Trans-Texas firm hires ex-Perry aideHe worked before for company that won bid for transit corridor
August 18, 2006
By PETE SLOVER and TONY HARTZEL / The Dallas Morning News
Once again, Gov. Rick Perry's former liaison to the Legislature is working for the Spanish company that won the rights to develop the $7 billion Trans-Texas Corridor.
Lobbyist Dan Shelley worked for the firm as a consultant just before he went to the governor's office, a connection first revealed in 2004. State officials denied any connection between that circumstance and the decision, three months later, to award Cintra the huge highway contract. Now, Mr. Shelley has left the governor's office, and he and his daughter have large contracts to lobby for the road builder.
This week, Mr. Shelley had planned to take four state lawmakers – including two Dallas-area senators – on a four-day, all-expense-paid trip to Canada. But the trip was abruptly postponed after The Dallas Morning News asked questions about it.
A call to Mr. Shelley seeking comment was returned by an Austin spokeswoman for Madrid-based Cintra, who said that Mr. Shelley's contract with the company prohibits him from discussing his work with reporters.
Spokeswoman Rossanna Salazar confirmed that Mr. Shelley was helping to arrange the fact-finding trip to visit a Cintra toll road near Toronto.
"Dan Shelley was going to cover those costs" for the lawmakers' expenses, Ms. Salazar said. "He would have had to publicly report those costs to the Texas Ethics Commission."
Though the payment of trip expenses by Cintra would have been legal, companies stand to gain by having lawmakers' undivided attention for several days, said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen of Texas, a watchdog group. Lawmakers should use their campaign funds for such expenses, Mr. Smith said.
"That's preferable from taking money from corporations that stand to make billions in the continuation of this Trans-Texas Corridor project," he said.
Mr. Shelley resigned his state job in September and struck a lobbying deal with Cintra worth between $50,000 and $100,000 to work from March through the end of this year. In addition, his daughter and lobbying partner, Jennifer Shelley-Rodriguez, will earn between $25,000 and $50,000 from the company over the same period, state records show.
The Trans-Texas Corridor is Mr. Perry's vision for a statewide network of toll roads, rail lines and utility lines to improve transportation for the next 50 years. Cintra won the development rights in 2004 to the first corridor section that will parallel Interstate 35E.
The corridor has become an issue in his re-election campaign, as rival Carole Keeton Strayhorn has stoked landowners' opposition to the project.
When Mr. Shelley worked for Cintra before, he never registered as a lobbyist. Instead, he worked nine months as an unregulated "consultant" trying to generate business for the company in Texas – a role that included such functions as making introductions and attending meetings with state transportation officials.
At the time, the governor's office said Mr. Shelley was never paid by the company, because his fees were to be based on any deals closed. They said that when he left the firm before the contract was complete, he gave up the right to such fees.
Such contingency arrangements are illegal for lobbyists, but the law does not mention consultants.
The law does not restrict former gubernatorial staffers from lobbying, but Mr. Perry has instituted his own rule for former high-level staffers: They can lobby the Legislature and state agencies but are banned from lobbying the governor's office for a year, or until the end of the first legislative session after they've left, which ever is longer.
That means Mr. Shelley has voluntarily committed not to lobby the governor and his staff until after the Legislature's session next year, said Kathy Walt, the governor's press secretary.
"Governor Perry has the strongest ethics policy that any Texas governor has ever had," she said.
Even with those limits, Mr. Shelley has built a healthy lobby clientele: This year, he reported to the state lobbying work worth between $550,000 and $1.1 million.
The director of a group that tracks money in politics said the case demonstrates that the policy and the laws both need tightening.
"The can't-lobby-the-governor rule is meaningless in the real world," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice. "It's a pie-in-the-sky policy that has absolutely no teeth: Texas needs a law to close the revolving lobby door."
On the Toronto trip, the group would have viewed Cintra's state-of-the-art Highway 407 Electronic Toll Road. Interviews with Ontario government officials also were scheduled.
Among the lawmakers included was Rep. Mike Krusee, the Round Rock Republican who heads the House Transportation Committee. Also invited were three members of the Senate committee that writes the state budget: Democrats Royce West of Dallas and John Whitmire of Houston, along with Republican Kim Brimer of Fort Worth.
The travel plans changed, though, about 24 hours after The News first inquired about the trip. Transportation department officials said they postponed the trip because a more pressing duty arose.
Mr. Brimer said he knew nothing about how the trip came about and if he had, he would have paid for it with campaign funds.
"I don't need a handout," he said.
The other lawmakers did not return calls seeking comment.
Seven top employees of the Texas Department of Transportation were also scheduled to go, though their agency was to pay their way.
"It's to look at what they do [in Toronto] and the lessons learned there so we can come back and do it better in Texas," said transportation department spokeswoman Gaby Garcia, who said state employees have gone to California to review toll roads. "We're not shy about going out and seeing what others are doing."