Incumbent Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez raised nearly $197,000 in political contributions in 2017 compared to the $2,000 contributed to Rene Guerra.
Rodriguez has also outspent his opponent 10 to 1 in political expenditures, according to campaign finance reports filed July 15, 2017, and Jan. 15 of this year. This period covers 2017 between January and December.
Rodriguez, who unseated Guerra in 2014 after winning 64 percent of the vote, received contributions from many law firms and solo practice attorneys, in addition to bail bond companies.
In 2017, his top donors included:
>> $10,000 from the Border Health Political Action Committee, which contributed the same amount in 2016.
>> $10,000 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, an Austin-based law firm that works as the collections agency for counties nationwide, including Hidalgo County.
>> $9,000 from the Mission-based Law Office of Rodolfo Canche Jr.
>> $5,000 from both the Law Office of Jose A. Ramirez and attorney Mauro Barreiro.
>> $5,000 from Greg Lamantia of L&F Distributors.
>> $5,000 from Wilfredo and Nancy Garcia of Mission, the former being a well-known case-runner who amassed a fortune by soliciting clients for personal-injury lawyers.
>> $4,000 from Mailit Ltd. Co. of Mission.
Guerra, on the other hand, received funds from four donors in 2017 — none are part of the county’s legal community.
His two donors during the most recent filing period, covering July through December 2017, were a mailman who contributed $100 and a rancher who contributed $800, according to his report. In addition, Guerra received $100 from Mike Guarino, a friend and former Galveston County DA, during the January through June 2017 filing period; and $1,000 from McAllen music store owner Jim Melhart.
During a candidate forum in late January, Guerra said he didn’t take the race “lightly” and called himself a “low-funded” candidate.
He said he didn’t solicit campaign contributions from attorneys because doing so makes the district attorney’s office “corruptible.”
“I never wanted to go out and solicit high amounts of money from donors,” Guerra told The Monitor, maintaining that this has been a longstanding practice in his previous campaigns.
In 2013, however, the year before Guerra lost to Rodriguez in the March 2014 Democratic primary election, Guerra raised approximately $92,000.
Although this was still less than the nearly $135,700 Rodriguez raised in the second half of 2013 alone, Guerra received donations from numerous law firms, attorneys and politicians. Donations then included $2,000 from Weslaco-based Jones, Galligan, Key & Lozano LLP; $3,761.50 from Mission-based defense attorney Ricardo “Rick” Salinas; $5,000 from Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia; and $12,000 from Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe M. Flores.
Guerra attributed any reluctance from donors this election season to his opponent’s “vindictive” personality.
“There are political vendettas at the courthouse,” he said. “If a person supports the wrong candidate and the opponent gets elected, there’s retribution in some circles where the elected official will take it out on the person who supported or financed the opponent.”
Rodriguez sees things differently.
“There’s nothing against the law that keeps myself or others from receiving contributions from anyone — from attorneys, lay citizens that want to contribute to the campaign,” Rodriguez said. “That’s legal as long as the rules are followed and the laws are followed.”
The DA also said contributions do not influence “how someone is going to be treated.” Citing his three years in office, Rodriguez further maintained that his office remains “responsible to our duties” regardless of who or who does not contribute.
The incumbent also didn’t mince words regarding his challenger’s fundraising.
“Nobody wants to give him money this time around because obviously four years ago the people decided they wanted a change,” Rodriguez said. “They don’t want to contribute money because they don’t want him back.”
Guerra still has approximately $19,000 left to spend in political contributions, according to his Jan. 15 report, which he plans to invest in advertising. A bulk of that money comes from his unsuccessful 2014 run and a $10,000 loan he gave himself.
He spent roughly $17,160 on political expenditures in 2017, which mostly consisted of purchasing newspaper ads, as well as campaign signs and stickers.
Rodriguez paid a little more than $177,050 for political expenditures during the same year, with nearly 75 percent of that spending occurring in the second half of 2017. In addition to advertising expenses, it also included costs associated with hosting fundraisers, loan reimbursement payments and donations to community organizations.
Rodriguez spent $10,000 on consulting services from Edinburg-based Carrera Communications, while Guerra has foregone the use of a campaign consultant.
“It’s expensive to send out our message,” Rodriguez said of his campaign expenditures. “With those funds we’ve been able to be out there and tell the people, through the mail and newspaper … through TV [and] block walking … what we’ve done here in office.”
Rodriguez has nearly $29,500 in funds left, and has invested heavily in his own campaign, with $175,189 in outstanding loans, according to his Jan. 15 campaign finance report.
His reports indicate that in addition to investing in his own campaign, family members have also loaned him money. For instance, in August 2017 he paid his uncle, Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios, $20,000 in loan repayment.
Guerra has loaned himself $10,000, and he said he plans to “pump in more money out of my personal funds.”
‘I am angry’
Guerra has to contend with this past weekend’s broadcast of CBS’ “48 Hours” segment on the December 2017 John Feit murder trial. It was broadcast just weeks before early voting will kick off on Feb. 20. Guerra said the show wasn’t after the truth, but rather wanted “a story book ending.”
“I am angry and disappointed that they would use (the Irene Garza case) as a political football,” Guerra said of Rodriguez’s campaign, calling Feit’s conviction for the 1960 murder of Garza “already orchestrated.”
Guerra questioned why it took nearly two years to try the former priest after his 2016 indictment for murder, noting that he knew the case would “continue to the next election.”
Rodriguez rejected Guerra’s assertion that the timing of Feit’s trial was political, saying, “this Irene Garza case has just taken its course on its own.”
While Rodriguez may be riding high on the trial’s outcome, Guerra alluded to the hope that he can change public sentiment with campaign materials he has planned as the primary draws near.
“I’ve got some bombshells to unload on him,” Guerra said.