and major GOP donors; super-lobbyist Mike Toomey of Austin; beer distributor and donor John Nau of Houston and political action committees for law firms, pilots and oil and energy-related firms. The listed sponsors include a PAC for the United Transportation Union.
The Laniers are among eight identified underwriters of the party. While mayor of Houston, Bob Lanier was viewed as a Democrat, though the office is filled via non-partisan elections. The May event at the Lanier’s home, Young said, "wasn't a Democrat(ic) fundraiser - it was a bipartisan fundraiser."
How does all this add up?
Without a subpoena, we can’t determine whether Garcia invited others to the fundraiser, though it appears she did not attend.
The rest of Barton’s statement is notable for what it leaves out. For instance, it’s fair to say the Laniers sponsored the party. But so did more than two dozen other backers, including GOP benefactors. While "numerous" Democratic officials were listed as honorary hosts, so were many Republican officeholders.
As for "high-ranking union officials," we identified one union’s role. On the other side of the political spectrum Barton did not mention hosts such as Anadarko Petroleum PAC. That committee’s parent company is a partner BP oil well that blew in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also the biggest single corporate donor to Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
We weren’t given a list of guests so we could not assess their partisan affiliations. At the least, the Straus event does not appear to have been planned as the Democratic fundraiser Barton portrays. To the contrary, it may have underscored a reality of Texas politics: It behooves players of all stripes to make merry with the speaker.
We rate Barton’s sally Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.