The Kingdom and the Power

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This spring, Harmon's PAC received $15,000 contributions each from the campaigns of Michael Fleming and his ally, Commissioner Steve Radack. Commissioner Jerry Eversole also kicked in $5,000. That money was then packaged along with $70,000 in other contributions and given by Harmon's PAC to Citizens for American Restoration and Harris County Conservative Republicans.

"They don't want to be associated with Hotze's name, but they want his political help," says one consultant of the donors to Harmon's PAC. Harmon, naturally, has a different take on his political marriage with Hotze. He characterizes the partnership as a joint effort to elect the best, most conservative Republicans possible. Since judicial candidates are prohibited from taking positions on issues that may come before their courts, Hotze, according to Harmon, does not question them in detail on their positions on such issues as abortion or gay rights.

The lawyer attributes Hotze's clout not to his command of a classic political machine, but rather to his standing among conservatives.

"Conservative Republicans have a lot of respect for his opinions," says Harmon, "and if Steve says 'Candidate A' is the most conservative, best qualified candidate, I think a lot of people who know Steve and know what he's been doing for years will accept his judgment on that." The Committee for a Well Qualified Judiciary does not issue its own endorsements, and Harmon says if it did he doubts it would have anywhere near the impact of Hotze's mailouts.

In shunting candidate contributions from his PAC to Hotze, Harmon claims he's actually functioning as an agent of party harmony. "I think some people had a concern, especially if they are in an elected position, that they don't want to publicly be supporting one wing of the party." Of course, says Harmon, anybody who checks campaign filings would figure out what was going on.

Radack indicates he was well aware of where his $15,000 was going when he gave it to Harmon's PAC, and he sees no downside in being identified with the doctor. As to why he didn't give it directly to Hotze, Radack offers the murky reply, "I wasn't absolutely sure that's where Harmon would spend it all."

Likewise, state District Judge Scott Link wasn't especially concerned when told his $10,000 to Harmon's PAC wound up in the Citizens for American Restoration account. "The fact that he funneled it on, if in fact it occurred, that does not surprise me," says Link. "I contribute money to various activities of folks that are interested in helping the Republican Party, and those are just two." Link points out that he has independently contributed to Hotze's PACs, so he obviously isn't afraid of being publicly linked with Hotze.

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."

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Tim Fleck
Contact: Tim Fleck