Saturday, January 13, 2007

"Perry appears to enjoy broad support among the corporate community, if not among the electorate."

Picking up the tab for Perry's party

The stage is set for Texas inauguration

January 13, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Corporate interests representing liquor, construction, energy and insurance companies – many with business before the state – will provide $1.4 million for Gov. Rick Perry's daylong inaugural festivities.

From the parade and barbecue to the glittery black-tie ball, a host of big-dollar benefactors is footing the bill for much of Tuesday's celebration.

Mr. Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst will be sworn in at a noon ceremony at the Capitol that is expected to draw thousands of onlookers and attract the state's political and corporate elite.

Under state law, corporations are forbidden from contributing to political candidates but may pay for inaugural activities. Critics say special interests use the arrangement to curry favor with politicians.

Companies say political contributions are part of doing business in the state, and that every inauguration – for both Democrats and Republicans – has had corporate sponsors.

Among the donors are companies whose executives have won plum appointments by Mr. Perry as university regents and to commissions dealing with everything from highways to hunting leases.

Dallas-based TXU Corp., which sought Mr. Perry's assistance to speed construction of 11 new coal-fired power plants, is a $15,000 donor. An effort to stop the "fast-tracking" permits is expected to be a hot issue between the governor and critics in the Legislature.

Other business donors have a variety of state interests, including toll roads, liquor regulation, insurance rates, taxes and real estate.

Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Mr. Perry, said that by underwriting the costs, private donors are helping save tax dollars and making the inaugural more affordable.

"These are individuals and corporations who choose to be part of a historical event and help plan a celebration that involves Texans all across the state," she said.

Another view

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign contributions, said corporate executives get access and special treatment unavailable to the average citizen.

Mr. McDonald said the Republican governor depended on big-dollar donors to win re-election with 39 percent of the vote against four challengers and is now cashing in on corporations for the celebration.

"It's a party the corporate lobby can't afford to miss," he said. "Governor Perry appears to enjoy broad support among the corporate community, if not among the electorate."

Governors elsewhere have been criticized for accepting corporate donations for inaugural parties, including Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts. At least one, incoming New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, instead used $5.5 million in leftover campaign funds. Mr. Spitzer also decided on a day of festivities open to the public rather than an inaugural ball.

Mr. Perry's private donations account for much of the $2 million inauguration budget. The balance will come from the sale of tickets to the inaugural ball at $75 per guest and lunches sold after the swearing-in. The cost of security and arrangements for the swearing-in ceremony itself is paid by the state.

Much of the expense for the inaugural is associated with the ball, including renting the Austin Convention Center, hiring personnel and the musical entertainment – rocker Ted Nugent and country crooner Clay Walker are on the bill.

Other expenses include erecting tents on the Capitol grounds for the barbeque – Dallas-based Eddie Deen Catering will set up 30 buffet rows to serve 800 whole briskets and 2,000 pounds of Earl Campbell-brand sausage. Then there's the cost of portable toilets and of hiring police and workers to prepare the parade route, erect bleachers and install traffic barriers.

The budget for this party is up from the $1.5 million budgeted for Mr. Perry's 2003 inauguration. That time, organizers also paid for a large chunk of the costs with corporate money.

This time, according to a list released by the inaugural committee, AT&T is the biggest contributor at $100,000, followed by five donors at $50,000 each and 16 individuals and corporations at $25,000.

Dannenbaum Engineering, a Houston construction company that has a state contract as part of Mr. Perry's toll road initiative, is a $10,000 donor.

Florida-based AshBritt Inc., a debris-removal company with strong Republican ties that has sought government contracts following hurricanes on the Gulf Coast and ice storms in Texas, has given $15,000. International RAM Associates, which assists in airport security in Texas and 15 other states, is a $25,000 donor.

Boards, commissions

Executives of several companies that are inaugural donors have been appointed by Mr. Perry to coveted boards and commissions.

Peter Holt of San Antonio is an appointee to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. His company, Holt CAT, has given $50,000 to the inauguration.

Irving investor and hotel owner Robert Rowling, whose TRT Holdings is a $10,000 donor, was appointed by Mr. Perry to the University of Texas Board of Regents. Frank Miller of Irving, whose real-estate company JPI is a $10,000 donor, is a Texas Tech regent.

Having chosen wrong in November's race for governor, at least one inaugural donor is putting his money on the winning side on Tuesday. Dallas dental-clinic operator David Alameel supported one of Mr. Perry's challengers, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, with $300,000 in contributions.

When the Republican governor and lieutenant governor are sworn in Tuesday, Mr. Alameel will be among the day's biggest financial benefactors – $50,000.


© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co