The Austin Chronicle

Science-Based “314 Action” PAC Attacks Congressional Candidate for Her Legal Work

By Michael King, February 26, 2020, 4:50pm, Newsdesk

In November, TX-10 Congressional candidate Pritesh Gandhi announced the primary endorsement of “314 Action … the nation’s largest resource for scientists and STEM professionals running for public office.” On the ph scale, the PAC’s campaign mailers attacking Shannon Hutcheson are pretty acidic.

As a primary care doctor treating uninsured and underserved patients at Austin’s People’s Community Clinic, Gandhi was a natural fit for an organization “committed to electing more STEM candidates to office, advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change, and fighting the Trump administration's attacks on science.” Said Gandhi at the time, “In a time where science faces a constant assault by the president, electing more leaders who will govern with evidence and facts is critical.”

Given that context, it’s somewhat surprising to see such aggressive attack mailers aimed at Hutcheson, an experienced civil attorney who has indeed represented corporate clients and once assisted her law partner, Alison Bowers, in representing a former Immigrations and Customs Enforcement guard who had sexually assaulted immigrant women – the Hutcheson Bowers firm defended him in a subsequent civil lawsuit.

The mailer does not mention Gandhi (it reads, “Paid for by the 314 Action Fund, not authorized by any candidate”), but concludes that Hutcheson’s legal career, and her occasional support of Republican judges (fairly common among local lawyers in recent GOP-dominated years), means “She doesn’t share your values.” Hutcheson told the Texas Tribune that “cherry-picking” a couple of cases out of 23 years of legal practice is patently unfair, and that the “‘best indicator of my values’ is instead the work she has done for groups such as Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and the SAFE Alliance …”

A TX-10 resident brought the mailers to the attention of the Chronicle – “pretty mean stuff,” they wrote, and they had no trouble making the unspoken connection to Gandhi. The mailers were sufficiently negative that the third candidate in the race, attorney Mike Siegel, felt compelled to distance himself from them. In a campaign email, Siegel wrote that a “Super PAC” had spent $200,000 in the campaign: The [two] negative mailers have attacked Shannon Hutcheson, one of my primary election opponents. The same PAC has also sent positive mailers for Pritesh Gandhi, another opponent.” Added Siegel, “One of the fundamental problems with our political system is how unlimited corporate money can distort elections.”

(Although the 314 Action PAC is independent, according to its website it fundraises via the online “ActBlue” platform utilized by Democratic PACs and other organizations.*[See clarification below] "SuperPACs" are forbidden to coordinate their work with candidates or their campaigns.)

It's worth noting that throughout the months-long campaign, all three candidates have assured voters that should they not win the Democratic nomination, they would support whoever is the nominee. Yet the 314 PAC mailer tells those same voters that Hutcheson "does not share your values." Campaign consultants routinely recommend "going negative" as an effective strategy for winning. It's less effective for mending primary fences and going forward in general election campaigns.

Asked to comment on the mailers, the Gandhi campaign responded: “This campaign is focused on the struggles of working families that Dr. Gandhi treats as a primary care physician at a community health center – struggles that intersect with issues like gun violence, prescription drug costs, and reproductive justice. These mailers were not approved by our campaign, which has been relentlessly focused on Dr. Gandhi’s lifetime of fighting for people and policies that improve the lives of everyday Texans.”

The Hutcheson campaign had this to say: “Shannon Hutcheson is a mom, MeToo survivor, and a lifelong Democrat who has represented Planned Parenthood and volunteered with Austin Children’s Shelter and the SAFE Alliance to help survivors of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Shannon’s running for Congress to lower health care costs, protect women’s reproductive rights, and to get big corporate money out of politics. She is disappointed by the offensive and misleading smear campaign from a pro-Gandhi Washington SuperPAC.”

*Note: At the request of "ActBlue's press team," this sentence has been clarified to more precisely describe the fundraising platform's work.

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