HOUSTON – Nothing’s unusual about nasty campaign ads popping up on television before Election Day. But the latest spot in the Houston mayor’s race takes a distinctive twist: A candidate for mayor taking a slap at the IRS.
Ben Hall, the former Houston city attorney challenging incumbent Mayor Annise Parker, disappeared from the television airwaves during the final weeks before early voters went to the polls. Parker’s campaign didn’t just fill the void, it flooded it with a blitz of attack ads hammering Hall on his now familiar tax troubles.
Now the challenger has decided to strike back with commercials trying to blunt impact of Parker’s relentless offensive by implying the IRS targeted him for retribution.
“I hate taxes,” Hall says in the commercial. “But my feeling toward the IRS aren’t much different.”
Hall smiles as he notes Parker was “kind enough” to point out that he’s had “disagreements” with the IRS over his taxes.
“But she just forgot to mention that right before those disagreements started we had sued the IRS for over $9,000,000 -- and won,” he said. “Now, think that’s a coincidence?”
Hall himself didn’t collect $9,000,000 from the IRS. He’s talking about a settlement the IRS paid to a client of a law firm where Hall used to work.
Parker’s commercials have hammered not only on Hall’s troubles with the IRS—he paid more than $680,000 in fines and back taxes—but also late property tax payments. KHOU 11 News reported in May that Hall had paid more than $150,000 in late fees, penalties and interest on properties he’s owned during the last decade. On the day the story was about to break, Hall hastily paid the Spring Branch ISD more than $50,000 in property taxes that were three months overdue.
Hall’s commercial doesn’t address the property tax issues, but he said earlier this year, “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t rush to pay my tax bills.”
The property tax trouble popped up early in this campaign. Since then, Parker’s advertising strategy dashed any hope Hall might have harbored that the issue would fade away.
But answering the incumbent mayor’s attack ads presents its own strategic problem. Every time Hall pops up on television trying to explain his tax troubles, he reminds voters about one of his campaign’s greatest vulnerabilities.
His slap at the IRS sounds like an unsubtle appeal to discontented conservatives, one of the groups he’s hoped to win over in his campaign against Parker.
“He’s talking to two constituencies: African Americans and of course, white conservatives,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst. “The message today was a simple one: ‘If you don’t like your government, I don’t either. I’ve been fighting with my government over taxes and I won.’”
Early voting continues through Friday, Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5.