Access to the governor is getting really expensiveAustin American Statesman Editorial Board
Friday, July 30, 2004
Gov. Rick Perry is like the irritating uncle who constantly boasts of his frugality, but keeps dropping in uninvited for dinner and asks for gas money to get home.
Perry, who last year boasted of closing a $10 billion budget gap without raising taxes, has hit on the business lobby for money to pay for 60 interns working in his office, as American-Statesman reporter Mike Ward described this week. Funds are also being sought from foundations, corporations, tax-exempt organizations and "supporters of the governor" for the interns. If the program is so important, why not tap the state treasury?
The letter to lobbyists asking for money came from the Governor's Business Council, a non-profit group made up of top business executives. But it made clear just whose interests were involved: "Governor Perry asked us to contact you about a program important to his office and mission: The Governor's Fellowship Program."
The letter asks each recipient for as much as $10,000 for gubernatorial fellowships, and "your contribution may be personal or corporate." Translation: We don't care where you get it, just cough up.
Not surprisingly the lobbyists being hit up are complaining in their usual furtive way: by carping anonymously to reporters. One of Perry's hallmarks as governor is his Nixonian vindictiveness, and apparently few lobbyists are willing to test his wrath by refusing to contribute to a pet cause.
To be sure, Perry is not the only state official who has tapped business sources to do the public's work. Several officials use campaign funds to supplement the government salaries of top aides. Until 2002, Texas Supreme Court justices employed law clerks who could count on big bonuses from the corporate law firms that offered them jobs before they spent their year working at the court. Those same corporate firms often practiced before the court.
But at least the Supreme Court could plead a degree of poverty, given that the Legislature controls its budget and pay scale for clerks. Perry, in contrast, relishes the role of the hard-eyed guardian of the public treasury – he just doesn't want to do without.
This is not the first time Perry has tapped business interests to advance his own cause. Just last fall he launched an economic development plan by offering corporate executives the opportunity to socialize and meet with him — if they contributed as much as $150,000 toward a $5 million fund to promote Texas as a business location. Access to the governor is getting awfully expensive.
No one needs to weep for lobbyists; they generally represent well-heeled clients who employ them in large part to keep their own taxes low and their businesses as unregulated as possible.
But there's good reason for the public to worry about the governor. Those business lobbyists and their clients cough up for the governor's pet causes because they think that, after all is said and done, he will use his office to protect their interests, or at least leave them alone. Of course, if you think the business lobby looks after your interests first and foremost, then you have nothing to worry about.