Monday, May 4, 2009

Gov. Rick Perry has accepted nearly $5 million in political campaign donations from people he appointed to state boards and commissions, including some in plum jobs that set policy for state universities, parks and roads, records show. Read the article at the Houston Chronicle

Records show appointees gave Perry $5 million

But governor’s office says donations are not considered in job assignments

Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
May 4, 2009

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry has accepted nearly $5 million in political campaign donations from people he appointed to state boards and commissions, including some in plum jobs that set policy for state universities, parks and roads, records show.

Nearly half the appointee donations came from people serving as higher education regents, including more than $840,000 from those at the University of Texas System, according to a Houston Chronicle review of campaign-finance records.

Political patronage is nothing new for Texas governors in both political parties. The contributions are a legal and common practice, though it has been fodder for critics over the years.

“The reason people should care is that it would be nice to think that government functioned as a meritocracy,” said Andrew Wheat of the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, which has tracked appointee donations in the past.

Perry’s office didn’t dispute the Chronicle’s analysis, but rejected any notion that the governor considers donations in choosing his appointments. His spokesman, Mark Miner, noted that many people serving the state for the governor aren’t donors.

Indeed, only about one in 10 of the 2,400 people currently serving Perry have written campaign checks, according to the review, which matched names and other records in computerized data to flag donors.

The appointees have given about $4.9 million since Perry became governor in late 2000, with the average donation topping $7,000. The total is only a fraction of the more than $60 million the governor has raised since he took office.

In some cases, Perry’s appointees gave money in the weeks before or after being selected. A commissioner on the Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board, for example, gave $33,000 two weeks after his appointment.

Rick Francis, an El Paso banker who has donated more than $180,000 to Perry, including a $25,000 donation six days before his appointment to the Texas Tech University Board of Regents, said he was proud to support the governor financially.

“I believe in Rick Perry’s leadership and vision for Texas and, as a result, have contributed money to the ‘Century Council’ every year for many years,’ he said in a written statement, referring to a designation the campaign gives its top donors.

Miner said appointees, whether they give donations or not, are subject to applications, general background checks and legislative confirmations. As to those who do give campaign money, Miner said the governor sometimes chooses community civic and business leaders and people who are politically engaged.

Peggy Venable, Texas director for Americans for Prosperity who vetted federal appointees during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, said their financial support can be an indicator of whether they will implement policies that jibe with an elected official’s vision. “You look for people who you know will uphold the policies and ideals that you worked so hard on.”

Jeff Sandefer, founder of an Austin-based energy investment firm appointed to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, said his $270,000 in donations over the years weren’t a factor. “The main reason I support the governor is that he defends our basic freedoms and continues to keep taxes low, both of which I believe will make Texas a better place for my children.”

Many not scrutinized

Unlike regents and other plum appointments, such as the Parks and Wildlife Commission, many of Perry’s appointees serve in lower-profile positions that typically don’t require detailed scrutiny from the Texas Senate, which considers nominees every two years.

Last week, for example, newly appointed regents from Texas A&M University System were asked to testify before the nominations committee. But those selected to serve on the Credit Union Commission, Family and Protective Services Council and Texas Public Finance Authority were not called.

Generally, the rank-and-file appointees, if they give at all, do so in smaller amounts, records show.

Appointees represent a significant lever or power to any Texas governor, an office with comparably limited powers. Perry’s predecessors, Ann Richards and George W. Bush, also accepted donations from appointees.

“This is one of the big perks that come with the office of the governor,” Wheat said. “You get to dole out this stuff to reward your donors.”