Saturday, March 04, 2006

In Texas, campaigning is a lifestyle choice

CBS 42 Investigates Campaign Contributions

Mar 4, 2006

Nanci Wilson Reporting
For video, click CBS 42
CBS Broadcasting Inc
Copyright 2006

(CBS 42) AUSTIN Running for office is not cheap. Politicians spend a lot of money to get each and every vote.

If you contribute to a candidate, how do you know if the money was spent to get that candidate elected? Investigative reporter Nanci Wilson found out.

Yes, it takes a lot of money to run for office, but---wait a minute-- does it all go to get people elected?

"To run a headquarters, do mass mailings, to run an office you have to have a headquarter it's like a business office, to operate it, they have volunteers and all. They hire professional personnel like, public relations people, people who do the legwork and people to do the management. Also the money is used for press and commercials and advertisement," voter Susie Labry said.

Some is spent paying for TV and other advertising, but a surprising amount is spent in other ways. CBS 42 Investigates analyzed the campaign expenditure reports of a number of local and statewide officeholders.

Investigates found they spent thousands of dollars in campaign contributions living the good life--lavish meals, expensive trips, private planes and luxury hotels.

Investigates wasn't the only ones who found questionable spending.

Campaigns for People---a non-partisan advocacy group-- looked at how Texas state senators spent their contributions over a three year period and found, “Only 40 percent of donations were used for campaign activities, 35 percent went for lifestyle expenses, 20 percent was spent on office expenses and 5 percent for miscellaneous expenditures.”

"Well, I had a sort of Jimmy Stewart notion that it was going to be spent on their campaigns, but as it turns out, most of it goes to support their lifestyle, nice apartment in Austin, nice car, go on trips entertainment on the Super Bowl," Fred Lewis with Campaigns for People said.

"If they are truly spending it on Super Bowl tickets, cars, things like that I’d be very surprised,” voter Craig Brandenburg said. “Shocked surprised and kinda hurt surprised. That's definitely not what that money should be used for."

But it is. Investigates found trips to Rome and Florence, Italy are among the many travel expenses highlighting Governor Rick Perry’s campaign report. And even though the governor couldn't go, his campaign paid for a trip to Japan for first lady Anita Perry.

Speaker of the House Tom Craddick took his wife to Sweden last summer. He also spent more than $1,200 of his donors’ money on tickets to the 2004 Super Bowl.

Lots of elected officials use contributions for sporting events. Austin area state senator Jeff Wentworth’s campaign paid for his trip to the Cotton Bowl. And when there's been a presidential inauguration, whether it is President Clinton or President Bush, many elected officials spent their donors’ money to fly to Washington for the festivities.

Sometimes the parties and festivities are held here in Austin. In the past two years, Governor Rick Perry’s campaign has spent more than $247,000 on entertaining friends at the governor's mansion.

With millions of dollars in their campaign accounts some officials can afford to be generous. In the past two years, the governor spent more than $23,000 sending steaks to his biggest supporters. His wife spent more than $17,000 from his campaign account on gifts to constituents.

The Perry’s aren't alone in their generosity. Reports show lawmakers spend thousands of dollars on gifts to supporters and to each other.

'"Often times at the end of the session, committee members get together give their chairman a big gift, hunting trip to Alaska, or a fancy bowl or something like that as a memento of the year. And the chairman turns around and gives their members gifts as well. Fancy cowboy boots, rocking chairs the list is endless and goes on and on," Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith with Public Citizen said.

Sometimes campaign contributions stay in the family. House Speaker Tom Craddick pays his daughter a salary of $108,000 a year to work on his behalf. On top of that , CBS 42 Investigates found she is being paid from a political action committee supported by her father. Craddick gave $50,000 to Stars Over Texas Political Action Committee -- soon after it wrote checks for $45,000 to a company Craddick’s daughter owns and runs out of her west Austin condo. In the past year -- the PAC has paid her another $20,000. Investigates also found Craddick paid an undisclosed amount to his daughter through this company from his special Speaker of the House account.

"This is part of a political practice, it's not just Tom Craddick, it's Tom DeLay giving money to various entities who hire his wife and his daughter. This may be an issue of family values but we don't those think those family members have that much value to the political system that we ought to be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for work that could be done and should by somebody that is not in the family," Smith said.

Craddick, like other lawmakers, spends some of his donations on legal fees. During the time the grand jury was investigating the 2002 elections that ended in the indictment of US Congressman Tom DeLay, House Speaker Tom Craddick paid Austin criminal defense attorney Roy Minton more than $102,000.

"When you give money to a candidate you expect they are going to keep their business clean, their nose clean and are going to use your money to run for office, not to defend against practices that are shady or illegal,” Smith said. “And if you're spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers to keep you out of jail, the question is, is that why you got the money?"

One of the biggest surprises Investigates found? How many and how often politicians give away their campaign donations to other candidates. Thousands of dollars move from one campaign account to another.

Those are just a few of the expenditures that Investigates found.

So is this legal? Well -- yes. There are very few rules about how campaign donations can be used. They can't be used to buy real estate or for personal use.

The way the law is written, as long as politicians say they are campaigning, then it's not considered personal use.

Investigates spoke with the representatives of the office holders mentioned in this story. All confirmed the funds were spent as we described.

© MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc.