The Insider

Tales of Cupit (Rhymes with Stupid)
The squirrelly adventures of Congressman Steve Stockman's frat-house band of consultants who call themselves Political Won Stop seem to know no limits. The Hill, a Congress-covering weekly in the nation's capital, first revealed that Stockman's re-election campaign had paid more than $126,000 to the consultancy, which is owned by 26-year-old Chris Cupit and 25-year-old Jason Posey and is listed on the congressman's campaign disclosures as having the same Whitman Way address as Stockman's combination home and election headquarters just outside Friendswood. More recently, The Hill reported that the address Political Won Stop used on its DBA filing in Brazoria County is a rental beach house at Surfside. Always up for a summer jaunt to the Gulf, The Insider motored down to Surfside over the weekend to discover that the rent house, which is named the Hide-a-Way and sits just down the road the from the Money Pit, was vacant. On our return, we talked to the owner of the Hide-a-Way, Houstonian Diane Hensley, who rented the house in the off-season to Cupit from last fall to early spring. Hensley, a Stockman supporter and unsuccessful legislative candidate this year, says she's known Cupit for two years and isn't surprised he listed the home as his place of business.

The Hide-a-Way certainly is an appropriately named location for a business run by the secrecy-obsessed Cupit, the Stockman operative and GOP nominee for Jefferson County tax collector-assessor whom we encountered on our unannounced visit to Stockman's home/campaign office two weeks ago. Cupit refused to identify himself and hid his face when a Press photographer approached. It's apparently typical behavior from Cupit, judging by the account of an advertising sales type who tried to sell the Stockman campaign some bumper stickers two days before we ventured into the grip of Stockmania.

The salesman says he contacted the Stockman headquarters "and got ahold of a man who wouldn't identify himself except by his first name, Chris." It took the salesman two weeks to get an appointment with the mysterious Chris, and only under circumstances that seem lifted from a spy novel. "He would not give me the address of his headquarters," recounts the salesman, "and he asked if I would meet him on the parking lot of the Burger King in Baybrook Mall." (Stockman's home/office is located in a subdivision behind the mall.) When the salesman finally rendezvoused with "Chris," the Stockman flunky again refused to give his last name but expressed interest in the batch of see-through, peel-off "Stockman for Congress" stickers the salesman had brought along to demonstrate. Chris refused to allow the salesman to put one of the stickers on his car and instead insisted they be handed over for future inspection, presumably by the congressman. At one point, Chris displayed a trace of envy by allowing that he wished he could afford the see-through numbers for his own campaign.

The salesman is still chuckling over the encounter. "I'm in my early seventies, and I've done business in Houston for over 35 years. It's the first time I ever made a sales pitch on the parking lot of a Burger King!" (He was later shown a photo of Chris Cupit and positively identified the stealth candidate as the phantom of the Burger King.) Their meeting was two weeks ago, and now the salesman can't get through to Chris. "The guy who answers the phone, who's a nitwit, says, 'What is this regarding?' Then he says, 'I don't know if he's here.' I say, 'Come on, kid, you're in a house and you don't know who comes through the front door?' "

Cupit also hasn't acquired much name identification in Beaumont, the seat of the county where he wants to be the head tax collector. When The Insider went on a Beaumont call-in show last week to debunk the false claims by Stockman that we had assaulted his campaign workers and terrorized his wife, the radio host, Jack Piper, was unfamiliar with Cupit and his candidacy. During Piper's show, we played an audio tape of our encounter with the Stockmanites at the congressman's home, which included our repeated question, "Is Chris Cupit here?" Afterward, a hard-of-hearing pro-Stockman caller rang up to chastise the liberal media for "calling people stupid." Why, she asked, did we have to call them stupid? Piper had to gently correct her: "It's Cupit, ma'am, not stupid."

Apex at Nadir?
State Senator Rodney Ellis' bond brokerage business, Apex Securities, seems to have fallen on hard times. Ellis and the firm's other principal, Richard Ramirez, have decided to part ways, apparently because the business can no longer afford Ramirez's six-figure salary. A downtown financial source blames falling interest rates for cutting into Apex's revenue flow.

Ramirez is just the latest of Ellis' partners to go his own way. Another former Apex principal, Bob Lanier near-confidant Jodie Jiles, left Ellis in the late eighties to work for the First Boston investment banking firm (he's now with Bear Stearn Co.). Ellis' former law partner, Michael Solar, split with Ellis two years ago in a dispute over bringing additional lawyers into the firm.

Ellis was on City Council when he founded Apex back in the mid-eighties with the assistance of city financial advisor Tom Masterson, a move that naturally raised accusations of a conflict of interest against the then councilman. Since then, Apex has regularly been one of the top ten municipal bond brokerages in Texas and one of the largest minority-owned bond firms in the country. Ellis is reportedly casting about for some less expensive executives to run the firm while he serves in the Senate.

On the Dole
A vigilant media watcher tells us that KPRC talk host Mike Richards has been shilling for Bob Dole on the air by giving an address where people can send contributions to Dole's presidential campaign. But a political programming expert for the Federal Communications Commission says there's apparently nothing illegal about a radio host playing fundraiser for a particular candidate. Over at the Federal Elections Commission, spokesman Ian Stirton says that Richards nonetheless might have to declare his fundraising plugs as in-kind contributions to the Dole campaign, although the FEC has never directly addressed the issue. Stirton also observes that the Dole campaign's big problem right now is that it's bumping up against federally imposed campaign spending limits, so Richards' fundraising efforts may not be doing the Republican any good. Richards did not return a call from The Insider, but KPRC general manager Dan Patrick tells us he wasn't aware Richards was acting as a barker for Dole. "I would probably prefer that we didn't," says Patrick, "although I leave each host to decide where he goes with his show."

Inside Out?
Inside Houston Magazine, the content-free print appendage of the video infomercial operation of the same name, is trying to stay afloat following the resignations of co-editors Ann Stone and Rod Evans. The pair and other staff members quit after being informed by management of a new work schedule: they would be laid-off for three weeks of every month but be expected to return to work each fourth week to put out the magazine. "As absurd as it sounds," confirms Stone, "that is exactly what we were told. We assumed that the last week we would be working approximately 24 hours a day." Stone and Evans declined that opportunity, and are busy job hunting this week.

Inside Houston bills itself as Houston's only monthly magazine and the city's second-largest publication. A promise of exposure in the magazine is part of the pitch to businesses who have to pay to be featured on the Inside Houston television show. Publisher Tom Burgess insists the magazine will come out at the end of the month. Inside Houston owner Don Touchet did not return a call from The Insider.

The Insider remains at large, so dial 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax).

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Tim Fleck
Contact: Tim Fleck