Toomey lobbying for industry he once toutedBy R.G. Ratcliffe, Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau Staff
AUSTIN - When he was Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff, Mike Toomey authorized the state lottery to hire a Las Vegas law firm to study the legalization of video lottery gambling in Texas. Toomey now is a lobbyist for one of the nation's largest manufacturers of video lottery systems.
Lobby registrations released Thursday by the Texas Ethics Commission show Toomey has registered as a lobbyist for Multimedia Games of Austin, and is being paid $10,000 to $25,000.
On its Internet site, Multimedia describes itself as the "leading gaming technology provider to Native American tribes nationwide" and a company that designs gaming systems for the "video lottery gaming markets."
Toomey did not return calls from the Houston Chronicle.
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor has a strong ethics policy that prevents Toomey from lobbying the governor's office for at least one calendar year. Toomey left the governor's office last September.
"The governor is focused on his priorities for this legislative session and not on the client list of any lobbyist," Walt said.
As Perry's chief of staff in December 2003, Toomey authorized the Texas lottery to hire the Las Vegas law firm of Lionel, Sawyer and Collins to develop legislation to legalize video lottery terminals at racetracks and on Indian land in Texas. The state paid the firm $176,343 for work through March of last year.
The contract became controversial with legislators who opposed expanding gambling in Texas.
Walt noted Toomey did not select the Las Vegas firm. The firm was recommended by a lottery commissioner and approved by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Perry made passage of video lottery a cornerstone of his public school finance plan that would have lowered local property taxes by replacing the money with state revenues. Perry pushed the plan in a special legislative session.
But on Wednesday, Perry told the Chronicle he no longer believes legalizing video lottery can pass the Legislature. To be authorized, voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment.
When Toomey left Perry, he immediately registered as a lobbyist for eight companies that he had been representing in 2002 when he became Perry's chief of staff. They included Philip Morris USA, Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Merck & Co. pharmaceuticals.
When Toomey took the job with Perry, he sold his lobby practice to Bill Messer's Texas Lobby Group. Toomey now has an office with the Texas Lobby Group, but it is unclear whether he is financially connected.
Andrew Wheat, of the advocacy group Texans for Public Justice, said the appearance is Toomey never really left the lobby while working for Perry.
"It's like he didn't even pause for breath," Wheat said.
Wheat said it also fits a pattern of Perry drafting top aides from the lobby and then having them return to the lobby.
"It's the certainty of connections and the swiftness of the revolving door that is absolutely dizzying about this administration," Wheat said.
Perry's new legislative director, Dan Shelley, was widely criticized last month for helping a Spain-based contractor win a major highway project from the Texas Department of Transportation before going to work for Perry.
When Shelley left a job with then-Gov. Bush to take a lobbying job, Bush adopted new ethics rules for his office. They were banned from lobbying the governor's office after leaving and could not lobby the Legislature for one full session.