Top Aide to Perry Worked for Cintra
Ex-consultant wasn't paid, didn't sway decision, governor's office says
By PETE SLOVER and TONY HARTZEL
The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – A top aide to Gov. Rick Perry worked for a Spanish company until three months before the company was picked for a $7.2 billion state road project.
As a government affairs consultant for Cintra, Dan Shelley was to be paid if the road deal went through, a spokesman for the governor said. But Mr. Shelley agreed to give up all rights to that money – an amount the governor's office could not detail – when he joined Mr. Perry's staff as legislative director.
The spokesman, Robert Black, said Mr. Shelley was never paid any money by Cintra. After joining the governor's office, he said, Mr. Shelley had no contact about the project with Cintra or the Texas Transportation Commission, the Perry-appointed board that picked the company.
"The governor's office had no influence at all over who won the contract for the Trans-Texas Corridor," Mr. Black said.
Mr. Perry has made the Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of tollways and rail lines across the state projected to cost $175 billion, the centerpiece of his transportation policy. An opponent of the plan said Mr. Shelley's previous employment for Cintra added to questions about the project.
"From the very beginning, this was going to be a railroaded project," said Corridor Watch founder David Stall. His group opposes the governor's proposal and wants to ensure that the development process is open to public input. "The governor had an agenda. It's all predetermined."
A spokeswoman for Cintra, which is based in Madrid, Spain, confirmed Mr. Shelley had worked for the company but declined to comment, referring further questions to the governor's office. Mr. Shelley's office also referred calls to Mr. Perry's press office.
Mr. Shelley, a lobbyist at the time, began consulting for the company in December 2003, roughly three months after Cintra was named to a list of three possible Trans-Texas Corridor contractors, the governor's office said. When Mr. Shelley joined the governor's staff nine months later, his lobbying firm – which includes his daughter and son-in-law – did not take over the Cintra contract or the promised pay, Mr. Black said.
State records show Mr. Shelley – a lawyer and former state legislator who serves as Mr. Perry's liaison to lawmakers – and his firm were not registered with the state as lobbyists for Cintra, as required for individuals who have contact with state officials that's intended to influence government decisions.
"Dan Shelley gave advice to Cintra" about doing business in Texas, Mr. Black said. "He didn't lobby, nor did he try to influence anyone else's decisions, other than Cintra's."
Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said Mr. Shelley approached Texas Department of Transportation officials about a year ago, seeking a meeting about his work for Cintra and possibly other Spanish companies. The visit was brief, and it was the only known business contact between Mr. Shelley and the transportation department, Mr. Williamson said.
"The visit he made to TxDOT was not in the nature of a specific project," Mr. Williamson said. "It was along the lines of, 'These guys may want to do business in Texas. Can you spend some time with them?' "
Several months later, the state hosted a tour in Dallas and other Texas cities, explaining potential projects to about 20 representatives of Spanish companies. They included several from Cintra's then-parent company, Ferrovial Agroman.
"There should be an appearance question from your point of view. But from my point of view, there is none," Mr. Williamson said. "I can guarantee you Dan Shelley didn't lobby me for anything to do with Cintra."
State transporation officials said Mr. Shelley's association with Cintra could not have played a role in the company's selection for the most expensive privately funded public works project in history.
The identities of each bidder were kept separate from the details of their proposals, with the companies generally known as bidders A, B and C as their plans were evaluated and scored.
But Mr. Williamson said one company's bid stood out because of its unique method of having the contractor pay billions up front for the project, which are then repaid out of future toll and rail proceeds. That funding mechanism matched Cintra's well-known, innovative efforts elsewhere, possibly leading informed guessers to conclude that Cintra wrote that bid, Mr. Williamson said.
Cintra plans to fund the project with a combination of its own revenue and some from investors who will be paid back over time with toll money. The company, which has been in business since 1968, expects to pay for about 20 percent to 30 percent from its own funds, and to get a return on that investment starting in about a decade, company officials said.
Phillip Russell, director of TxDOT'S Texas Turnpike Authority division, has said that none of the companies knew how much weight the state would place on different parts of the bid, including the financing and road-planning aspects.