Critic says state money turned into donations to GOPJan. 19, 2006
By R.G. Ratcliffe, Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau Staff
AUSTIN - A legislative Democratic leader Wednesday accused a state lobbyist of serving as a conduit to convert taxpayer dollars into Republican campaign contributions.
House Democratic Chairman Jim Dunnam said lobbyist Drew Maloney had made $250 in political donations before Gov. Rick Perry hired Maloney's Federalist Group for $180,000 a year to lobby Congress for the state.
Dunnam said that since that time, Maloney has given $75,000 to Republican congressional committees - including $750 meant to help defeat an incumbent Texas congressman.
Maloney appears to be "laundering" taxpayer payments into Republican campaign contributions, Dunnam said, adding that Perry should immediately terminate Maloney's contract.
Perry has primary responsibility for overseeing the national lobby office. Perry spokeswoman Rachael Novier called Dunnam's complaint a "baseless partisan attack."
Maloney, a former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, did not directly respond to Dunnam but said it is not unusual for states or cities to hire Washington lobbyists.
"Working with the Texas delegation and other states and coalitions we have achieved considerable success in allowing for state sales tax deduction, Medicaid savings, increased transportation dollars among a host of other issues," Maloney said. "The Texas contract represents less than 1 percent of the Federalist Group's revenue."
Dunnam and House Democrats have been trying to cut off funding for the hiring of outside lobbyists by the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations since 2003. Texas had never employed a private lobbyist until Maloney's Federalist Group was hired in 2003.
The state added to the lobby team last year by hiring Cassidy & Associates with a team headed by Todd Boulanger, who worked closely with convicted influence peddler Jack Abramoff at three different Washington, D.C., firms. Boulanger has not been directly implicated in any of the wrongdoing by Abramoff, who was close to DeLay.
The Maloney and Boulanger contracts together will cost taxpayers $1.1 million through August 2007.
The national lobby office contracts are approved by Perry, House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. But Craddick and Dewhurst said the hiring of lobbyists was Perry's choice, and Craddick said he opposes hiring outside lobbyists.
"I never approved of these contracts, I did not recommend these lobbyist groups, and I have publicly stated that I am against this decision," Craddick said. "The board on which I serve is explicitly an advisory board and the power to make those decisions ultimately rests in the hands of the governor."
Craddick on Wednesday released a letter he sent to Perry on Nov. 3, 2005, opposing extending contracts for Maloney and Boulanger's firms.
"In 2003, the Legislature agreed to cut funds for (the state-federal relations office) due to excess funding. However, there was never any intention to replace those cuts with spending on lobbyists," Craddick said.
In the letter, Craddick told Perry the power to hire the outside lobbyists "ultimately rests in your hands."
Novier said the hiring of both Maloney and Boulanger was done through competitive bidding. She said state funding for the national lobby office has decreased by 15 percent since it began hiring outside lobbyists, but the flow of federal funds into Texas has increased by billions of dollars.
Novier refused to say whether it is appropriate for a taxpayer-funded lobbyist to be participating in partisan congressional elections in Texas.
"Their work on behalf of the state of Texas was absolutely appropriate, and a good return on our investment," Novier said.
Prior to being hired by Texas, Maloney had lobby clients such as Reliant Energy, El Paso Corp. and TXU (Texas Utilities), but Dunnam said he was not making campaign contributions until after the state hired him.
Dunnam, of Waco, noted that in one instance, Maloney gave $750 to Republican Arlene Wohlgemuth when she was challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, in 2004. Edwards defeated Wohlgemuth in the heavily Republican district.
"Why should the constituents of Chet Edwards have their (taxpayer) money go to his opponent," Dunnam said.
Dunnam said he would be making the same complaint if a state taxpayer-funded lobbyist was giving money to Democrats, but he noted that all of Maloney's donations went to Republicans.
Dunnam also said Perry should fire Boulanger. Dunnam said in addition to the Abramoff ties, the money paid Boulanger could be better used on other state programs.
Boulanger was a Republican campaign donor both before and after being hired by the state. He has made $16,470 in campaign contributions since 2003.
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