Read the article at the Austin American-Statesman
Modest Straus war chest helped by local businesses
Alcohol distributors, AT&T workers among political donors
By Jason Embry
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
San Antonio business executives, beer distributors and donors with ties to the horse racing industry have helped fill the political bank account of state Rep. Joe Straus during his brief time in legislative politics.
Straus, the Republican from San Antonio who is poised to become the next speaker of the Texas House, has raised tens of thousands of dollars from employees of major businesses in his hometown since his first run for the Legislature in early 2005.
Among his fundraising highlights:
• He has raised at least $17,500 from employees of AT&T and another $15,500 from political action committees affiliated with the company.
• He has raised at least $10,275 from employees of Valero Energy and $12,500 from the company's political action committee.
• He has raised at least $8,500 from employees of USAA, an insurance and financial services company, and $7,750 from company-related political action committees.
Straus, who hasn't led a committee and hasn't faced a serious re-election challenge in his two terms, has raised $1.1 million in four years — a respectable amount, but not in the same league as the House's most prolific fundraisers. By comparison, outgoing Speaker Tom Craddick has raised more than $5 million during that time.
Straus' largest single contributor has been H-E-B grocer Charles Butt, the primary benefactor of a group that fights school vouchers. Butt has given Straus $18,100. Straus has received $3,500 from voucher proponent James Leininger of San Antonio, with the most recent check coming in 2006.
He has also received at least $25,000 from alcohol distributors. Some have ties to the horse racing industry, as does Straus, whose father helped found Retama Park race track.
Straus contributors with racing ties include San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt, an investor in Retama Park who has given Straus more than $14,000, and the LaMantia family of South Texas, which gave him $5,000 early in his career and is developing a race track in the Rio Grande Valley.
Racing interests have pushed hard in recent years for lawmakers to allow video lottery terminals, similar to slot machines, at race tracks. Straus said Monday that he will stay away from issues connected to his family business.
"My stance on gaming or any other issue is, as speaker, to be influenced greatly by the position of the Texas House and by fellow members," Straus said. He added, "I'll stay away from it."
That could be tricky, however, because the speaker appoints committee leaders and decides which committees will hear legislation.
"He hasn't taken a lead on gambling issues so far," said Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, which monitors campaign spending. But, he added, "It's nearly impossible for a speaker to distance himself from all aspects of a piece of legislation."