For years Harris County politics has been controlled by a small group of political operatives and consultants. Foremost among these is Steven Hotze, a doctor who heads an organization called the Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRT). The CRT and other groups Hotze is affiliated with send out mailers to voters that look like ballots, but as Big Jolly Politics points out, the candidates who appear on them help pay for their cost or contribute to the PAC. The mailers are designed to look like ballots, and they are pre-marked to indicate who the “right” candidates are.

The cost of producing the mailers this year was $457,643.74 and among the beneficiaries are state senator Dan Patrick and attorney general candidate Barry Smitherman. In effect, what the candidates are doing is purchasing political advertising, but what they are really doing is paying for an endorsement. The money that goes into this is considerable. George Ryan, of Ryan Co. gave CRT/Hotze $200,000, which is the largest single contribution from any party to any other party reported in 2014.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is no fan of the “pay to play” system. When I spoke to him, he told me, “We cannot allow a small number of individuals who put out slates to control the primary. [The remedy] is to elect a new party chairman; to support other groups to put out slates that are not paid for; and to have all candidates appeal to Republican voters to vote in the primary.”

This is a terrible system that is not illegal but is long overdue for reform. The system allows a small group of insider operatives to control Harris County elections and to profit from a system that borders on machine politics. It has been going on for years, and it needs to be stopped.