The Kingdom and the Power

Money may be the root of all evil, but it's fueled Steven Hotze's rise from a fringe player on the religious right to kingmaker in the local Republican Party. Now he's trying to stretch his influence further afield.

County Judge Eckels says he wasn't aware that $10,000 of his campaign dollars wound up in Hotze's PACs, and he professes not to have thought about any downside in being associated with the doctor. Hotze did support Eckels in his primary battle against Katherine Tyra in 1994, a position that led Tyra to charge that Hotze was going with the money against a more conservative candidate. Eckels' willingness to meet with a gay organization, the Log Cabin Republicans, during the campaign somehow did not earn him the enmity Hotze generally holds for other candidates who associate with gay organizations.

Harmon denies that the candidates making contributions to his PAC are in effect trying to buy Hotze's endorsement or his help in avoiding future primary challengers. Of course, he adds, the endorsed candidates might then feel a responsibility to help pay for the postage and phone bills incurred by Hotze in getting his message out.

"Some candidates have money and some don't," says Harmon. "And yes, they are asked to contribute money to help pay to get the message out. But if they don't have the money, they don't contribute anything. There's no connection giving money and getting the endorsement." The formula works out this way: Hotze will promote his ideological soul mates for free, but mainstream candidates with the money must pay.

When Hotze and Harmon disagree on a candidate, the doctor knows best. A case in point was the spring primary for a state Court of Criminal Appeals nomination. Among the candidates were Brad Wiewel, who was backed by Hotze, and state District Judge Mike Kiesler of Dallas, Harmon's favorite. Neither won the statewide contest, although Hotze's endorsement helped Wiewel carry Harris County. Despite providing the funding for Hotze's machine, Harmon says he has to accept the doctor's decisions on who to support with the money. "I think Kiesler was better, but Steve made the call. I had to give in on that."

The Hotze that Harmon claims to know is the opposite of the devious, shifty, untruthful figure sketched out by Jones and Wong.

"He's really very engaging, very smart," says Harmon, who then pauses. "I don't think anybody you've talked to would say they don't like him."

Consultant Allen Blakemore is in a good position to discuss the angled relationships between Hotze, his political action committees and the private companies Hotze has set up.

Blakemore says he is paid by Hotze for political work, but you won't find the payments listed on any filing with the Texas Ethics Commission. His paychecks from Hotze, explains Blakemore, come directly from Forrest Marketing. Asked whether Forrest and Texas 2000 were created simply to keep Hotze's political activities out of the reporting process, Blakemore replies, "I believe so."

Hotze's PACs also pass money between themselves, leading Blakemore to crack that Hotze stuffs contributions he receives into whatever hole he needs to fill on a given day. To make things even more incomprehensible, Texas 2000 itself received a $1,000 political contribution from Harmon's Committee for a Well Qualified Judiciary, with no explanation how a private business could qualify for a campaign contribution.

The money train runs two ways between Blakemore and Hotze. Blakemore and Associates has contributed $19,500 over the past two years to Citizens for American Restoration and another of Hotze's PACs, Houston Republican Forum. Blakemore is credited on PAC filings with giving two checks totaling $7,000 to Citizens for American Restoration on the same day back in April 1994, though he claims the money was actually given over a longer period. That generosity made other consultants suspicious that what Blakemore was actually doing was laundering contributions from candidates he represents who don't want their names associated with Hotze.

Blakemore says that's not true. "It's illegal to accept a contribution for the purpose of giving it to someone else," he says, likening his contributions to the Hotze PACs to giving money to the Republican Party. "We see things going on that are of benefit to all of our clients and candidates and say this is part of the cost of doing business. It helps my people and helps me win elections." Somehow it didn't quite work that way for Martha Wong, who was shafted by Hotze despite having Blakemore as a consultant.

Another GOP candidate who's angry at Hotze is state senator-elect Jon Lindsay. The former county judge contributed heavily to the Committee for a Well Qualified Judiciary, which passed the money on to Hotze's operations. But Hotze endorsed Lindsay's opponent in the Republican primary, Jerry Dumas, who came within two points of beating Lindsay after benefiting from some of his campaign largess.

"Without Hotze's support, Dumas would have been a double digit loser," says one consultant with close ties to Lindsay.

If Frank Harmon hasn't found anybody who doesn't like Steve Hotze, he probably hasn't spoken with Betsy Lake for the past few years. A former Harris County Republican chair, Lake fought Hotze for control of the local party during her two terms, the first of which was largely consumed in a guerrilla war between the two. "If I could have used my energy toward doing positive things for the party rather than have to worry 24 hours a day about what Dr. Hotze and his inner circle of friends were up to," says Lake in a resigned tone, "what more we could have accomplished?"

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