Governor made hay with horse-racing lobbyDonations before gambling debate totaled $232,800
By ZANTO PEABODY, July 22, 2004
Gov. Rick Perry raked in nearly a quarter-million dollars from horse-breeding and racing interests in a single day in February, just two months before a special session on school finance during which a Perry-backed proposal to allow gambling at racetracks was debated.
The $232,800 in donations rolled in on Feb. 11, a couple of months after Perry's office acknowledged that Chief of Staff Mike Toomey had begun talks with certain groups about a proposal to allow video lottery terminals at racetracks and Indian reservations to help raise education funds.
The not-for-profit Texans for Public Justice released a report detailing the top donors to Perry on that day.
In May, the special session ended in failure when lawmakers and the governor couldn't reach an agreement on how to cut school property taxes and replace the lost revenues.
The gambling proposal proved to be one of the most controversial issues, particularly among Republicans, and never made it to the House or Senate floor for a full vote.
Perry's office on Wednesday denied any questionable fund raising with the racing lobby, which stood to gain as much as $10 billion, by some estimates, if video lottery terminals were allowed at dog and horse tracks.
Robert Black, a Perry spokesman, said the donations were typical of the governor's fund-raising efforts.
Already, Perry's campaign has collected $5.1 million for the 2006 race.
Black said Perry had a fund-raiser in Austin on Feb. 11, which has been his most profitable campaign day so far, taking in a total $307,745, mostly from breeders and racetrack owners.
"The governor has supporters on both sides of the issue," said Black, responding to the report, "those who support gambling and those who oppose it. We have numerous campaign donations, and our books are open for all to see."
On that day, Houston-based Maxxam Texas PAC, affiliated with Maxxam Inc., which owns Sam Houston Race Park, topped the list with a $50,000 donation. In all, 67 donors accounted for the total.
Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, said the timing of the gifts suggests the gambling interests tried to buy their way into the Legislature.
"It matters that his supporters who would profit most from gambling all seemed to reach him at the same critical time," McDonald said. "I can't say for sure that they influenced Perry, but it sure looks like it, or it at least deserves questioning. Why else would Perry support ideas even his own party doesn't support?"
Campaign donations are not unusual for the Maxxam PAC, or Max-PAC, which has contributed to the campaigns of Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-Sugar Land, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
McDonald pointed out that the timing of the donations _ more than a year and a half away from the gubernatorial election _ makes them unusual.
Officials with Max-PAC and other donors, however, said their checks were run-of-the-mill contributions that they have given to candidates from both major parties in any given year. The timing was coincidental, they said.
"I suspect our check was submitted independently," said Elizabeth Brumley, Max-PAC treasurer. "We just happened to cut a check that day."
Harlan Crow, who owns a significant stake in Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, contributed $25,000 on Feb. 11. Lone Star Park President Corey Johnsen was one of the company's officials who kicked in an additional $5,000.
"I wrote a check in support of something I believed in," Johnsen said. "I don't think it's a case of us coming together as a group. If it was, I honestly can't remember. I make a lot of donations, and I believe in writing a personal check as an individual to the person I'm supporting."
The fund-raiser brought competitors together. Maxxam and the LRP Group are competing to run a horsetrack in Laredo. LRP executives donated $42,000 to Perry.
Other Houston major contributors were horse breeder Mike Rutherford, $10,000; Heiligbrodt Racing Stable, $5,000; and horse owner Narciso Flores, $2,000.