Groups criticize fund-raising letter from realtorsBy John Moritz, Star-Telegram Austin Bureau
Oct. 30, 2003
AUSTIN - The heads of two government watchdog groups denounced a fund-raising letter Wednesday that was sent on behalf of an Arlington lawmaker suggesting that a campaign contribution would help kill a fledgling effort to impose a tax on real estate commissions.
The letter signed by the lobbyist for the Texas Association of Realtors and sent via e-mail to real estate agents in Arlington invites them to a fund-raiser Nov. 11 for Republican state Rep. Kent Grusendorf.
The letter points out that Grusendorf is co-chairman of a special committee seeking to overhaul the state's school finance system and that a tax on professional services is being considered as a way to lower local school property taxes.
"The most often mentioned method of addressing this issue is a 'tax on services,' which is of course a tax on commissions," wrote Bill Stinson, vice president for government affairs for the association. "We must rely on friends like Chairman Grusendorf to hold firm on this issue and not allow our commissions to be taxed."
Grusendorf said the letter was sent without his knowledge and that the Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance, which will conduct hearings in Austin next week, will consider a wide range of options to pay for public education.
"If Bill had run that by me ahead of time, I probably would have suggested that he use some other wording," said Grusendorf, whose Nov. 11 fund-raiser will be at The Ballpark in Arlington and will feature Gov. Rick Perry as a special guest. "As I have said before, everything needs to be discussed. And everything is being discussed, even some things that I don't like."
But Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, said the letter gives the clear implication that a campaign contribution would manipulate public policy.
"This solicitation is a stark reminder that petitioning the government in Texas is always sweetened by money," said McDonald, whose groups tracks the influence of money in politics. "It really shows that the Realtors expect a return on their self-described investment in Chairman Grusendorf."
Tom "Smitty" Smith, who heads Texas Public Citizen, agreed.
"The smartest businessmen in Texas know that campaign contributions pay off," he said. "And for the Realtors, the payoff is a tax loophole that benefits them at the expense of the rest of us."
Stinson rejected those assertions.