newsPolitics

John Cornyn has spent $1.1M on ads claiming MJ Hegar wants to legalize prostitution, which she denies

Senator hangs claim on her support for Campaign Zero menu of police reforms, where the fine print includes decriminalization of spitting, loitering and other minor offenses.

Updated Friday at 3:15 p.m. with second Cornyn including the claim.

WASHINGTON — For the last week, TV viewers in Texas have heard a startling claim that the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate wants to legalize prostitution.

She doesn’t.

But Sen. John Cornyn has spent over $1.1 million pushing that message statewide as part of his ongoing effort to scare suburban voters and others away from MJ Hegar.

“She wants cap and trade, which will destroy the Texas economy and raise taxes on families. Her government-controlled health care ruins Medicare and our patient doctor relationship. Her safety plan: defund police, legalize prostitution. MJ Hegar: too liberal for Texas,” says the Republican’s 30-second ad.

Hegar has no such plan on prostitution, and vehemently denies the claim.

“That’s something that John Cornyn’s been pushing as a conspiracy theory. I’ve never said that I’m for that,” she said Monday night during an online forum with the Dallas Examiner.

The claim hinges on Hegar’s support for police reforms advocated by a group called “Campaign Zero.”

The group lists prostitution — along with spitting, loitering, jaywalking, riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, and public consumption of alcohol — as nonviolent offenses that police use to harass minorities.

“Decriminalize these activities or de-prioritize their enforcement,” the group says.

The Hegar campaign accused Cornyn of “distorting and lying about MJ’s record,” citing an archived version of the Campaign Zero website from January, when Hegar began associating herself with its ideas.

In this frame grab from video, Sen. John Cornyn debates Democrat MJ Hegar on Oct. 9, 2020, in Austin.
In this frame grab from video, Sen. John Cornyn debates Democrat MJ Hegar on Oct. 9, 2020, in Austin.(Nexstar Media Group)

Prostitution was not listed at the time but by June it was, and Cornyn aides counter with numerous times since then when Hegar stated, “I support proposals that are outlined in places like Campaign Zero.”

Cornyn spokesman Travis Considine defended the allegation based on the fact that Hegar hasn’t issued her own public safety plan, relying instead on the Campaign Zero outline.

On Friday, the Cornyn campaign began airing a second 30-second ad that takes a deeper dive into Campaign Zero’s agenda, using footage of Hegar stating that “I support proposals outlined in Campaign Zero.”

“Campaign Zero. What’s that?” a female narrator says in the new Cornyn ad, as the camera focuses on parts of the group’s website that track the script. “I looked. They called to defund and abolish the police. Restrict the use of SWAT teams. Remove police from schools. Decriminalized trespassing, loitering, even prostitution. MJ Hagar vowed not to moderate any of those She’s wrong on crime. Wrong for Texas.”

Screen grab from Cornyn campaign ad that began airing Oct. 16, 2020, alleging that MJ Hegar supports legalized prostitution, which she denies.
Screen grab from Cornyn campaign ad that began airing Oct. 16, 2020, alleging that MJ Hegar supports legalized prostitution, which she denies.(Screen grab)

As the ad mentions prostitution, the image fades into a close-up of a woman in high heels approaching a car. It’s dark outside. The same image appears in the initial ad.

“This pathetic attack is a good indication not only of why Sen. Cornyn has repeatedly failed to support any actual needed police reform, but of how desperate the Cornyn campaign is,” said Hegar spokeswoman Amanda Sherman.

MJ Hegar's campaign website cites Campaign Zero in laying out her views on criminal justice reform.
MJ Hegar's campaign website cites Campaign Zero in laying out her views on criminal justice reform.(Screen grab)

Cornyn leveled a similar allegation during Friday night’s televised debate from Austin during a discussion on police reform.

“Unlike my opponent, who’s actually endorsed this Campaign Zero — you can check their website, go on the web, Campaign Zero — they not only want to defund police, they want to abolish the police, and they want to legalize things like prostitution. To me, those are not Texas values,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn did not allege directly that Hegar herself wants to legalize prostitution, but she did distance herself moments later.

“I have not seen that as part of their platform, and maybe their platform has changed,” she said, adding that she embraced Campaign Zero’s advocacy of “community policing and community oversight and body cameras and police officers representative of the communities that they’re policing.”

Screen shot from Campaign Zero solutions page, which includes prostitution on a list of offenses the group wants to decriminalize.
Screen shot from Campaign Zero solutions page, which includes prostitution on a list of offenses the group wants to decriminalize.(screen grab)

As for defunding police, she said, “I don’t support defunding the police. I’m not sure how many times I need to say that. ... He keeps lying about me.”

Cornyn’s ad has run during morning shows such as Yolo Texas, Good Morning America and The Ellen DeGeneres Show in particular, in the state’s four biggest cities and the Rio Grande Valley, according to data collected by Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm.

Prostitution is illegal in every state but Nevada, where brothels are legal in 10 counties.

In Texas, prostitution is a misdemeanor with a first offense punishable by 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. After four or more convictions, it’s a felony that carries up to two years and a $10,000 fine. The penalties for being a customer are the same.

Hegar openly supports decriminalizing marijuana.

“It is good for treating things like PTSD and would replace a lot of the opioid addiction that we have,” she said on Monday night’s forum, adding that decriminalization would weaken drug cartels and yield tax revenue. “We could regulate it like tobacco, and the criminalization of marijuana has had a disproportionate effect on communities of color and has increased our hyper incarceration rates.”

Round Rock Air Force veteran MJ Hegar and three-term Sen. John Cornyn sparred over racial injustice, policing and the Supreme Court during an encounter televised statewide late Friday. They are vying to be Texas' next U.S. senator. The debate originated from the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.
Politics

John Cornyn, MJ Hegar spar over racial injustice, policing and Supreme Court in TV debate

Air Force veteran MJ Hegar and three-term U.S. Sen. John Cornyn sparred over racial injustice, policing and the Supreme Court during an encounter televised across Texas late Friday. In what might be their only debate, Hegar, the Democratic challenger, cast Cornyn as ineffectual and too cozy with big-money interests during his 18 years in Washington. It’s time to fire him, she insisted. Cornyn, who for much of the past decade was the No. 2 Republican in Senate leadership, branded Hegar as the hand-picked candidate of New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. She’s too liberal for Texas, he said.
By

Todd J. Gillman. Todd became Washington Bureau Chief in 2009 and has covered East Texas, Dallas City Hall and politics since joining The News in 1989. He's been elected three times to the White House Correspondents’ Association board, with a term ending in 2023. Todd has a Master in Public Policy from Harvard and a BA from Johns Hopkins in international studies.

tgillman@dallasnews.com @toddgillman
Politics

Get Political Points

Receive the latest political news delivered every Tuesday and Thursday from reporters in Austin, Dallas and Washington.

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy