Top-dol­lar cham­pi­ons

With $2 mil­lion given this year, Hous­ton cou­ple has se­cured po­si­tion at sum­mit of Demo­cratic donors

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

HOUS­TON — Texas con­ser­va­tives will for­ever hold a spe­cial place in their hearts for 2003. Repub­li­cans took con­trol of the Leg­is­la­ture that year, cut state spend­ing and re­stricted jury awards in law­suits.

But 2003 made Steve Mostyn an­gry. The Hous­ton trial lawyer looked at how the new regime ap­proached state govern­ment and saw chil­dren los­ing state­funded health in­surance, col­lege tu­ition in­creas­ing and, yes, bar­ri­ers at the courthouse.

“It burned a hole in me pretty deep,” Mostyn said.

Mostyn has re­sponded in the years since by giv­ing money to Demo­cratic can­di­dates. And giv­ing and giv­ing. In the past cou­ple of elec­tion cy­cles, Mostyn (pro­nounced MOSS-tin) and his wife, Am­ber An­der­son Mostyn, have be­come per­haps the most im­por­tant donors in the Texas Demo­cratic Party.

Al­ready this year, the cou­ple and their law firm have con­trib- uted more than $2 mil­lion to can­di­dates and po­lit­i­cal groups, mostly to Democrats. The Mostyns, both 39, have quickly joined a hand­ful of Demo­cratic donors, usu­ally trial lawyers, who can step into a leg­isla­tive race and match busi­ness in­ter­ests on the Repub­li­can side dol­lar-for-dol­lar.

This year, for the first time, they are heav­ily en­gaged in the gover­nor’s race as well. Mostyn said he has put more than $1 mil­lion into a new po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee named Back to Ba­sics, which has pestered Gov. Rick Perry with two tele­vi­sion ads in the past month.

The Mostyns gave more than $500,000 to Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Bill White or the Demo­cratic Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion, a na­tional group help­ing White, and An­der­son Mostyn will soon launch a group that she says will back can­di­dates based on their sup­port for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

Their heavy in­volve­ment

does lit­tle to dis­pel the no­tion that, as Repub­li­can state House Speaker Joe Straus told the San An­to­nio Ex­press-News last year, “the Democrats are wholly owned by the trial lawyers.” Af­ter all, the cou­ple met while vol­un­teer­ing for the Texas Trial Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion dur­ing a leg­isla­tive ses­sion, and Mostyn is the group’s in­com­ing pres­i­dent.

He knows the stigma is out there, but he thinks it’s over­rated. For in­stance, Repub­li­can Lance Gooden took tens of thou­sands of dol­lars from trial lawyers in his pri­mary chal­lenge to East Texas Rep. Betty Brown this year, and Brown’s al­lies made sure vot­ers knew about it. But Gooden won any­way.

As An­der­son Mostyn said, “We are who we are.”

“The rea­son I’m a trial lawyer is I be­lieve in in­di­vid­ual ac­cess to courts and that the lit­tle guy should get a fair shake against an in­surance com­pany or a big cor­po­ra­tion. That’s what be­ing a Demo­crat is about for me, is lift­ing all boats. It’s re­ally all tied to­gether.”

The cou­ple say that re­cent Demo­cratic wins in places such as Round Rock and Mesquite show that the party can com­pete in tra­di­tion­ally Repub­li­can ar­eas if can­di­dates have enough money to paint a con­trast be­tween the par­ties.

Mostyn’s po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence comes from his suc­cess in the court­room. He doesn’t come from money. He grew up in the East Texas town of White­house, and he was the first in his fam­ily to get a col­lege de­gree.

It wasn’t long af­ter he grad­u­ated from South Texas Col­lege of Law that he saw the other lawyers in his firm were go­ing home well be­fore he did. So he struck out on his own and found suc­cess by rep­re­sent­ing peo­ple who wanted to sue their in­surance com­pa­nies, such as those who had mold or foun­da­tion prob­lems in their houses or who were de­nied cov­er­age by their health car­ri­ers.

When Hur­ri­cane Rita hit the Texas coast in 2005, Mostyn and his firm quickly stepped in to rep­re­sent home­own­ers who be­lieved their in­surance com­pa­nies had short­changed them. It was a nat­u­ral fit, Mostyn said, be­cause his work on mold and foun­da­tion cases was sim­i­lar.

Word spread quickly that Mostyn was be­com­ing the go-to lawyer for hur­ri­cane cases, and he even­tu­ally worked on 1,200 Rita claims. In case af­ter case, Mostyn ar­gued that in­surance com­pa­nies had un­der­paid prop­erty own­ers for their dam­age. And be­cause he took on so many cases at once, in­surance com­pa­nies could not just lit­i­gate a few home­own­ers un­til they ran out of time or money, he said.

“We have a pretty good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with all the ma­jor car­ri­ers now,” Mostyn, a burly for­mer foot­ball player wear­ing boots and jeans, said in an in­ter­view at his of­fice near Hous­ton’s Gal­le­ria. “I mean, they know. I tell them they cheated the peo­ple, and they don’t say, ‘OK,’ but they say, ‘How much did I cheat them?’”

