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Thursday, October 09, 2003

Crackpot payoff update

Tim Fleck of the Houston Press has this story about Brenda Flores and the "two Bill Whites" scam.  Fleck's story contains a few more colorful details about the personalities involved — with the conspicuous exception of Janie Reyes, the Metro board member who also accompanied the real Bill White and Congressman Chris Bell on their visit to Reyes to persuade her to abandon her scheme.  Maybe she's just not talking, or maybe she hasn't been asked, but I'd be curious to hear her take on how she came to be involved, why she was at the meeting, and what happened.  According to Flick's story,

Flores claimed the initial plan she worked out with [Sylvester Turner campaign consultant Doris] Hubbard was to recruit a white male to run for mayor who was not a supporter of candidate White, had the same name and did not have a criminal record. She says that even with nearly 90 Bill Whites in the Houston area, it turned out to be an impossible task.

There's a suggestion that Flores had begun having second thoughts even before the White-Bell-Reyes visit to her home:

As the deadline approached, Flores began to regret her involvement and claims she told Hubbard she would not produce Bogus Bill's signed filing papers.

Flores says Hubbard called her house several times, demanding that "the papers" be turned over to the Turner campaign. A recording of one of the calls was murky, and The Insider could not confirm that it was the voice of Hubbard.

In her 90-minute meeting with White and his friends, Flores promised not to go through with the scheme. She claimed she feared for the safety of herself and her children if she did not return the money Hubbard allegedly gave her.

The Houston Chronicle also has an update saying that Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal has started an investigation into the matter, but is unlikely to take any action until after the November 4th mayoral election.

Both Charles Kuffner and Kevin Whited have discussions up about this story (here and here), including an interesting question Kuff posed for Kevin in comments:  "[G]iven that White's campaign has a lot of self-funding, does your opinion change if the funds he used to cut her a check came out of his own money?"  Kevin's response, in part, was that he could understand if White said something like, "Because campaign finance laws are what they are, I couldn't just write her a personal check — then someone might call it a payoff. So I wrote a check from campaign funds, some of which I've given my own campaign."  My first reaction was just the opposite — that if White's motivation was charity, he ought to have written a personal check; reimbursing (indeed, over-reimbursing) Flores for her undocumented "expenses" incurred in a scheme to torpedo his own campaign is hardly a legitimate campaign expense!  He could have made public disclosure of a personal contribution, and his explanation would have been more coherent and self-consistent. 

But it still wouldn't have been convincing.  Politics aside, I believe Bill White is a nice guy and a sincere populist.  But you would have to be an absolute saint to not only forgive Flores' scheming but then become her private savior, benefactor, and financier.  It just doesn't compute.  It looks like hush money — and yet, why is it the White campaign that would want to cover this up, instead of the Turner campaign?

Kevin explains why he finds the $5k payoff disturbing:

The reason this is an issue of interest is that Bill White claims to be a financial wiz. In the debate last night, he tried to show up Orlando Sanchez by pointing out that Sanchez couldn't name the city's bond rating, but he could; he claimed that's a crucial piece of knowledge for a mayoral candidate (he's wrong on that last, by the way, but that's another topic). But it undermines Mr. White's credibility on financial matters when he just hands over $5,000 of campaign donations to an unstable, muckraking loon! That's not my idea of fiscal responsibility.

I agree with this point.  But I also remain troubled by the point raised, incredibly enough, by Turner during the debate:   If all the facts are on the table, then there's no good reason why White, Bell, and Reyes shouldn't have referred Flores to the police — or indeed, gone to the police themselves!  Maybe Turner has the Gary Hart bold-foolish gene and is guilty as sin while shamelessly still taunting White about this.  I just dunno. 

But the Bill White I thought I knew — the one I worked for when he was editor-in-chief of the Texas Law Review in 1978-1979, who graduated near or at the top of his class and then went on to be a fabulously successful trial lawyer, businessman, and political appointee — just isn't stupid enough to have done what he seems to have done for the skimpy reasons he claims to have been motivated by.  So I still have a feeling that something just isn't right here, and that there's more to the story than we know yet. 

Posted by Beldar at 07:08 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


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(1) Greg V. made the following comment | Oct 10, 2003 10:10:35 AM | Permalink

>>Flores claimed the initial plan she worked out with [Sylvester Turner campaign consultant Doris] Hubbard was to recruit a white male to run for mayor who was not a supporter of candidate White, had the same name and did not have a criminal record.<<

Why did the fake Bill White have to be a white male? Wouldn't the name of a fake black Bill White have been just as confusing on the ballot?

(2) kevin whited made the following comment | Oct 10, 2003 4:58:07 PM | Permalink

But it still wouldn't have been convincing.

Confounding, isn't it?

I'm trying to be analytical, and for the life of me, I still can't come up with any real reason for White to have paid this woman off this way. Maybe Congressman Bell brokered this deal somehow, but demanded everyone keep it quiet. But I still wonder -- why?

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