News Texas $$ at work (for Republicans)

What did Governor Perry get for our $1.1 million?

Our President’s quaint/nauseating tendency to speak as if Gabby Hayes was his dialogue coach is neither the beginning nor the end of Washington’s Texan tinge. With the second-largest contingent in the House of Representatives, two senators who hold seats on powerful committees, the Office of State-Federal Relations, established in 1965 as an additional oversight for Texan interests in federal affairs, and the aforementioned President Quick Draw, it would seem difficult for anyone, much less our governing bodies, to ignore the Lone Star State. Governor Rick Perry, however, isn’t taking any chances.

On Wednesday, March 29, all 11 House Democrats from Texas sent a letter to Governor Perry asking for a letter response to a January 20 letter that sought explanation for and cancellation of the $1.1 million lobbying contracts Perry’s Office of State-Federal Relations signed with Drew Maloney of the Federalist Group and Todd Boulanger of Cassidy & Associates. Both firms have ties to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay. The agreements ostensibly need approval by the OSFR’s advisory board, which consists of Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, and Speaker Tom Craddick. But Dewhurt and Craddick have distanced themselves from the decision.

In the March 29 letter, the Democrats challenge claims that lobbyist efforts have resulted in increased highway funding and a sales-tax amendment, suggesting instead that credit goes to “the united Texas delegation’s diligent legislative efforts in 2005 without the assistance of outside lobbyists.” The letter sets April 17 as the deadline for Perry to explain that he was either duped by the lobbyists into believing they were earning their keep, or is duping the state in an attempt to conceal the lobbyists’ true actions.

The Houston Chronicle broke the story in January, but it gained momentum at the end of March with the Texas Dems’ letter and State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s decision to stop payment from the OSFR to the Federalist Group after an audit called the contracts into question — adding an exciting twist to an already Escherish story. When Strayhorn first applied the brakes to payments from the OSFR to outside lobbyists, Cassidy & Associates was her only target. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell criticized this move, and a week later Strayhorn, also running for Texas governor as an independent, stopped payments to the Federalist Group as well, prompting a response from the Governor’s office describing the comptroller’s audit as “sloppy” and further defending the lobbying expenditures.

So what kind of bang is Governor Perry getting for his million-plus bucks? A glance at the firms’ websites reveals several areas of expertise, including transportation, appropriations, energy, and homeland security, and staff members including former senators and representatives, former advisors to senators and representatives, and other insiders with ties to prominent Republicans. Maloney is a former administrative assistant and legislative director for Tom DeLay, and Chris Giblin, another Federalist Group member, was involved in the 2004 Texas redistricting debacle currently before the Supreme Court. Four Federalist Group members, three of whom are listed specifically in the firm’s registration as lobbyists with the Texas OSFR, sat on the host committee for a Tom DeLay fundraiser in November 2005. Boulanger worked with Abramoff while they were both with Cassidy & Associates, the latter lobbying for (and subsequently fleecing) the Coushatta tribe. The Texas OSFR contracts with the Federalist Group and Cassidy & Associates were signed in January of 2003 and 2005 respectively, before the Abramoff story broke, so Texans can hope Perry was unaware that the fruit he was buying was rotting on the vine.

So how are these lobbyists working for Texan interests? According to lobby reports at the Senate Office of Public Records, since 2003 Federalist Group members have lobbied for the sales-tax amendment (HR 4520), extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and two Homeland Security appropriations bills (HR 4567 and HR 2360, the latter dealing specifically with border security). Cassidy & Associates lists the more nebulous “matters relating to the US budget,” “matters relating to Medicare and Medicaid,” and “reconciliation efforts,” leaving the Transportation Equity Act as the only specific piece of legislation, which the Federalist Group also claims among its activities for 2003 and 2004.

If you take the governor’s office at its word, the system is working and the political engine churns on, greased with legal, if morally questionable, funds. But considering the OFSD lobbyists close ties to Republican members of the Texas delegation, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to worry that Texas taxpayers could be funding the DeLay Comeback Tour ’06.

According to a Washington source, both firms have handed over documents and tapes to the state for auditing, but neither office returned calls for comment before press time.

But no coin may be untarnished in this realm. Perry’s response to Strayhorn raised a report from the Lone Star Project, a Texas-based political watchdog group, that in 2002 Strayhorn received $5,000 from Wayne Berman, a member of the Federalist Group and, yes, lobbyist for the OSFR. When does Kinky get involved in all of this?

By Aaron Block

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