With a new TV ad, an independent anti-incumbent super PAC is lobbing allegations of corruption into the congressional primary race heating up in El Paso, Texas.
The spot from the Campaign for Primary Accountability portrays Rep. Silvestre Reyes, an eight-term Democrat in the House of Representatives, as an out-of-touch politician who has used his office to line his family members' pockets. It's pegged to the increasingly messy May 29 primary between Reyes and Beto O'Rourke, a former El Paso City Councilmember who is mounting what appears to be a serious challenge.
On Sunday, the El Paso Times reported that Reyes' campaign spent $469.71 on five "campaign meetings" in the House of Representatives' member dining room. The paper noted that these meetings "appeared to be ethics violations," since they used a congressional building for campaign purposes. Reyes's spokesperson responded that the campaign disclosure was "miscoded."
The Campaign for Primary Accountability hopes to give Reyes an extra shove out the door with its new ad, which is playing on broadcast TV in El Paso. So far the super PAC has dropped $50,000 on the race, and spokesman Curtis Ellis told The Huffington Post it plans to spend more.
Among other attacks, the ad rehashes one issue that has dogged Reyes thus far: Over the past two election cycles, he doled out $600,000, more than any other member of Congress, to himself and family members for campaign, consulting and other purposes. Many if not all of those payments may be legal, but Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group that documented them, says they exemplify the nepotism that's rampant in Washington.
Reyes, however, is not taking the attacks sitting down -- indeed, he's slinging allegations back. In a lengthy statement released by his campaign, he blasted the super PAC and claimed that O'Rourke has a "criminal record":
The Campaign for Primary Accountability today is attempting to buy a seat in Congress for Beto O’Rourke so he can represent those who want to buy El Paso. El Paso is not for sale. They, along with O’Rourke will do and say anything to get him elected -- a man who has a criminal record, is not a true Democrat, wants to legalize drug-use and has a checkered past -- to be our representative in Congress.
All reimbursements for campaign expenditures to me and my campaign staff are within the law and properly documented and processed per Federal Election Commission’s rules and regulations.
O'Rourke was arrested twice in El Paso in the 1990s according to county records -- once for a DWI and another time for a misdemeanor -- but both cases were either declined or dismissed. And the DWI will hardly be news to many El Pasoans: O'Rourke acknowledged and apologized for it when he ran for El Paso City Council in 2004.
"I made a mistake," O'Rourke told HuffPost Wednesday. "If you look at my public record since then, I've started a business that's employed dozens of El Pasoans in high wage, high technology jobs, I've served on the City Council, and I'm raising three children with my wife."
In his statement, Reyes also pointed out that O'Rourke's father-in-law has donated to the Campaign for Primary Accountability. O'Rourke has said he has no contact with the super PAC and opposes the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to independent expenditures in federal political races.
Three more men are running in the 16th District Democratic primary -- Paul Johnson, Jr., Ben Mendoza and Jerome Tlighman -- but Reyes and O'Rourke are expected to be the most competitive. The winner of the primary will be the heavy favorite to represent the Democratic-leaning district in Congress; Reyes won with 58 percent of the vote in the 2010 general election.