Read the article at the Austin American-Statesman
Report: State officials accepted 348 travel gifts in 2005-06
Group calls Williamson County lawmaker a 'lobby favorite.'
By W. Gardner Selby
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Gov. Rick Perry and 68 other high-level state officials partook of 348 travel gifts funded by lobbyists in 2005-06, according to a report by Texans for Public Justice.
The Austin-based watchdog group doesn't say laws were broken by lobbyists giving or officials taking the trips, which were identified in reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. But the group, which tracks and questions the influence of money and corporate power in Texas politics, suggested that lobby-funded trips or gifts amount to an unseemly way for interests to curry officials.
"The public would be better off without this kind of thing occurring," Andrew Wheat, the group's research director, said. "Most Texans don't have a corporate jet to offer public officials."
As in Congress, the group said, state lawmakers should ban lobbyists and their clients from giving gifts of more than a nominal value to candidates, officials or their staffs.
The group also opposes "noncommercial aircraft furnished by outside private interests."
State law bars lobbyists from paying for strictly ceremonial or pleasure trips. Lobbyists can pay for transportation and lodging for officials or state employees to explore matters directly related to duties.
Perry, who doesn't favor banning privately funded travel, almost always pays for his state travel from campaign donations. But his March trip to the Middle East was funded by TexasOne, a foundation started on Perry's watch to market Texas.
Perry spokesman Ted Royer said campaign contributions are public, "unlike donations to this trial-lawyer-funded front group," referring to Texans for Public Justice.
Director Craig McDonald said Texans for Public Justice discloses foundations that back it but, as a nonpartisan nonprofit, it's not required to name donors.
In the report, the group calls state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, a "lobby favorite." Krusee, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, took nine lobby-funded trips in the period reviewed, 2005 and 2006 through the eve of the November elections, the report said.
J. McCartt, a lobbyist whose clients include contractor Fluor Corp. and PBS&J, an engineering firm, flew Krusee to Washington in October 2005 to address a conference on public-private transportation ventures held by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, according to the report.
McCartt also flew Krusee to Las Vegas to deliver the keynote address at a PBS&J toll summit after the 2005 regular session.
And lobbyist Brian Cassidy, whose clients include the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, sent Krusee to New York in December 2005 to attend an awards ceremony held by the Bond Buyer newspaper, which had given the authority a Deal-of-the-Year award. Krusee had authored the 2003 legislation that authorized mobility authorities to issue bonds.
Krusee's office issued a statement Tuesday stating that he "learns from other parts of the country and innovative industries about how to get traffic moving, how to improve safety and how to build roads in cost-effective ways."
Krusee said last week that he'd be happy to have the state pay travel costs.
"I vote and advocate for the people of my district," he said. "I don't even know who funds these trips. People can criticize if they want; they do it every day."