Is gambling interests' $232,800 in gifts to Perry a lot for 1 day?Carlos Guerra, San Antonio Express-News Columnist
The prospects of another special legislative session seemed to fade Tuesday when House Appropriations Committee Chairman Talmadge Heflin said that one should not be called to deal with school finance because resolving the matter will require "looking at the tax code."
Gov. Rick Perry's spokeswoman Kathy Walt, however, said Perry is still "trying to forge consensus" and "he has not decided that there is no time left."
To put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot would require a supermajority of both the House and Senate by the end of August. Walt said Perry prefers an August session, but he hasn't ruled out one after the November election and before the next regular session in January.
The last session Perry called was a discordant affair that ended when both chambers adjourned early, having reached consensus on little other than going home.
One big brouhaha centered on Perry's proposal to expand gambling in Texas, the nation's last large state without some form of casino gaming.
The Texas GOP's platform strongly opposes expanding gambling. Nevertheless, Perry led the drive to broaden the Texas Lottery by authorizing lottery sales at convenience-store gas pumps and putting tens of thousands of "video lottery terminals" _ or state-owned slot machines _ on the state's three Indian reservations and in the existing pari-mutuel horse and dog tracks.
In May, Texans for Public Justice reported that pro-gambling interests may have made new friends in Austin with their generosity. Texas Ethics Commission records, they pointed out, documented contributions from gambling-related interests of at least $4,119,782 to Texas political candidates in both parties since 2000. Track owners gave $3.1 million, Indian tribes $689,000, horse and dog trade groups $261,000 and slot machine manufacturers $71,000.
And their biggest single beneficiary was Perry, who received $572,175 from them since 2000.
Now, the same group reports that on Feb. 11, 2004, Perry took in $307,745 and "at least 67 separate contributions were made to Rick Perry's campaign from these interests, totaling $232,800."
"That's a good deal of money to come on the same day," said TPJ head Craig McDonald, "and it came from 67 pro-racing sources.
"It raises interesting questions: How did it get there on that one day? Did one of the lobbyists drop it off in a bundle to influence the governor, or did they have a big party one afternoon and write these checks on the same day?"
When I asked Walt how such a bundle would come from so many racing-related donors on the same day, she first said: "I don't know why they would choose to send a check on one day. You'd have to ask the individual contributors. I don't think it's anything unusual."
That's even scarier. However, McDonald says it is unusual.
"In terms of the governor's total war chest, $232,000 is not a huge amount," he said, "but it's three times more than he raised on any other day of the year."
Walt called later to say that Perry held a fund-raiser that day but didn't know more than "it was somewhere in Austin."
But something else is a bit out of the ordinary, said McDonald.
"This bundle was contributed two days before (Perry and several close advisers) went to the Bahamas," he said, "and two months before he called the special session and said he would promote gambling to fund schools."