Friday, May 19, 2006

Politics and Religion in the Lone Star State - a Texas Freedom Network Report

Vince at Capitol Annex highlights the first of what promises to be an annual report from the Texas Freedom Network: The State of the Religious Right: 2006. The sixty page report is fascinating, and worth a careful read, but what caught my eye was Chapter Two, "James Leininger: Sugar Daddy of the Religious Right."

The religious right's takeover of the Republican Party of Texas in the 1990s succeeded largely through the efforts of legions of grassroots foot soldiers who began their campaign at the precinct level. Yet it has taken money - a lot of it - to solidify that control and push a hard-right political agenda in the halls of Texas government. No other political donor on the religious right has been more important to that effort than Dr. James Leininger.....

Since the 1990's, for example, tens of thousands of dollars have flowed from Dr. Leininger and political action committees he has funded into the campaigns of social conservatives seeking seats on the State Board of Education (SBOE)....

As a result, pitched battles over controversial social issues now overshadow the board's primary responsibility to ensure that text books confirm to basic curriculum standards. Indeed, social conservatives on the board continue to use debates over textbook adoptions - in courses such as health, literature, history and science - to press campaigns against homosexuality, sex education, the theory of evolution and other demons of the religious right.

A list of PACs founded or backed by Leininger include: Texans for Justice, Texans for Judicial Integrity, the Committee for Governmental Integrity, Entertainment PAC, Texans for Governmental Integrity, and one that played an important part in the Republican primary and run-off elections for State Representative District Seat 63, The Future of Texas Alliance.

During the March 2006 primary election campaign, Dr. Leininger poured more than $2.3 million into just two new political action committees, the Texas Republican Legislation Campaign Committee and the Future of Texas Alliance. His contributions accounted for all but a tiny fraction of each PAC's receipt. Those PAC's then spent that money to support challenges to five anti-voucher Republican incumbent House members as well as pro-voucher incumbents who were trying to fight off challenges from advocates for public schools.

Dr. Leininger succeeded in knocking off just two anti-voucher Republicans in the primary.

Many pro-education groups interpreted the weak showing of Leininger-backed candidates as a sign that the tide is turning in favor of moderates in the education debate. Unfortunately for Denton County, one of Leininger's targets was Anne Lakusta, who lost to Tan Parker in an incredibly close run-off election, losing by just 48 votes. According to the news reports, Lakusta's name recognition and school board experience fell to Parker's superior fund-raising. The majority of Parker's contributions came from donors outside the county, including Leininger, whose Future of Texas Alliance gave a $8,025 in-kind contribution used for research.

For the six degrees of separation of James Leininger, check out the TFN's web of influence chart. Other chapters in the report cover God's Own Party, the Texas Restoration Project and David Barton.

1 comment:

Bradley Bowen said...

When I have some spare time I'll try and read this report. You need to check out the June issue of Texas Monthly because they have a feature story on Leininger.