Mostyn’s ex­ten­sive work on hur­ri­cane cases con­tin­ued when Ike hit Texas in Septem­ber 2008. Last week, he an­nounced a $189 mil­lion pro­posed set­tle­ment with the Texas Wind­storm In­surance As­so­ci­a­tion for 2,400 Galve­ston County prop­erty own­ers whose homes were de­stroyed by Ike. The as­so­ci­a­tion, also known as TWIA, is the in­surer of last re­sort for home­own­ers in coastal ar­eas most vul­ner­a­ble to hur­ri­canes.

Hous­ton trial lawyer Kurt Arnold worked with Mostyn on a case against an SUV man­u­fac­turer whose seats were se­verely over­heat­ing in ve­hi­cles mod­i­fied for peo­ple with paral­y­sis. Be­cause of his paral­y­sis, one client did not know how hot the seat was un­til he could smell his skin burn­ing.

“Steve is to­tally re­lent­less,” Arnold said. “Ev­ery day, ev­ery night was a new e-mail, a new mo­tion; he had dis­cov­ered some sort of doc­u­ment that had led him to a new trail of doc­u­ments. I’ve never seen a large auto man­u­fac­turer roll over and say un­cle like that.”

Mostyn’s drive can ir­ri­tate those on the other side of the ta­ble.

TWIA Gen­eral Man­ager Jim Oliver com­plained in a De­cem­ber let­ter to a leg­isla­tive over­sight panel that Mostyn had de­manded more than $86 mil­lion in le­gal fees for 315 cases it filed against the as­so­ci­a­tion, not in­clud­ing eco­nomic and puni­tive dam­ages.

“These de­mands came al­most al­ways at the very be­gin­ning of the law­suits, with no ex­pla­na­tion as to how attorneys’ fees could pos­si­bly be so high, so fast,” Oliver said, ac­cord­ing to the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle.

Mostyn re­sponded that Oliver was try­ing to dis­tract at­ten­tion from the as­so­ci­a­tion’s poor con­duct.

Mostyn has shown the same tenac­ity in pol­i­tics as in the courthouse. Whereas Dal­las trial lawyer Fred Baron, who died in 2008, con­trib­uted mil­lions to the party to re­build its in­fra­struc­ture, Mostyn said he is more fo­cused on in­di­vid­ual cam­paigns.

Mostyn doesn’t just sit in Hous­ton and write checks. Can­di­dates gen­er­ally ap­proach him for money. Be­fore he con­trib­utes, he or his wife will meet with them, usu­ally on the can­di­date’s home turf.

“If you see my name or Am­ber’s name on a con­tri­bu­tion, we’ve had the con­ver­sa­tion,” Mostyn said. “And it’s a con­ver­sa­tion of, ‘Tell me you’re go­ing to run a pro­fes­sional cam­paign, tell me what your plan is, tell me who your con­sul­tants are, tell me where you stand on some is­sues like ed­u­ca­tion and in­surance, and tell me who you think your district is.’”

He cringed at the no­tion that he’s an en­forcer of party pu­rity. But he has re­peat­edly con­trib­uted to can­di­dates who some­how strayed from the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship.

For ex­am­ple, in 2006 he gave about $70,000 to Brian Thomp­son in his un­suc­cess­ful bid to oust Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, in the Demo­cratic pri­mary. Dukes’ sup­port of then-Speaker Tom Crad­dick, R-Mid­land, an­gered Mostyn, and he said she wasn’t vot­ing her district. He has more pa­tience with Democrats who come from mod­er­ate dis­tricts.

Mostyn, who keeps an of­fice in Austin dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, doesn’t dis­pute that he is heav­ily in­volved in lawyer-re­lated is­sues through his role with the trial lawyers’ as­so­ci­a­tion. But he speaks at length about is­sues that have lit­tle to do with law­suit re­form, and he said his per­sonal con­tri­bu­tions are sep­a­rate from his work with the trial lawyers. For ex­am­ple, while many trial lawyers sup­ported the re-elec­tion of GOP Sen. Kim Brimer in 2008, the Mostyns sup­ported Demo­crat Wendy Davis, who de­feated Brimer.

Be­sides, his per­sonal stake in the leg­isla­tive process now goes be­yond le­gal is­sues. Mostyn has part own­er­ship of Lone Star Park, a horserac­ing track in Grand Prairie, and he says that ex­panded gam­bling at tracks is needed to keep the rac­ing in­dus­try alive in Texas.

Mostyn said he won’t stop giv­ing money to law­mak­ers whom he oth­er­wise sup­ports just be­cause they op­pose gam­bling. And, he said, he isn’t plan­ning to run for any­thing him­self.

“I think I have a much bet­ter im­pact on try­ing to get some of the re­forms we want by mak­ing money and be­ing able to fund some can­di­dates to get their mes­sage out,” he said.

Ri­cardo B. Brazz­iell

Am­ber An­der­son Mostyn and Steve Mostyn are top donors to Texas Democrats, able to match busi­ness in­ter­ests on the Repub­li­can side dol­lar-for-dol­lar. The cou­ple has put more than $1 mil­lion into a new po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee named Back to Ba­sics.

Ri­cardo B. Brazz­iell

Steve Mostyn grew up in the East Texas town of White­house, lives in Hous­ton and keeps an of­fice in Austin dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.