Austin—Private interests paid the travel expenses for 81 elected or high-ranking appointed Texas officials on 338 occasions from January 2005 through November 2006, a new study finds. Making Connections: State Officials and Their Private-Interest Travel Agents, is the first report of its kind analyzing travel gifts to Texas officials by registered lobbyists and other private interests.
Travel gifts covered in the report include those paid for—and disclosed by—registered lobbyists as well as in-kind travel donations made by private donors to state candidates or public officials. As such Making Connections does not cover the more than 1,500 trips that state officials took at public expense on aircraft maintained by the state. Nor does it include hundreds of trips that candidates and officials paid for out of campaign or officeholder accounts.
Most of the travel gifts analyzed in the report were flights (with each leg of a round-trip journey typically reported as a separate gift). Yet the travel gifts studied also include a smattering of hotel bills, cab fares, rental cars and reimbursements for miles driven in personal vehicles. Making Connections analyzes 338 such travel gifts. It credits travel gifts benefiting an official’s staff or family to the corresponding official.
Researchers found Texas’ poor system for disclosing official travel is both overly complex and inadequate. “Sorting out who paid whom to fly where is like flying in the dark,” said Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald. “Despite murky disclosure, it’s clear that some corporate-jet owners operate frequent-flier programs for our state officials.”
Key findings of Making Connections include:
Governor Rick Perry was the top recipient of private travel gifts, receiving 66 of them—or 20 percent of the total. Private interests reported spending $205,460 on gubernatorial wanderlust. Three-fourths of this amount came from three wealthy businessmen: Flatonia sausage magnate Danny Janecka, El Paso refinery executive Paul Foster and Houston auto wholesaler Thomas Dan Friedkin. A trucking trade group also spent $14,580 on a private jet to fly Perry’s family to Los Angeles for the Rose Bowl.
Registered lobbyists reported 137 travel gifts. The Associated General Contactors (AGC) accounted for almost half of this total, sending dozens of officials to conferences at luxury hotels in the Adirondacks, Padre Island and Lake Tahoe.
Toll road lobbyists flew Rep. Mike Krusee to Washington, New York and Las Vegas. Krusee went to the Big Apple, for example, when the Bond Buyer newspaper awarded the Southwest region’s “Deal-of-the-Year” award to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CMTRA) for issuing $238 million in toll-road bonds. Krusee authored the 2003 legislation that authorized CTRMA to issue such bonds.
Other private interests spent a total of $539,245 on the remaining 201 travel gifts. Amarillo-based developer Steve Sterquell—a major recipient of state-awarded, low-income housing tax credits—was the top travel donor outside of the formal lobby.
The report concludes that Texas’ crazy-quilt system for reporting official travel paid for by private interests is at once too lenient and too complex. It recommends reforms to provide greater transparency and better protect the public interest.
A complete copy of the report is available at http://www.tpj.org/reports/Travel2007/index.html.
Texans for Public Justice is a non-partisan, non-profit policy & research
organization that tracks money and influence in Texas politics.