Several local Republican candidates have found themselves the targets of a political action committee (PAC) founded by Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn. The PAC, Back to Basics, has been largely criticized for their controversial political ads and websites, which Republicans say misrepresents the facts.
Mostyn initially provided most of the funding for the Back to Basics PAC, which has taken out a number of sensationalistic ads statewide and created several attack websites aimed at Republicans. On their Facebook page, the Back to Basics PAC is careful not to identify itself as a Democratic PAC. In fact, their stated rhetoric sounds like the state GOP platform: they advocate a cut in spending, lower taxes, an end to special interest influence, and a return to traditional Texas values.
“We demand that Austin stand up for families that work hard for every dollar,” the Back to Basics Facebook page states. “They starve our schools and shortchange our kids…It’s time to restore some plain common sense to that big, pink, domed building in Austin. It’s time to get back to basics.”
Mostyn, a trial lawyer from Houston, is one of the Democratic Party’s largest contributors, and has pledged to spend $3 million this year in an effort to defeat Gov. Rick Perry and elect Democratic candidates. His funding of the Back to Basics PAC helped underwrite their projects, including extensive advertising, websites, and YouTube videos. Mostyn made his name in the Texas law community by suing insurance companies over residential home mold claims. He also represented 315 homeowners who suffered losses during Hurricane Ike, while demanding $86 million in legal fees.
Back to Basics has targeted Dallas Republican Stefani Carter, who is running against incumbent Carol Kent for the Texas House of Representatives District 102 seat. A Back to Basics website called “Counterfeit Carter” claims Carter plagiarized a speech by Barack Obama.
Carter was recorded telling a local group that her candidacy was unlikely considering her background, and that America makes it possible to achieve one’s dreams without being rich. The phrase was similar to one in a speech given by Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Many dismissed the incident as a coincidence, but the website has tried to keep the controversy alive. The site also contends Carter lied about being a USA Today columnist, even though she was a guest columnist for the paper several times. Carter has degrees from Harvard Law, The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and The University of Texas.
Another Back to Basics website focuses on Irving State Rep. Linda Harper Brown (District 105) over the use of her husband’s company car. The car, a Mercedes Benz, is part of her husband’s compensation from his job with Durable Enterprises. Democrats have criticized Brown for using the car, because Durable has several contracts with the state. Brown is not required by law to report use of the vehicle, but the website mocks Brown as Linda Harper Benz.
Back to Basics is also behind a “Perry is a Coward” ad campaign, which criticizes the governor for refusing to debate Democratic opponent Bill White. Perry has stated he would not debate White until the former Houston Mayor released his personal finance records. The Houston Chronicle refused to run the “Coward” ads, which were widely criticized as over-the-line.
While Mostyn seems to devote much of his energy to digging up dirt on politicians, he often fights with journalists looking into his background. He recently sued to obtain the notes of journalists with the group Texas Watchdog, claiming they were a political front group posing as a non-profit. Texas Watchdog had been investigating Mostyn’s dealings with a state representative, and critics claimed Mostyn seemed intent on punishing them by running up their legal bills.
Local Republicans have criticized the tactics of Back to Basics and its websites as political mudslinging. Local Democrats have yet to speak out against Back to Basics or their efforts.