Texas Super PAC pursues one goal: Get incumbents out

Leo Linbeck is a Houston businessman who made his money in construction, real estate and biotech.
CBS News

(CBS News) - In 2010, 396 members of the House of Representatives ran for re-election. Only four were defeated by a challenger from their own party.

One Texas millionaire contends the system is rigged in favor of incumbents who have all the money and the name recognition. So he started an outside group that's going after not Republicans or Democrats -- but incumbents.

His early success is making both parties uncomfortable. CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes reports.

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Like most incumbents, 10-term Congressman Tim Holden normally sails through his primary elections.

But two weeks ago the Pennsylvania Democrat was defeated by a local lawyer after a new non-partisan Super PAC aired $200,000 worth of ads against Holden.

"When we polled in his district they did not like the policies that he had been promoting," said Leo Linbeck, whose Super PAC targeted Holden. "Perfect opportunity for us to engage."

Linbeck is a Houston businessman who made his money in construction, real estate and biotech. He is a conservative but started the Campaign for Primary Accountability last year to go after incumbents in both parties.

"It really arose out of a sense of frustration. This sense that Congress wasn't working," said Linbeck. "Why wasn't it working?"

He thinks it is because incumbents have so little competition. More than half the House members who ran for re-election in 2010 faced no primary challenge at all.

"They raise more money. They have higher name identification. They've delivered lots of goodies to people over the years and they punish people who've opposed them," said Linbeck. "They've got a lot of advantages. Challengers don't. We come in to equalize that."

So far he's helped to unseat one House Democrat and two House Republicans.

His group's next target is eight-term Democratic Congressman Silvestre Reyes of Texas.

Although they say they are only going after incumbents who are unpopular, Reyes disagrees.

"That's not what my polling show, but you know the veracity of the Super PACs is very questionable so I'm not surprised that they would misrepresent that," Reyes explained.

Like all Super PACs, Linbeck's group can raise unlimited funds from individuals and corporations.

"I've put in over a million dollars, which is a lot of money to me," Linbeck admitted. "I mean, I'm not like some super-gazillionaire."

In total, he's raised about $2.4 million which is tiny compared to what some of the top Super PACs on the right and left have taken in. The parties have taken notice and he says have even warned some of his staffers they'll never work in party politics again.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.