At the time, Cuellar’s team indicated that it donated the cash to charity after becoming aware of the criminal activity surrounding the individual in question.
Garcia blasted the congressman in a statement published this week, calling it “part of a troubling pattern.” The National Republican Congressional Committee produced an advertisement focused on the allegation.
“Like all South Texans, I am deeply disturbed by the revelations in this report. It was bad enough that Henry Cuellar is under a criminal investigation,” Garcia tweeted. “Now, it turns out he took money from an associate of a Mexican drug cartel. Enough is enough. We need a better way forward.”
Garcia was likely referring to a raid of Cuellar’s residence in January by the Federal Bureau of Investigation related to possible campaign finance violations. The congressman was not necessarily a suspect in the investigation.
After failing to receive an outright majority in the Democratic primary, Cuellar defeated Jessica Cisneros in the May 24 runoff by fewer than 300 votes.
Cuellar’s campaign responded to Garcia’s allegations in a statement published Tuesday on social media.
“Cassy Garcia has resurfaced a 10-year-old story and launched a blatantly false ad just 7 days before Election Day in a desperate attempt to smear Congressman Cuellar’s reputation and save her losing campaign,” the statement read.
“Congressman Cuellar met these individuals while he served as Texas Secretary of State through Governor Rick Perry and President George W. Bush. Received a small contribution from a woman in Laredo and the moment he learned about the background of these individuals, he donated it to charity. It is unfortunate that the Garcia campaign is trying to distract South Texas voters from the issues that matter.”
It went on to call Garcia’s criticism a “desperate and futile attempt to influence this race with lies.”
Though a campaign donation from someone who associates with an accused criminal is not proof of corruption, Republicans are seeking to link the congressman to the Los Zetas drug cartel days before the election. The Republican National Committee called him “Cartel Cuellar” in a news release on Tuesday.
The 28th Congressional District is rated D-57% on The Texan’s Texas Partisan Index. The Cook Political Report currently categorizes the district as “lean Democrat.”
The National Review relied heavily on reporting by the San Antonio Express-News from over 10 years ago that described political contributions to Congressman Cuellar and his brother, Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar.
A Mexican criminal named Antonio Peña Arguelles was said to be a middleman between Mexican politicians and the highest ranking members of the Los Zetas criminal cartel. Arguelles apparently gave a $1,500 donation in 2007 to Sheriff Cuellar, who instructed the person who accepted the donation to return it. Arguelles’ wife, Armandina, gave $1,000 to Congressman Cuellar in 2006, according to the Express-News.
Cuellar’s campaign spokesperson at the time commented, “When you’re raising millions of dollars … logistically it’s impossible to identify the background and rumor mill on every single donor.”
The Express-News pointed out that one of the corrupt Mexican politicians in question, former Tamaulipas Gov. Tomás Yarrington Ruvalcaba, had close relationships with former President George W. Bush, former Gov. Rick Perry, and Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville). Lucio has endorsed Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in this year’s general election.
After admitting to accepting millions in bribes, Yarrington pleaded guilty to a money laundering charge in March of last year and faces up to 20 years in prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
A map of the 28th Congressional District can be found below.
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Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."