WASHINGTON – The Dallas lawyer who helped John Edwards' former mistress move across the country has donated $3.5 million since 2005 to help fuel a Democratic resurgence in Texas, a newspaper reported Saturday.
Fred Baron has been by far the largest donor to a group called the Texas Democratic Trust, and Republicans are now taking aim at candidates who take money connected to him.
Baron, who is Edwards' longtime chief fundraiser, has helped Democrats rebound from near-obscurity in the Texas House to within striking distance of winning a majority of seats this fall. Baron started the Texas Democratic Trust and gave it $1.9 million in 2005 and 2006, providing more than 80 percent of its funding, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
"Without Fred Baron, none of this would have happened," Democratic consultant Jason Stanford told the newspaper. "He paid for it. He paid for the work that was absolutely necessary."
Baron was thrust into the national spotlight after acknowledging that he quietly began sending money to Rielle Hunter, Edwards' mistress, to resettle in California. Baron has said he did not tell Edwards that he helped Hunter, nor how much money he gave her.
The Edwards saga has given Republicans new ammunition to attack Baron and those who have benefited from his donations. This week, Republicans criticized Democrat Diana Maldonado, who is running for a state House seat, because she received $25,000 from a group that Baron gave $25,000 to in April.
"Making that connection is absolutely in-bounds, and we would be remiss if we didn't," said Hans Klingler, a spokesman for the Texas Republican Party.
Slightly more than half of the money raised by the state party's political action committee in 2005 and 2006 came from the Democratic Trust. Baron's recent donations are unmatched in Texas by anyone in his party.
As Baron's money poured in, Democratic gains accelerated. At the start of 2006, Democrats held 63 of the 150 seats in the Texas House. They now hold 71, within five seats of a House majority.
Democrats took control of Dallas County government two years ago and have picked up two congressional seats. But the party hasn't won a statewide race in 14 years.