Saturday, April 15, 2006

"Perry appears to have an affirmative-action program for wealthy donors."

Appointees from El Paso contribute thousands to Perry

April 15, 2006

Brandi Grissom, Austin Bureau
El Paso Times
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN -- El Pasoans appointed to powerful state boards and agencies by Republican Gov. Rick Perry have contributed more than $500,000 to his campaigns during the past five years.

An El Paso Times analysis shows 28 El Paso appointees gave Perry contributions ranging from $100 to more than $120,000 from 2001 through 2005.

A separate analysis of all Perry appointee contributions released this week by an Austin-based political watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, shows that about 300 appointees and their employers gave nearly $7 million in five years.

"Perry appears to have an affirmative-action program for wealthy donors," said Andrew Wheat, Texans for Public Justice research director.

El Pasoans account for 79 of Perry's appointments, about 8 percent.

Of those, 28 gave Perry $547,332 from 2001 to 2005, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports. On average, the 28 contributed $19,547 each.

The remaining 51 El Paso appointees did not contribute to Perry. The El Paso Times analysis indicates, however, that those who did contribute heavily received appointments to more prestigious boards that control large budgets.

The El Paso appointee who contributed the most to Perry was J. Robert Brown, president of Desert Eagle Distributing Co. Brown gave Perry $129,513.

He was appointed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in November 2003 and previously was on the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents.

He said his qualifications as an experienced, successful businessman were the reasons for his appointments, not his generosity to Perry's campaign.

"I think we as a group of business people in El Paso felt if we wanted to have a voice in Austin, we needed to get actively involved in politics and at least have a seat at the table," he said.

Perry campaign spokesman Robert Black said contributions are not a factor in appointments. El Paso appointees said their positions were granted based on their merit, not the depth of their pocketbooks.

"The tie between the governor and his appointees is their shared principles and philosophies on how government should work," Black said. "To suggest any different is just nonsense."

Perry has appointed 1,027 Texans to 235 state agencies, boards and commissions. According to the research report, about one-third, or 330, of those appointees and their family members gave Perry an average of $3,769 each from January 2000 to December 2005. Several wrote six-digit checks.

Coming in second and third in appointee contributions from El Paso were Paul Foster, president of Western Refining, and Rick Francis, chairman and CEO of Prime Capital Management and Francis Properties.

Foster gave Perry $112,224. He was appointed to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees public universities, in July 2004. Foster could not be reached for comment because he is climbing Mount Everest, an aide said.

Francis gave Perry about $110,000. The governor placed Francis on the Texas Tech University Board of Regents in November 2003.

Ted Houghton, a self- employed financial consultant, is the first El Pasoan to serve on the Texas Transportation Commission. He gave Perry about $7,000 between 2001 to 2005.

He said contributions from El Paso appointees were "a drop in the ocean" of Perry's campaign finances.

During the 2002 gubernatorial race, Perry spent more than $25 million. The most recent reports filed with the ethics commission show that Perry has $9.4 million in his re-election campaign chest.

Rather than an indication of a "pay-to-play" system, Houghton said, the appointments represent Perry's commitment to El Paso.

"This is the first governor that has given these appointments at these levels in these volumes," he said.

The Texans for Public Justice analysis found that appointees to education-related boards spent the most on Perry campaigns.

University boards of regents oversee billion-dollar budgets and control tuition prices for the millions of students in Texas institutions of higher education.

Larry Anders was appointed to the Texas Tech Board of Regents in March 2005. He was the largest Perry appointee contributor statewide, according to Texans for Public Justice, and gave more than $220,000.

All totaled, 330 appointees and their families gave Perry about $3.8 million during the five-year period analyzed. Their employers gave the governor an additional $3.1 million, the Texans for Public Justice report shows.

"We're not saying the governor shouldn't appoint these people," Texans for Public Justice researcher Wheat said. "We're saying it raises concern when people he does appoint are large donors, and the public needs to monitor this."

Perry spokesman Black said it only makes sense some of the governor's appointees would also be his benefactors.

"The governor appoints people to boards who not only share his philosophies and his principles but who also support him as governor," Black said. "And, yes, some of those people may have given him money in the past, but the two are not connected."

Black accused Texans for Public Justice of acting in "the height of hypocrisy" because the organization does not reveal its own financial supporters.

Wheat said the group keeps most of its supporters' names secret to protect them from retribution by public officials angered by the group's publications.

Wheat said, "The difference, of course, is that Mr. Perry is a public official."

Brandi Grissom may be reached at; (512) 479-6606.

© 2006 El Paso Times