Criminal investigation opened into fraudulent pro-school voucher letters


Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick demands a vote in the Texas House on “school choice.” The House later rejected vouchers on a vote of 103 to 44.

Note: This story first appeared on the Quorum Report. Join us there for daily coverage of Texas politics and government. 

As Texas House members continue to ask questions about the legalities surrounding those “fraudulent” pro-school voucher letters sent to their offices, two criminal complaints have been filed and an investigation has been opened by prosecutors in Austin.

Former Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, first raised concerns about the letters last month when his name was among thousands used on pro-voucher letters sent to current rural Republican members of The Legislature. “I’m not a voucher guy and everybody knows I’m not a voucher guy,” Hardcastle said at the time.

Now, in a letter obtained by Quorum Report, Hardcastle has written to Wilbarger County District Attorney Staley Heatly requesting a criminal investigation.

Meantime, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office has opened an investigation after receiving a similar complaint from Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin.

“I became aware of a letter fraudulently sent in my name to my state representative, Drew Springer,” Hardcastle wrote to DA Heatly. “The letter claimed to be from me and advocated that my elected official support a policy position that I am against,” he said.

“I think there are many other individuals who had letters sent in their name without their knowledge or consent,” Hardcastle wrote, referencing news reports about the letters sent in the names of people spread across vast portions of the state from the Piney Woods to the Caprock and points in between.

In her letter to prosecutors in Austin, Rep. Hinojosa said “Given that the issue involved is public education, and the critical importance of that to the people in my district and this county, I am asking you to move quickly to look into this.”

Citing the fact that Hardcastle’s name had been used in one of the letters sent by Texans for Education Opportunity, Hinojosa said “Given the extremely troubling circumstances surrounding these seemingly fraudulent letters, I hope you and your office will immediately open an investigation into this matter.”

Who is Texans for Education Opportunity?

Well,  the group is led by Texas Public Policy Foundation board member Stacy Hock and they took credit for the letter campaign. TEO has said everything was done properly.

But shortly after news reports of the fraudulent letters – and the claim of credit by Texans for Education Opportunity – President John Colyandro was removed from the group’s website. Chair Hock did not respond to a request for comment about that. Neither did Colyandro.

The group’s board includes former Sen. Phil Gramm. TEO also has a speakers’ bureau featuring folks school choice advocates like Peggy Venable, Mayes Middleton, and Randan Steinhauser, who with her husband Brenden Steinhauser own and operate a consulting firm.


Steinhauser often takes personal shots at Republican members of the Texas Legislature.

When they’re not attacking Republican members of the House, the Steinhausers do things like design this voucher group’s website. They’ve also block-walked in favor of vouchers in the district represented by Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood. Randan Steinhauser also has a habit of personally insulting Republican members of The Legislature with whom she disagrees. For example, last year she accused then-Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, of using a hearing on “school choice” as a chance to audition for a job with teachers unions. Steinhauser later deleted her tweet about that.

That kind of advocacy is fine, Hardcastle said, but he argued misusing the names of voucher opponents could potentially be criminal activity.

“I would humbly request that your office please investigate this serious matter,” Hardcastle wrote to the local prosecutor. “At a minimum, names have been improperly used. I believe it is more likely that laws have been broken.”

Those laws could include tampering with a government record, failing to disclose that the letters are legislative advertising, and possibly identity theft.

Over in the Brazos Valley, the principal of Bryan High School Lane Buban said he needed to make his position clear on vouchers – something he never thought would have to do – because his name was on one of these letters sent to his House member, Rep. John Raney.

“I am offended that someone would take the liberty to send a letter with my name endorsing something that I do not support – especially school vouchers,” Buban said. “The letter was post stamped Austin, TX,” he said. All the letters were postmarked Austin, by the way.

“I support public education and our profession,” Buban said. “Vouchers are NOT the answer to solve public education.”

Over on the Senate side, some rural Republicans also received the letters.

The prime example in the upper chamber was Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who said one of the letters received by his office was sent in the name of someone who died well before it was sent.

“We did some checking and we found one letter that was submitted to us by someone who died last June, and people in my district are very hearty and things like that, but that’s pretty much impossible,” Sen. Seliger said.

Seliger the letters were fraud, plain and simple.

“We’re being defrauded by thinking that we’re getting information from our constituents that matters to us, and these aren’t from our constituents at all,” Seliger said. “There are people who are legitimately for and against the bill, it doesn’t require this kind of falsification.”

Copyright April 19, 2017, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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