Democrats won’t try to keep Greens off the bal­lot

Law­suit now fo­cuses on re­veal­ing source of cash for ri­val party’s pe­ti­tion drive

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ja­son Em­bry

Texas Democrats changed course Wed­nes­day and stopped try­ing to keep the Green Party off the Novem­ber bal­lot, but they vowed to keep try­ing to find out who gave the Greens the money to get on the bal­lot in the first place.

Democrats are su­ing Green Party of­fi­cials and oth­ers in­volved in help­ing the party gather sig­na­tures to get the Greens on the bal­lot, say­ing the pe­ti­tion drive was an il­le­gal use of cor­po­rate money. As part of that law­suit, Democrats had asked the courts to block the Greens from the bal­lot.

Their request had been un­der re­view by the Texas Supreme Court. But Democrats with­drew that request Wed­nes­day in an ef­fort to prove that they are not try­ing to limit vot­ers’ choices in the elec­tion.

In­stead, Demo­cratic lawyers will fo­cus their suit on try­ing to de­ter­mine the donors to Take Ini­tia­tive Amer­ica, an out-of-state non­profit cor­po­ra­tion that paid a firm to col­lect more than 90,000 pe­ti­tion sig­na­tures to qual­ify the Green Party for the bal­lot. Take Ini­tia­tive Amer­ica has a num­ber of ties to Repub­li­cans.

“This case has never been ex­clu­sively about whether or not the Green Party gets on the

bal­lot,” said Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the Democrats. “That was a small part of it. The fo­cus in this case was dis­cov­er­ing all the vi­o­la­tions of the law and en­sur­ing that those re­spon­si­ble pay the nec­es­sary penal­ties.”

If the Democrats’ law­suit is suc­cess­ful, a judge could or­der Green Party of­fi­cials and those they worked with on the pe­ti­tion drive to pay Democrats hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in dam­ages.

Al­though the Greens still must file a re­sponse to the Democrats’ mo­tion to al­low them onto the bal­lot, that mo- tion is ex­pected to go through, clear­ing the way for Greens to have can­di­dates for gover­nor and other statewide of­fices for the first time since 2002.

“They’re go­ing to con­tinue to ha­rass our clients and in­no­cent third par­ties,” David Rogers, a lawyer for the Green Party, said of the Democrats. “But they have sur­ren­dered on what we think is the most im­por­tant is­sue.”

Al­though the rest of their statewide slate is un­proven, Democrats have high hopes for for­mer Hous­ton Mayor Bill White, who is try­ing to un­seat Repub­li­can Gov. Rick Perry. James Hen­son, di­rec­tor of the Texas Pol­i­tics project at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas, said he doubts the Green Party can­di­date will take many votes from White.

“I sus­pect that if the Democrats had in­ter­nal polling show­ing the Greens were re­ally go­ing to eat into White’s to­tal, they wouldn’t be so mag­nan­i­mous as this,” Hen­son said.

Al­though the pres­ence of a Green can­di­date in the race may do lit­tle harm to White, the larger law­suit against the Greens could give Repub­li­cans headaches. The suit has al­ready shown that a num­ber of Repub­li­can op­er­a­tives sought to help the Greens get on the bal­lot, prob­a­bly with the hope that Green nom­i­nees would siphon votes from Democrats.

In a court hear­ing last month, for­mer UT stu­dent Gar­rett Mize said lob­by­ist Mike Toomey, Perry’s close ally and for­mer chief of staff, per­son­ally paid him to try to gather sig­na­tures for the Greens. Stu­art Moss, who worked at the time for for­mer Perry speech writer Eric Bearse, put Toomey and Mize in touch, Mize said.

An e-mail that Democrats ob­tained through their law­suit showed that Repub­li­can op­er­a­tive An­thony Holm was in con­tact with Green Party of­fi­cials as they tried to gather sig­na­tures this year. Holm’s com­pany, the Pa­triot Group, re­ceived more than $90,000 from Perry’s cam­paign last year for technology con­sult­ing, al­though Holm said he was not in­volved with the firm’s work for Perry.

Perry’s cam­paign has de­nied in­volve­ment with the Green Party ef­fort.

Al­though the Greens filed can­di­dates in a num­ber of statewide races, the party has filed just a cou­ple of can­di­dates in leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sional con­tests.

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