Trying to Weigh the Value of Voter Guides

Trying to Weigh the Value of Voter Guides

Ross Ramsey, the executive editor of The Texas Tribune, writes a regular column for The Tribune.

Republican candidates seeking office in Harris County must contend with a bit of old-school politics in the form of conservative groups endorsing slates of candidates and sending the lists to tens of thousands of primary voters.

The publishers of the slate cards will quickly tell you that the number of voters who get the cards is much bigger than that  — 200,000 or even 300,000.

Some mailings, like one called The Link Letter and another from the Conservative Republicans of Texas, are plain slate cards —  listings of the people who carry the endorsement of the organization, mailed with money paid to the publishers by or on behalf of the candidates. Others, like the Texas Conservative Review, a magazine that will be published before voting begins later this month, include advertising by candidates — some of whom carry the publication’s endorsement.

Most candidates are loath to talk about the slates, especially before they see the endorsements.

“I guess they’ve looked at my finance reports,” said Debra Medina, a candidate for state comptroller whose campaign coffers are dwarfed by her competitors. “There’s no point calling Debra and asking if she’s interested in this. I’ve never been contacted by them.”

She and others refer to the slates as “pay-to-play” operations — there is a general feeling among candidates that the endorsements are often contingent on whether the endorsers collect direct or indirect payments from the endorsees. The slate cards persist because the endorsements are useful to the thousands of Republican primary voters who receive them. If they were meaningless, nobody would play.

Gary Polland, who has been publishing the Texas Conservative Review for 13 years, says he allows candidates who are not endorsed by the group to pull their ads and get their money back before publication. “Anyone who wants to buy an ad can buy an ad,” he said. “It has nothing to do with…Continued here:

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