Susan Rutherford, Harris County Republican Precinct Chair, talks to us in a Texas Politics segment about pay-to pay slates in Harris county and how they can skew a primary election. You can read a little more about this HERE and HERE.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Matt Register: Welcome back to the show. Texas Business Radio, texasbusinessradio.com, is the website. I’m your host, Matt Register. Jay Curry, my cohost had to step out. He’s going to join us here shortly. We’re going to jump right into it. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover this segment. We’re talking about Texas politics. Specifically, we’re talking about slates that get mailed out, and even more specific than that, the actual pay-to-play slates that are being sent out in Harris County.
We have Republican Precinct Chair for Precinct 217 in Harris County, Susan Rutherford. She’s also an election day judge. She’s our guest. Susan, welcome to the show.
Susan Rutherford: Thank you, Matt.
Matt Register: So, talk to me a little bit about these slates. First of all, what is a slate?
Susan Rutherford: A slate’s a mailer with a list of endorsed candidates. Many groups send out these mailers … We call them slates. Endorsement slates can be a very useful guide for primary voters.
Matt Register: Well, especially on down ballot races, right? I know, when I go in and vote, there’s a lot of people you’re voting for, most of which are names I’ve never even heard of, right?
Susan Rutherford: Oh, correct. I mean, in Harris County on this upcoming election, this primary, there are 178 candidates on the Harris County primary ballot.
Matt Register: Sure, so organizations or people, in some cases, will come together and come up with a list of preferred candidates and send out a list of, “Hey, here’s who we recommend you vote for.” Correct?
Susan Rutherford: Correct, right.
Matt Register: Now, that is a slate.
Susan Rutherford: Yes.
Matt Register: But specifically, Harris County has a unique issue in that we have several pay-to-play slates. We have several slates that are now … I guess we were talking during the break. The way that’s helpful to the community is an organization that examines every candidate and comes up with an opinion about them. But we have some other things going on in Harris County. I want you to tell me a little bit about that.
Susan Rutherford: Well, we do. Now, we have legitimate slates that are very respected, such as, here’s one, Houston Realtor Business Coalition, it’s great, Spring Branch Republicans. These are committees of members that have rules that vote on how to endorse. And they do not accept funds from the candidates.
Matt Register: Well, that’s the important piece right there, right?
Susan Rutherford: One of the distinctions.
Matt Register: Some of these slates that go out, the candidates actually have to write a check to be able to get on there, for the most part, right?
Susan Rutherford: Correct, correct. The other group of slates, we call them the Big 3 Endorsement Slates. They’re known negatively as the pay-to-play slates. They have a disproportionate influence on the primary voter because they send out these misleading vote mailers to every Republican primary voter in Harris County. I’ll show you here. There’s three of them. Here’s the first one, it’s the Conservative Republicans of Harris County or Conservative Republicans of Texas. This is produced by Steve Hotze. Then we have one called the Texas Conservative Review by Gary Polland. And then there’s the Link Letter by Terry Lowry.
Matt Register: Now these, there’s certainly nothing illegal about sending out a sample ballot or something.
Susan Rutherford: No.
Matt Register: But what is problematic, here, and I’ve heard from a lot of folks, why we brought you on, is I’ve heard from a lot of people that this is a problem in the Republican party in Harris County, Texas that these pay-to-play slates are going out. They look and almost purposely designed to look either officially from the party or look to mimic what some of these organizations that send out legitimate slates on. And this is purely a money-making opportunity for them, or maybe not purely, but it certainly is a money-making opportunity for them, right?
Susan Rutherford: Well, right. First of all, I’ll tell you how do they get their endorsements. These three, their endorsement process comes down to the personal opinion of each of these three men. There’s no review committee with rules. They’re not voting. They don’t often have interviews or questionnaires, and they also, importantly as we said, accept money. The candidate is asked to buy a costly ad, and usually when you purchase the ad, that confirms the endorsement. These pay-to-play slates have collected nearly $1 million in the last Republican primary. We’re talking a lot of money. And two of them are for profit businesses.
