Some former top aides to Rick Perry who have moved to the private sector have a nearly $10 million stake in state business
By JOHN MORITZ, STAR-TELEGRAM AUSTIN BUREAU
February 20, 2007
AUSTIN -- When Rick Perry assembled his senior staff after being sworn in as governor for the first time, he promised Texans that he would have the most stringent policy in history when it came to slowing down the so-called revolving door that enables top officials to trade the skills honed in government service for lucrative careers in lobbying.
But six years later, more than a dozen of Perry's former senior aides as both governor and lieutenant governor are now lobbying lawmakers and top statewide officials on some of the highest-profile issues awaiting the governor's and the Legislature's attention.
And added together, the lobbying contracts of those former aides are worth up to nearly $10 million, according to a Star-Telegram analysis of data maintained by the Texas Ethics Commission.
"It just goes to show you that Texas is still the Wild, Wild West when it comes to the revolving door that sends people from government service, to the lobby, back to government service and back to the lobby," said Andrew Wheat, a spokesman for Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group.
Forces across the political spectrum have targeted the ties between former Perry staffers and the Austin lobby because of initiatives that the Republican governor has been pushing since taking office for his second full term last month.
Conservative organizations, such as the Texas Eagle Forum, have suggested that Perry issued a controversial vaccine order because his former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, is a lobbyist for the vaccine's manufacturer, Merck & Co. The order requires girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated for the sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer.
Groups including the more liberal Texans for Public Justice have raised questions about the appearance of former Perry staffer Ray Sullivan lobbying on behalf of the financial services giant UBS, which might be among the bidders if the governor's proposal to sell the Texas lottery comes to pass. The firm has also hired 23-year-old Griffin Perry, the governor's son.
Neither Sullivan nor the younger Perry has any dealings with the firm's lottery activities.
Perry's office has said that the governor had nothing to do with his son's employment status. In an interview with Capitol reporters last week, Perry said that any attention given to his son's job was "minutiae" in light of the more pressing issues facing the state.
The governor also said he is unconcerned with criticism about his former staffers taking lobbying jobs because all have followed guidelines he set in 2000. The guidelines forbid them to try to influence the governor's office for one full legislative session after they leave the payroll.
"It doesn't bother me a bit," Perry said. "There are people who have left government since, I suppose ... they created government 200 years ago, that went off to the private sector and made money."
And most of the former senior Perry aides are making substantial money, according to the reports on file with the ethics commission.
Toomey, who served in the House with Perry in the 1980s and was Perry's chief of staff in 2003 and 2004, lists 10 lobby clients whose contracts this year are worth up to $1.55 million.
Lobbyists must report the value of the contracts in ranges, such as $25,000 to $49,999 or $50,000 to $99,999.
Dan Shelley, who was Perry's chief liaison to the Legislature in 2005, has 10 clients with contracts totaling up to $1.2 million.
Sullivan, who was press secretary during Perry's two years as lieutenant governor, lists five lobby clients whose contracts are worth up to $400,000.
Critics say the revolving door from government service to the lobby raises questions in the public's mind over where the officials' loyalties lie.
"Members of the public are already distrustful of their government," Wheat said. "So they are apt to wonder, 'Whose interests are being served, the public's interests or these private interests?'"
Sullivan rejected the notion that a lobbyist cannot serve both or that it is somehow unseemly to take a private-sector job after working for a public official.
"Regardless of profession, everyone builds their career based on what they know," he said. "Prosecutors, after they leave office, sometimes become defense lawyers. Professional athletes become sportscasters. Reporters and editorial writers become press secretaries. The only difference is, we are required by law to disclose our clients and our salary ranges.
"I went into politics and government service because I had strongly held beliefs," he added. "I carry those beliefs with me as an advocate for my clients."
In 2000, Perry said his policy of barring senior staff members from lobbying his office for at least one legislative session was stricter than any of his predecessors' policies.
He also requires them to disclose outside income and real estate holdings.
"I think the people of the state of Texas deserve to know that the individuals that are working for them in the governor's office adhere to what I consider to be not only strict but higher standards," he said at the time.
Wheat said that while the rhetoric sounded tough, the record shows that the revolving door spins uninterrupted.
"It just shows that the ethics laws really have no teeth in this state," he said.
Nonsense, Perry replied.
"Now if you can show me one place where someone has made an unethical, illegal transaction, please do," he said. "I would suggest to you, in 22 years of public service, I've probably been looked at as closely as anybody. And not once has there been an illegal activity. .. If you've got any clear evidence of wrongdoing, go to [Travis County District Attorney] Ronnie Earle with it."
IN THE KNOW
Perry's former aides
Here are some of the best-paid lobbyists who are former senior aides to Rick Perry. The dollar amount is the high-end worth of their lobbying contracts:
-Robert Howden, former communications director: $675,000
-Victoria Ford, former legislative liaison: $580,000
-Ray Sullivan, former press secretary: $400,000
-Mark Borskey, former legislative liaison: $400,000
SOURCE: Texas Ethics Commission
AIDE TO LOBBYIST
A look at three former Perry aides and the value of their lobbying contracts.
Former chief of staff
Contracts worth up to: $1.55 million
Former legislative liaison
Contracts worth up to: $1.2 million
Former legislative liaison
Contracts worth up to: $860,000