Weatherford legislator says he took free tickets to big game
By R.A. DYER
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Thu, Feb. 07, 2008
AUSTIN -- State Rep. Phil King acknowledged Wednesday that he accepted two free tickets to the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston from a utility industry lobbyist.
The Weatherford Republican, chairman of the House Committee on Regulated Industries, watched the game from a luxury suite of CenterPoint Energy, a Houston energy company. King told the Star-Telegram in 2005 that CenterPoint did not pay for his ticket and that he did not discuss legislative business during the game.
However, a Texas Ethics Commission report filed in 2004 by CenterPoint Vice President Scott E. Rozzell shows that Rozzell spent $876.30 on King and his son during the game. Rozzell, whose company routinely has business before King's House committee, said "that sounds right" when asked whether part of the expenditures was for Super Bowl tickets.
Asked about the Ethics Commission report Wednesday, King acknowledged that he had not paid for the tickets.
"I did pay for all my travel and my hotel," King said. "We had an offer for a free ticket, and we took it."
Critics see a pattern
King has long been criticized by public watchdog groups as being too close to the companies he oversees. Tonight, for instance, he will be feted at a campaign fundraiser at Rozzell's $1.2 million Houston home.
The invitations solicit political donations of between $250 and $5,000 for King.
Both King and Rozzell defended the fundraiser, but Andrew Wheat, an analyst for the campaign finance watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, said the Super Bowl tickets and the fundraiser are part of a larger pattern.
"When you look at the pattern of relationships between Representative King and the industry his committee regulates, it's fair to ask who's regulating whom," Wheat said.
King, who faces former Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison in the March 4 primary, said he sees no reason to apologize for the fundraiser or for his support from the industry.
"I don't think they're going to support you unless you're a free-market person," he said.
King also drew criticism in 2005 for a celebratory dinner for the members of his regulated industries committee at the home of a powerful lobbyist whose clients include AT&T and FPL Energy -- each with business before King's house committee. Catering was courtesy of telecommunications companies SBC and Grande Communications, also with business before the committee.
King raised eyebrows last year when he enlisted the support of a powerful industry group to lobby his state colleagues on behalf of two bills that were then being criticized by consumer groups.
In each case, King said that the criticism was unwarranted and that he remains independent. He said industry supports him because of his commitment to free-market principles and to improving the business climate in Texas.
Rozzell, the CenterPoint vice president, said the company doesn't expect any special treatment from King.
"I am a friend and supporter of King, personally, and I'm happy to help his fundraising," he said. "He's not only a friend and a good candidate, but an officeholder in an important committee who has a good understanding of what I think is fundamental energy issues."
Star-Telegram staff writer Aman Batheja contributed to this report.
Much of the money that state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, has used to finance his re-election effort has come from the industries he oversees. For instance, more than 30 percent of the $81,405 in contributions he lists on his most recent campaign finance report came from political action committees representing the energy and telecommunications industries.
The report, which covers Jan. 1-Jan. 24, also shows that King's biggest contribution of $10,000 came from Houston home builder Bob Perry, a key GOP donor. The report showed he had $314,003 cash on hand.
Former Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison, King's opponent in the March 4 Republican primary, has reported raising $49,748 during the same period and having $33,072 cash on hand. His largest donation came from Texas Parent PAC, an Austin-based group that describes itself as "pro-public education" but is best known for its opposition to private school vouchers.
The group donated $12,794 to Tison in the most recent report.
-- Aman Batheja