A super PAC called Keep El Paso Honest ran negative campaign ads against congressional candidate Veronica Escobar in 2018.

A mysterious super PAC that targeted congressional candidate Veronica Escobar in 2018 was funded with $207,000 from the family of one of her opponents, according to campaign finance reports filed almost four years late.

Keep El Paso Honest ran ads attacking Escobar in the Democratic primary during early 2018. The political action committee  never filed required disclosures during the campaign and ignored requests from the Federal Election Commission in subsequent years.

But Lindsey Workman, an Ohio political operative who served as Keep El Paso Honest’s treasurer, filed the 2018 report with the FEC on Dec. 8, 2021. It showed that the PAC received $207,000 in contributions, all from the family of Dori Fenenbock, a former El Paso Independent School District board president vying for the Democratic nomination for the open 16th Congressional District seat.

The bulk of the money — $175,000 — came in January 2018 from Stuart Meyers, Fenenbock’s brother-in-law. He is CEO and president of the Meyers Group, a Florida-based development company that owns the Paso del Norte Hotel in El Paso. Other contributors included Fenenbock’s mother, Pat Lama; Michael Gopin, an El Paso attorney and another brother-in-law of Fenenbock; and the Donald Lane Trust, established by Fenenbock’s father.

Escobar’s current campaign manager, Lauren Zimmerman, said the delayed disclosures point to the need to improve campaign finance laws.

“Transparency in elections is a fundamental component of a healthy democracy. Voters have a right to know who is trying to influence them and the law requires that they have this information before they cast their vote,” Zimmerman said. “Congresswoman Escobar is committed to campaign finance reforms that increase transparency and could potentially mitigate malicious attacks that usually accompany dark money.”

Fenenbock hasn’t responded to a request for comment on whether she was aware members of her family were funding a super PAC during her congressional race. Her family also donated to her campaign, but under the law at the time couldn’t contribute more than $2,700 per person during the primary. 

A screenshot of the 2018 advertisement by Keep El Paso Honest.

Federal campaign finance law allows individuals to make unlimited contributions to super PACs, but the donations and expenditures must be made public within a specified timeframe. In 2018, Keep El Paso Honest was required to file reports on Feb. 22 and April 15, but didn’t meet either deadline.

Escobar handily won the 2018 Democratic primary over Fenenbock and three other opponents, and was elected to Congress that fall. Re-elected in 2020, Escobar is seeking a third term this year.

El Paso political consultant Carlos Sierra said in 2018 that he operated Keep El Paso Honest. The FEC report filed late last year showed that the super PAC spent $185,500 with Sierra’s company, Renegade Public Affairs, for advertising on billboards and television. Workman was paid $2,566 by the super PAC.

Sierra and Workman haven’t responded to requests for comment on why they waited more than three years to file the super PAC’s report of contributions and expenditures.

Escobar filed a complaint with the FEC in February 2018 alleging Keep El Paso Honest was violating federal campaign finance laws by keeping its finances secret, but the agency took no action.

Sierra is a former aide to the late Arizona Sen. John McCain. In 2015 he worked on an effort to draft then-Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, but that group severed its relationship with him after revelations that he had multiple drunk driving convictions and was accused of indecency with a child, a charge later dismissed.

He and Workman worked on the 2016 presidential campaign of Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson.  

Feature photo: Logo for Keep El Paso Honest super PAC, which ran negative campaign ads against congressional candidate Veronica Escobar in 2018

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.