Saturday, August 21, 2010

H.B. Zachry Jr. Bankrolls Sheila McNeil's Campaign

Report shows McNeil-Zachry ties


Greg Jefferson
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2010

Judging from Sheila McNeil's latest campaign finance report, it turns out there really was no sunlight between her and Zachry Construction Corp., just as many East Siders had come to believe during her four years on the City Council.

But while they're close, they're not cozy these days. There's discord over McNeil's methods as she lined up financing for her long-shot — and losing — campaign against County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson in the Democratic primary.

Filed last month, the report shows $25,000 in contributions from H.B. Zachry Jr. after the March 2 contest. The magnate signed off on two checks to help clean up some of McNeil's campaign debt, which reportedly reached about $60,000 and included a handful of loans. Her lenders certainly were close at hand.

Some of the money went to repay loans from McNeil's boss at the George Gervin Youth Center, Barbara Hawkins ($3,500); McNeil's longtime adviser Leon Thomas ($3,500); and McNeil herself ($1,500). According to her report — covering Feb. 22 to June 31 — $7,500 in loans remain outstanding.

Zachry's money makes up 93 percent of the contributions reported. (Before the election, Zachry officials gave a combined $1,250.)

Now here's the discord.

Zachry spokeswoman Vicky Waddy said she heard from “multiple sources” that McNeil had asked them for loans and indicated Zachry would repay the debts if she lost — which McNeil disputes.

If that were the case, Zachry, no fan of Adkisson, would have essentially underwritten her campaign. But Waddy said that wasn't the case.

As she geared up to run Zachry had offered to help repay her debt if she failed, an offer he'd made to many candidates over the years, according to Waddy. (Though maybe not often to the tune of $25,000.) But she said he never guaranteed the debts.

“I was upset there was a sense that people were going to lose money expecting that I had agreed to pay,” Zachry said in a written statement. “I made a decision not to get into details (about her campaign debt), but let her resolve the final matter as best she could with an additional check. I could afford it better than those who trusted her and came up short.”

McNeil, for her part, said she never floated his name as a guarantor — at least as someone who would “completely” cover the loans.

“No, no, no. Any fundraising, any loans, any money that came into my campaign solely was to win the election,” she said. “It was not based on any one contributor because I had other people who helped me.”

Despite the disagreement, however, the contributions make clear that this was an extraordinary relationship. She has said the company is one of the few investing in the East Side, but questions loom in the community about the economic impact of its efforts.

McNeil certainly took care of the company at City Hall. Their relationship got rolling within weeks of her taking office in 2005. The company wanted a subsidy for a planned hotel, but community activists were still outraged by an e-mail from a Zachry subsidiary executive that referred to the East Side as “the ghetto.”

McNeil cut a deal in which Zachry would pay $750,000 over three years to revamp the East Side's economic development agency, and the councilwoman would support the company's bid.

It looked like a shakedown, but, hey, Zachry got the incentive it wanted.

Later she championed incentives for the Vidorra condominium project, a principal of which was a Zachry son-in-law. Zachry's development arm was an investor.

She then pushed for a nearby quiet zone, angering residents in the area. And just before leaving office last year, she helped secure another break for the project.
As chairwoman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, McNeil was anathema to the anti-toll crowd. Waddy said she didn't recall Zachry officials discussing MPO issues with McNeil, but — as road builders and supporters of the toll option — they couldn't have been unhappy with her.

Adkisson, who clumsily tried to take tolls off the table last year, is a different matter. There's a lot of sunlight between him and the folks at Zachry.

© 2010 San Antonio Express-News:

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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.

© 2010 Dallas Morning News:

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Other heads of the Trans-Texas hydra are still waving about."

Trans-Texas Corridor: One Head Gone, Others …

391 Commissions Trans-Texas Corridor


Fort Worth Weekly
Copyright 2010

Well, the U.S. Department of Transportation, through the Federal Highway Administration’s Texas Division Office, has officially shut down plans for the Trans Texas Corridor-35, the huge roadway that Gov. Rick Perry dreamed would be his path to the White House. (It’s a dream that could become a nightmare now that the anti-Perry Houston trial lawyer and heavy Democratic campaign contributor Steve Mostyn is running a television ad calling Perry a liar on property rights in regard to the TTC).

The official decision was handed down on July 20 by joint action of the federal highway agency and Texas Department of Transportation. Even now, the possibility remains that the creature could be reawakened someday. However, the official decree stipulates that none of the project work done to this point can be utilized in the future — so any rejuvenation would have to begin at square one. “The TTC-35 project is formally concluded,” the document said.

TTC-35 was one of eight gigantic toll roads that would have carved Texas up like an apple pie. It was intended to be a quarter-mile wide, 500 miles long, and run from the Mexican border at Laredo to Dallas. The corridor would have landed like a giant paving machine on towns, school zones, and wildlife. It would have consumed nearly 6,000 square miles of private property, much of it the richest farmland in Texas (of which most would probably have had to be taken by eminent domain), negatively affected a million Texans, and placed land, control, and toll-charge decisions in the hands of the Spanish Cintra Corporation for the next 50 to 100 years.

Terri Hall, of, one of the most vociferous TTC-35 opponents, said she’s happy about the decision — but she warned that other heads of the Trans-Texas hydra are still waving about.
One that’s very much alive is TTC-69, which runs from Laredo to Texarkana, with a swing just west of Houston. It’s going to be owned by ASC, a Spanish corporation, with an Australian company as a minority partner.

And there are two other TTC toll roads under development, both “ports-to-plains” projects, which will run from the coast into Central Texas, as well as La Entrada de Pacifico, to reach from Presidio through Big Bend and up through Midland and Odessa and then through Lubbock and Amarillo.
“So this is only a partial victory” over the whole Trans-Texas Corridor, Hall said, “even though the TTC-35 is officially dead.”

Kudos for the partial victory should go out not just to Hall, but to David and Linda Stall of; Mayor Mae Smith of Holland, Texas; Fred Grant, president of Stewards of the Range; Ralph Snyder; and thousands of unsung heroes who banded together despite political differences to lop off at least one head of the monstrous project.

© 2010 Fort Worth Weekly:

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To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE