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Texas right-wing super PAC backs Espaillat in Rangel challenge

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 5/18/2012, 4 p.m.

A super PAC with reported ties to right-wing conservative Texans has apparently decided to target Rep. Charles Rangel and the 13th Congressional District primary race.

The Campaign for Primary Accountability (CPA), based in Houston, said it is backing New York State Sen. Adriano Espaillat in his primary run for Congress against the incumbent Rangel.

"Senator Espaillat's solid record and proven popular support make him a strong, credible challenger who will work for the people of his district when he goes to Congress," said the CPA in a publicly released statement.

"Adriano Espaillat represents a new generation and brings a fresh perspective sorely needed in Washington. Charlie Rangel has sadly become the model of how some long-term incumbents become too comfortable with the special interests that infest Washington."

The statement also pointed to Rangel's position as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and held him responsible for extending the tax break that allowed GE to pay no taxes on billions of dollars in profits.

According to the CPA, the super PAC targets incumbents in primaries in "safe" districts, regardless of party affiliation. So far, the group claims a 33 percent success rate.

CPA spokesperson Curtis Ellis further explained the super PAC's support of Espaillat in an interview with the AmNews.

"Our super PAC is unique. It's different than other super PACs," said Ellis. "We're nonpartisan, we work in majority Democrat and Republican primaries and we only work primarily in House districts where the district is overwhelmingly Democrat or overwhelmingly Republican."

While Ellis stated that there was no partisan motivation for the CPA's actions, several reports list the organization as having ties to conservative Texans. One of the bankrollers for the super PAC is TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, the same person who's in the news for pitching an controversial anti-Obama advertising strategy to presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But Ellis stayed the course when speaking with the AmNews.

"We come in as the equalizer," said Ellis, "because incumbents have a lot of advantages. They have an easy time raising money from the normal PACs that infect Washington, and challengers have a very hard time matching resources. Incumbents have a recognizable name and a better amount of resources. We want people to have a real choice in the election."

"We see that Mr. Espaillat has a solid record as a lawmaker," said Ellis. "Being a congressman is not a joke. It's not a grandstand play where you get to make speeches."

But when the AmNews spoke to Espaillat's spokesperson Ibrahim Khan, he claimed that Espaillat hadn't heard of any information from the super PAC about endorsements. Then he talked about Congress.

"Senator Espaillat's campaign has no information about this or any other PAC's decision to target Congressman Rangel for defeat," said Khan in an email to the AmNews. "As was demonstrated by this week's congressional failure to stop student loan interest rates from doubling, Congress is broken and something drastic must be done to fix it. Sen. Espaillat has announced a three-part plan to make higher education affordable to every American and looks forward to a healthy and vigorous debate during this campaign."

So what does Rangel think of an outside entity possibly deciding his fate?

"Look, I don't know and I don't want to speak for Espaillat," said a Rangel spokesperson to the AmNews. "But what I do know is that this Texas super PAC for Espailliat wants to repeal President Obama's Affordable Health Care Act, they want to privatize and destroy Social Security and Medicare, they want to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy on the backs of the 99 percent and they want no regulation for Wall Street speculators.

"So while State Senator Espaillat may not support everything on the agenda of his right-wing Texas supporters, he must renounce their intrusion into New York politics and condemn their outrageous attacks on Congressman Charlie Rangel," continued the spokesperson.