Unseemly gifts: Contributions to Gov. Perry from his appointees create appearance of trade-offs
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
May 9, 2009
The duties of a Texas governor are in many ways more symbolic than substantive, with a major exception the power to make hundreds of appointments to influential state boards and commissions. It provides the state’s top official a way to reward political supporters who have made or will make large contributions to the incumbent’s campaign chest.
Because there are no limits on the generosity of donors, the system can create the appearance of a trade-off, with the most coveted positions going to those who pay the political piper.
As reported by the Chronicle’s Matt Stiles, current Gov. Rick Perry didn’t pioneer the practice of taking large campaign cash gifts from appointees, but he may be the biggest beneficiary in Lone Star history. Since becoming governor in 2000, Perry has received nearly $5 million in donations from appointees. According to a 2006 study by the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, “anecdotal evidence suggests that the biggest patronage plums” have been appointments of Parks and Wildlife commissioners and university regents. These appointments channel the twin Texas obsessions of hunting and football.”
And in fact, Parks and Wildlife Commission appointee Thomas Friedkin was Perry’s biggest single donor at $418,304.
Of the top ten contributors, five are regents at the University of Texas, Texas A&M or Texas Tech.
Compounding the appearance of a quid pro quo between appointments and donors, some gave money shortly before or after they were selected by the governor. El Paso banker Rick Francis made a $25,000 contribution six days before being named to the Texas Tech board, bringing his Perry gift total to $180,000.
The governor has also received large contributions from sources affiliated with the employers of the appointees. According to the Texans for Public Justice study, in his first five years in office Perry’s campaign took in nearly $4 million from that category of donor.
While a spokesman for Governor Perry denied that contributions play any role in gubernatorial appointments, the practice, and the timing of some contributions, certainly fuels public suspicions of a connection.
Until Texas legislators devise a system to limit the size of political contributions and regulate when they can be given, it’s a suspicion that will likely continue no matter who occupies the Governor’s Mansion.