Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Political and family ties to Rick Perry pay big dividends."

Case of Perry aide and wife show how things work in Austin


Wayne Slater
Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2010

AUSTIN — Rick Perry says as governor, his job is to make life better for Texas families.

One family that’s done well is the Sullivans of Austin, Ray and Leslie, whose political ties to Perry over the past decade have paid big dividends.

Ray has shuttled between top jobs on Perry’s staff and as a lobbyist representing interests with business before the state. His wife has directed the governor’s political fundraising.

They haven’t broken the law or the rules governing the practice of politics and policy, and they’ve made between $4 million and $5.7 million since Perry’s been governor, according to campaign reports, lobby filings and state payroll records.

“I have always taken my state positions and the responsibilities in ethics those positions demand very seriously,” Sullivan said. “I draw a bright line between doing the state’s business and doing anything that is more political in nature.” But in a very real sense, they illustrate how the system works in Austin. “They’re very close to the governor,” Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner said of the Sullivans. “He’s a talented individual who’s known the governor for years. She’s a very significant fundraiser.”

Democrat Bill White has raised the issue of ethics in challenging Perry’s re-election, pledging to slow the political revolving door and curb the influence of big-money.

Miner rejected White’s critique, saying Perry restricts the activities of lobbyists who take jobs in the administration.

“The governor has some of the toughest ethics policies anywhere in the country,” Miner said. “You cannot lobby his office for one year and a legislative session” after begin hired.

Charges of cronyism and outside influence in both parties are nothing new in Austin. But Perry’s 10-year tenure, the longest of any governor, has attracted long-standing loyalists who have benefited from his years atop state government.
Ray Sullivan became the governor’s chief of staff in June 2009. Before that, he was a lobbyist. And before that, he worked in the governor’s office.

Sullivan’s lobby clients have included energy, beer, financial and highway interests, some of which have found an active ally in the governor.

For example, the toll-road engineering company HNTB Corp. has benefited from the governor’s advocacy of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Related article: The Governor’s Lobbyist

Another Sullivan client, the Swiss financial-services giant UBS, pushed the state to privatize the lottery. Perry advocated the idea in 2007, but the Legislature turned thumbs down.


Related article: Perry's son hired by firm consulting on lottery

Sullivan said that because his past clients are public information, Texans can judge whether they believe there’s any special treatment. “And that certainly makes people in my position be on our best behavior,” he said.

Sullivan’s clients have also been campaign contributors — among them, Houston beer distributor John Nau, who has given $327,000 to Perry and periodically ferries the governor on his corporate jet.

Nau was among those who persuaded Kay Bailey Hutchison not to challenge Perry four years ago, saying he was told that Perry wouldn’t run yet again in 2010. When Perry did, Nau backed Hutchison in the primary, but he returned to the governor for the general election with a check for $50,000 in June.

As a lobbyist, Sullivan earned, on average, between $250,000 and $500,000 annually, according to lobby reports that list earnings in ranges.

When Sullivan rejoined the governor’s office last year, his state salary was $179,000. Perry’s political campaign supplements that, so he makes about $254,000 a year as the governor’s chief of staff. Many elected officials use such an arrangement to boost their top staffers’ pay.

As the governor’s political fundraiser, Leslie Sullivan has made as much as $398,000 a year tapping donors — in some cases, her husband’s clients — for Perry’s campaign account.

Now, she has a new job.

She left the governor’s campaign payroll this summer — with a check for $221,000 — and has begun fundraising for the Republican Governors Association.

That’s the group Perry used to lead and that gave him $1 million for his last election. And odds are, if he needs it, money raised by Sullivan could find its way to the governor again this year.

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