Sterquell doled out nearly $370,000 to state officialsBy Enrique Rangel/ The Amarillo Globe-News
June 29, 2009
AUSTIN - For a man who ran a nonprofit organization, Steve Sterquell proved generous to a handful of state officials.
Campaign donation reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission show that over the course of eight years Sterquell gave out nearly $370,000, nearly half going to former state comptroller and failed gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Another large amount went to her successor, Susan Combs.
Others who received smaller amounts included state Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas; state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; and Attorney General Greg Abbott. The campaigns of Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also received contributions. But aside from Swinford and Seliger, Sterquell didn't give money to any other West Texas lawmaker.
While the contributions to state officials reached into the hundreds of thousands, they pale in comparison to the millions given over the years by the likes of Houston home builder Bob Perry - no relation to the governor - and San Antonio entrepreneurs James Leininger and Charles Butt.
"We rank contributors every two years and in 2006, which was our last one, (Sterquell) was No. 65 in our ranking," said Andrew Wheat, research director at Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based group that monitors campaign donations.
"Although he didn't give out millions and millions of dollars like Perry (or) Leininger ... the reason he came to our attention is because he led a nonprofit," Wheat said. "It's a mystery to us why he gave to those folks ... it looked like he didn't have to. It is the lobbyists or special interests who give so much money because they want something in return, but a nonprofit?"
Most who received contributions from Sterquell say they knew him as an acquaintance or hardly at all. One exception is Swinford, who received $44,750 over a five-year period, including three $10,000 checks. He said he knew Sterquell for about 15 years, and the donations were for annual pheasant-hunting trips the lawmaker organizes as political fundraisers at the end of each year.
Sterquell would bring upward of a dozen people to participate in the hunting trip, and he would pay for all of them, Swinford said. "Outside of that, he never contributed to my campaign," he said.
Swinford said he appreciates the work Sterquell did in building homes for low-income people in Amarillo and other Texas communities, which is why the day Swinford learned of Sterquell's April 1 death he filed a House resolution to adjourn the daily session in his memory.
Swinford said at the time he didn't know that Sterquell had committed suicide, nor of the bankruptcy proceedings that were to follow.
"After we learned more about his death two weeks later, we didn't do anything with the resolution," he said.
For his part, Abbott said he hardly knew Sterquell.
"Obviously, he contributed to my campaign, but we weren't friends or anything like that," said Abbott, who with more than $8.5 million in campaign donations, the largest amount of any official in Texas, has a long list of wealthy donors.
"So I don't know his personal situation," Abbott said.
Sterquell's ContributionsAmount: Recipient
- $171,282: Former State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn
- $78,321: Current State Comptroller Susan Combs
- $44,750: State Rep. David Swinford
- $26,553: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott
- $14,124: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
- $13,500: State Sen. Kel Seliger
- $11,000: Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett
- $3,084.40: Failed House District 85 candidate Jim Landtroop
- $2,500: Gov. Rick Perry
- $2,500: Failed gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez
Source: Texas Ethics Commission