Money flows into Texas campaigns through out-of-state groups.
Governor's 2006 opponent files lawsuit over $1 million contribution from Republican group.
November 16, 2007
By Laylan Copelin
The Republican Governors Association last fall sent a list of individual donors with two $500,000 checks to Gov. Rick Perry's re-election campaign.
The campaign cashed the checks but never filed the three-page list at the Texas Ethics Commission as required by state law.
Chris Bell says Texans tired of 'hide-the-money' shenanigans.
As the governor's staff called the omission a filing error Thursday, Perry's 2006 Democratic opponent, Chris Bell, filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Perry's campaign committee and the association, accusing them of concealing the true source of the money: Houston builder Bob Perry, who is no relation to the governor.
"I think Texans have had enough of the Tom DeLay, Rick Perry, 'hide-the-money' shenanigans," Bell said in a statement. DeLay, a former U.S. House majority leader is under indictment in Travis County on a money-laundering charge stemming from the 2002 election.
Association officials said Thursday that they had complied with state law by sending the donor list to the Perry campaign.
Through his press secretary, Robert Black, Perry called Bell's lawsuit sour grapes because the governor had refused to give Bell, a former congressman, a state contract to lobby the federal government.
As the dispute Thursday took on the back-and-forth of a political campaign, it also raised questions about whether the state's campaign finance laws fall short of making transparent the sources of money flowing into Texas campaigns through out-of-state groups.
For example, the list that the Republican Governors Association gave the Perry campaign — out of an abundance of caution, association officials said — includes the names and addresses of association donors but not the amounts they gave.
During the final weeks of the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, the sources of the candidates' money became an issue.
Perry and others were criticizing Bell for accepting $2.5 million in donations and loans from Houston trial lawyer John O'Quinn. At the same time, voters were unaware who was contributing to the Perry campaign as donors to the Republican Governors Association. Such donors included Bob Perry, who underwrote the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack ads in the 2004 presidential campaign.
Ben Ginsberg, a lawyer representing the association, said the group is not a political committee under Texas law and is not subject to state reporting requirements. (It files its reports with the Internal Revenue Service to get its tax exemption.) Ginsberg likened the Republican Governors Association to an individual donor who relies on the candidate to disclose his donation.
"We were donors," he said. "If we were an out-of-state committee, we did what the law required" by sending the donor list to the Perry campaign.
Austin lawyer Buck Wood, who represents Bell, disagreed. He contends that under state law only individuals or political committees can give money to a candidate. He argued that the association cannot give money if it is not qualified as a political committee. If it were a committee, Wood said, the association should have filed its own reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Though the Perry campaign acknowledged its mistake in not filing the list of association donors, it blamed Bell's lawsuit on bad feelings over the lobbying contract.
In January, with Democrats taking control of Congress and Perry trying to rebuild bridges to them, Bell wrote to Perry asking to be considered as a Washington lobbyist for the state. "I continue to have strong relationships in D.C. with the new majority and it would certainly send a loud message regarding your willingness to work together going forward," Bell wrote in a letter released Thursday by Perry's staff.
"If you would be willing to consider utilizing my talents, I would be most grateful," Bell wrote.
Perry's press secretary said Bell sought preferential treatment in asking for the contract, a charge that Bell denied through a spokesman.
Black said Bell is retaliating for not getting the contract.
"It's obvious that Chris Bell is in dire financial straits and is looking to use this stunt" to repay his campaign loans, Black said.
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