But they also deceive the voters. They’re misleading them when they pretend to be legitimate voter guides, when in reality, they’re three men who endorse based on their personal gain and their personal vendetta.
Matt Register: And really what they have created is, they’ve created the list. The send these slates out, sometimes with voter registration cards attached to it where you can get an absentee ballot, and seem to be targeting shut-ins and elderly and folks that will just blindly vote. For the bigger, statewide races it doesn’t have quite the impact, but some of these down ballot races it can have a very significant impact.
Susan Rutherford: No, it’s the down ballot races where they really can be very harmful. They prey on the older voters, the ones that vote at home by mail. You see these logos? This is very similar to the Republican party logo.
Matt Register: Sure.
Susan Rutherford: And then you look at this one … This is Hotze’s and here’s Texas Conservative Review, Gary Polland … He always puts boldly on every cover, ‘Official Voter’s Guide.’ There’s no-
Matt Register: Sure. It’s purposely built to look official, look like it came from the party, look like it’s something that is perhaps more than it is.
Susan Rutherford: Yeah. Many of our voters think this is an official Republican party endorsement list. And there’s nothing official about this. The Republican party is not allowed to endorse in a primary. So what’s this official? Official who? There’s no open board. There’s not a group. This is just a one-man show.
Matt Register: Right. Well, I mean very clearly the answer to this, and the anecdote to this is, if the voters take their time and go get educated on the candidates. But I’m telling you, nobody has time to go get educated on every single one of these races, right?
Susan Rutherford: No, which is why they have to rely on respected endorsement lists like the C Club, which is 100 conservative businessmen. Or Spring Branch Republicans. They’re great. And Houston Realtors business coalition. There’s a lot of very good slates that come from different areas of the Republican party, and they don’t accept money.
Matt Register: How do you know the difference? How does the average voter know the difference? Because, you know, accepting money for an endorsement … Now, I got it that it’s in the name of an advertisement and it’s other things, but your accepting money for an endorsement is problematic, right?
Susan Rutherford: To me, yes.
Matt Register: And to pass themself off as official, as something that is certainly mimicking the look of the Republican party or an official government source, is very problematic, right?
Susan Rutherford: Yes, it is. I mean, the Republican party headquarters get phone calls every primary season with people saying, “Well, who are you to endorse so-and-so?” And they have to say over and over, “We are not endorsing. These are not from the party office.”
Matt Register: Interesting.
Susan Rutherford: Yeah.
Matt Register: Now, what can be done to kind of minimize the effect of this, because this is skewing races all over the county.
Susan Rutherford: Well, we’re just trying to expose them. We’ve been trying this for years. I mean, we’ve got the Chronicle. They report things. They’re upset about it. The precinct chairs are trying to tell people trash these slates. Here, I’ll read you something Mark Jones, the Chair of the Department of Political Science at Rice University wrote, “These endorsements frequently have less to do with a candidate’s qualifications and conservative credentials, and more to do with the candidate’s willingness to pay to play.” That says it all.
Matt Register: Yeah. I agree. And I tell you what, we’re going to have linked, right there from texasbusinessradio.com some of these articles that are discussing some of this.
Susan Rutherford: Thank you.
Matt Register: Do your homework, guys. Don’t trust everything that comes into your mailbox. I mean, I think we’re all healthily skeptical of things we get in our email, but we need to be a little more skeptical of what comes into our mailbox. Do your homework, go out and vote, and make sure that your vote is counted. Susan Rutherford, Republican Precinct Chair for Precinct 217 in Harris County and election day judge. Thank you very much for joining us, Susan.
Susan Rutherford: Thank you.
Matt Register: We unfortunately are out of time. We do have to go take a break. We’re going to be back on the other side of the break with a whole lot more Texas Business Radio. Go to the website. You see the whole thing in beautiful High Definition video, and we’re going to have links to more information where you can learn about this. Very interesting. I don’t like it.
Alright, we’ll be back right after this. Don’t go anywhere.
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In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.