Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Texas Transportation Commission hired toll road lobbyists

Texas agency hired lobbyists without Democrats’ knowledge

January 24, 2007

Associated Press
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) — Texas Democrats in the House want answers from Republican Gov. Rick Perry about why the state’s transportation agency hired a private firm two years ago to lobby Congress without their knowledge.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, learned of the contract with Federalist Group only after a lobbyist visited his office Tuesday. The visit led Green to draft a letter to Perry asking for answers. He planned to send the letter, signed by seven other Democrats, Wednesday afternoon.

“To our knowledge these lobbyists never worked with any Democratic member of the delegation over the past two years,” Green said in the letter.

News of the letter comes after state officials notified Green this week that Texas had ended contracts with Cassidy and Associates and Federalist Group. It also follows a letter last year from House Democrats asking Perry to cancel all contracts with private firms hired to lobby Congress.

Members of the lobby firms whose contracts were canceled were connected to convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and to staffers who once worked for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a public corruption case involving a congressman and some former congressional staffers. DeLay left Congress in June and is facing charges in Texas in a campaign finance case.

Green asked Perry in the letter to inform the Democrats of any other lobbyists on the state payroll to lobby Congress on behalf of state agencies.

Green said hiring specialized firms to deal with federal agencies like the Department of Transportation may be justified but “hiring congressional lobbyists to lobby for Texas is an unnecessary waste of taxpayer money when Texas already has state employees in Washington and 34 members of Congress.”

Randall Dillard, spokesman for the Texas Transportation Department, said the agency recently contracted with The Rodman Co., which hired several subcontractors. Those subcontractors and their retainers are ViaNovo, $10,500 a month; Garry Mauro, $10,000 a month; Federalist Group $10,000 a month and Chard Bradley, $5,000 a month, Dillard said. Further details on the contract were not immediately available.

The agency also contracted with Association Strategies in 2004, which hired Federalist Group. That contract expired in November 2004.

Dillard said the firms were hired to help local communities navigate Washington and primarily are on hand to lobby members of Congress from other states. He also said they are to work on the state’s behalf to make sure it gets its share of transportation dollars.

“While the Texas delegation is very involved in transportation issues, we are outnumbered,” Dillard said.

Most large and mid-size cities in Texas, including Houston, hire lobbyists to help them with Washington’s transportation bureaucracy, said Robert Black, Perry’s spokesman. “The governor leaves it up to each state agency on how they want to use their resources,” Black said.

Black expressed disappointment that Green voiced his concerns to news media rather than calling Perry’s office, particularly after the governor met with the Democrats privately Friday in Washington.

The Federalist Group filed a lobbying disclosure form with the Senate clerk, which makes the disclosure forms available online. The form dated April 20, 2005, lists Drew Maloney, a former DeLay staffer, and Chris Giblin, a former chief of staff to Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, as lobbyists.

They were hired to lobby on the Transportation Reauthorization Act, better known as the highway bill, Congress approved in July 2005. A spokesman for Federalist Group declined comment.

No other documents related to lobby work for the Texas Department of Transportation were on file with the Senate.

Other state agencies, mostly universities also have lobbyists, Senate filings show. The Texas Land Office had a $24,000 contract with Anja Graves of CHG Associates to lobby Congress, the Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior on the energy and water spending bill.

© 2007 The Associated Press: