The 'K Street' Effect Hits Texas

IV. Who the Elite Lobby Bankrolled

Together with their affiliated lobby firms and PACs, 2003’s top 25 lobbyists made $3.1 million in state contributions during the corresponding 2004 election cycle. As the accompanying table shows, 60 percent of this lobby money went to 43 state politicians and two political committees (Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Speaker Craddick’s Stars Over Texas PAC).

Reflecting the fact that lobbyists tend to curry favor with incumbent powers, the top 45 recipients of this lobby largesse include just six Democrats. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who occupies what some have called Texas’ most powerful office, led the list, receiving more than $300,000 of these elite lobby funds. Governor Rick Perry came next, followed by Speaker Craddick, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

Reports have surfaced in recent years of top politicians or their surrogates aggressively squeezing the lobby. Dallas insurance executive Robert Reinarz sent industry colleagues a 1999 memo soliciting $25,000 in contributions for then-Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry; Reinarz described this amount as the “price” required to block Perry from assigning an interim Senate panel to study insurance deregulation. A Perry spokesman told the Dallas Morning News, which obtained the memo, that his office knew nothing about the solicitation by this Perry supporter.

After the Republicans won a House majority in November 2002, thereby consolidating control over Texas’ executive and legislative branches, reports arose of a crackdown on Democrat-led trade groups. In the most prominent example, the Texas Medical Association’s longtime Democratic lobbyist Kim Ross told the Austin American-Statesman that gubernatorial pressure forced him out of his job in early 2003 after his physicians’ trade group endorsed Perry’s Democratic challenger. Ross said that Mike Toomey, the lobbyist whom Perry had recently appointed as his chief of staff, told physicians, “You’re dead if you don’t get rid of Kim Ross.” Earlier this year Toomey’s successor Deirdre Delisi solicited top business lobbyists for $1.2 million to pay for a statewide ad campaign to promote the governor’s school-funding plan.

For the first time, the state of Texas hired outside lobbyists in 2003 to press the state’s interests in Washington, the Houston Chronicle reported in 2005. Governor Perry promoted the plan, which yielded a $180,000 annual contract for the Federalist Group and former DeLay chief of staff Drew Maloney. Critics said the contract was a kickback to Maloney for helping TRMPAC raise corporate funds.

Bill Miller, who served with two other lobbyists on Craddick’s 2002 Speaker transition team, later devised a plan to help the Speaker put a DeLay-style squeeze on the lobby. HillCo’s Miller urged Craddick in 2004 to make lobbyists “part of the Speaker’s Team” if they supported him with research, organizing and fundraising. Miller told the Dallas Morning News, which broke the story, that he never discussed the plan with Craddick. Calling Miller’s account “a lie,” Craddick’s office said the speaker rejected the proposal after Miller presented it to him in person.

Then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander fired Chief of Staff John Colyandro in 2000 following complaints about a controversial program that he oversaw. The comptroller promoted her “e-Texas” program as a way to save tax dollars by moving state services online. Critics complained when the comptroller solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in start-up costs from information technology companies that were likely bidders for future e-Texas contracts. The comptroller also overreached by offering these donors: Opportunities to shape the program behind closed doors; and Advertising space on the state’s e-Texas website. After apparently being axed for E-texas excesses, Colyandro went on to become the now-indicted former director of DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC).

Prominent evidence of the squeeze that TRMPAC put on the corporate lobby surfaced in a memo documenting a September 2002 fundraising trip to Houston by two TRMPAC fundraisers. First reported in the Houston Chronicle and Texas Observer, the memo suggests that these TRMPAC fundraisers combined their solicitation of funds with a discussion of what the executives whom they solicited sought in exchange for their financial support. Notations next to the name of a Compass Bank executive, for example, said, “22 K direct” and “clean up home equity lending.” Soon thereafter the Compass PAC contributed a total of $22,000 to 22 Republican House candidates backed by TRMPAC. The following year the Texas Legislature presented voters with a Compass-backed constitutional amendment that allows Texas banks to establish home-equity lines of credit for the first time. Another target for TRMPAC’s Houston fundraising trip was Bruce Gibson, the then-executive overseeing Reliant Energy’s huge lobby force. Lieutenant Governor Elect David Dewhurst tapped Gibson soon thereafter as his chief of staff.

As Toomey, Miller and Gibson illustrate, the lobby was no longer just influencing Texas government. By 2003 the lobby had a major role in running it.

Top Recipients of Money From 2003's
Top 25 Lobbyists, Thier Firms & PACs

Office Held/Sought
Amount in 2004
Candidate (Party) or PAC
Or Interest
Election Cycle
David Dewhurst (R) Lt. Governor
Rick Perry (R) Governor
Tom Craddick (R) Speaker
Greg Abbott (R) Attorney General
Carole Keeton Strayhorn (R) Comptroller
Ron Wilson (D) House
Kevin Eltife (R) Senate
Scott Brister (R) Supreme Court
Susan Combs (R) Agriculture Commissioner
Stars Over Texas (R) Backs Speaker Craddick
Allan Ritter (D) House
Kenneth Brimer (R) Senate
Paul Green (R) Supreme Court
Mario Gallegos (D) Senate
Victor Carrillo (R) Railroad Commission
Chris Harris (R) Senate
Todd Baxter (R) House
Royce West (D) Senate
Patrick Rose (D) House
Todd Staples (R) Senate
Stephen Ogden (R) Senate
Talmadge Heflin (R) House
Florence Shapiro (R) Senate
James Pitts (R) House
Joe Nixon (R) House
Jack Stick (R) House
Kent Grusendorf (R) House
Troy Fraser (R) Senate
Geoffrey Connor (R) Secretary of State
Robert Deuell (R) Senate
John Carona (R) Senate
Leticia Van De Putte (D) Senate
Jerry Patterson (R) Land Commissioner
Sylvester Turner (D) House
Kyle Janek (R) Senate
Kenneth Armbrister (D) Senate
Kip Averitt (R) Senate
Harriet O'Neill (R) Supreme Court
Bob Pemberton (R) 3rd Court of Appeals
Jane Nelson (R) Senate
Texans For Lawsuit Reform Restrictions on Lawsuits
Kelton Seliger (R) Senate
Michael Williams (R) Railroad Commission
Amos Mazzant (R) 5th Court of Appeals
David Medina (R) Supreme Court





©Copyright Texans for Public Justice, July 2006