Capitol Offense

At the Governor's Pleasure
by Published on

In each four-year term, a Texas governor will appoint several hundred people to serve on various state agencies, commissions, and boards—everything from powerful policy-setting positions at the Public Utilities Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to such obscure bureaucratic outposts as the Advisory Committee on Rock Crushers and Quarries. To get appointed, it helps if you’re an expert in the area that board or commission covers. During Gov. Rick Perry’s tenure, however, it also helps if you donate to his campaign.

In the past three years, Perry has appointed 1,027 individuals; 330 of the appointees, or their families, have contributed more than $3.8 million since 2000 to his campaigns for governor. Those numbers come courtesy of a new report from the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. “The question is: How are those people selected and appointed?” asked Andrew Wheat, research director at Texans for Public Justice and contributing writer for the Observer. “I think it’s pretty clear that with gubernatorial appointments in Texas, not just with Governor Perry, but with past governors, there has been a significant political and financial component involved.” Gov. Perry’s office did not respond to a call seeking comment.

As the report shows, the sheer number of committees in Texas ensures that there is no dearth of places for political donors to call home. From the largest commissions to the smallest, a Perry supporter is almost sure to be found—even in the graveyards. The chair of the Texas State Cemetery Committee, Scott P. Sayers Jr., has donated $4,950 to Perry’s runs for governor. “I just talked to Governor Perry several years ago and said to him that this place [Texas State Cemetery] was close to my heart,” Sayers said of his appointment. “We’ve been friends for a long time and he realized my love and interest in the cemetery.”

Not surprisingly, certain appointments are more sought after than others. Some of the heftiest contributions came from appointees to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission and from regents at the state’s universities, coupling what the report calls “the twin Texas obsessions of hunting and football.” The top donor among Perry’s appointees is insurance magnate Larry Anders who has given more than $220,000 to Perry’s campaign. The governor named Anders to a regent seat at Texas Tech University in 2005 despite zero experience in education-related fields. When contacted by the Observer, an assistant to Anders said the regent doesn’t consent to interviews.

Not far behind on the donor-appointee list is Robert B. Rowling, chairman of Omni hotels and the fourth-richest man in Texas. Rowling said that he sees no connection between his campaign donations of $207,262 to Perry and his appointment to the University of Texas System Board of Regents. “I’m sure if you looked at all of the appointments, they’re all supporters of [Perry] or they wouldn’t be appointed to begin with,” he said. “It’s a nonpaid position and all we do is work our rears off.” And besides, Rowling noted, “I already had great football tickets before he appointed me.” Other UT regents who contributed to Perry’s campaign are James Huffines ($122,180) and Scott Caven ($15,498).

“Governor Perry is not necessarily appointing people who are the best and brightest or even the best administrative minds in Texas,” Wheat said. “Clearly these people serve to pleasure the governor and the governor rewards people who contribute to his campaign.” Indeed, you have to wonder why, exactly, construction equipment magnate—and San Antonio Spurs owner—Peter Holt merited a spot on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Holt has contributed $206,000 to Perry since 2000.

Other big donors such as Donna Stockton-Hicks (total: $163,160), occupy prestigious but less consequential posts on organizations like the Poet Laureate, State Musician, and State Artists Committee (universally known as the PLSMSAC). Stockton-Hicks runs a design warehouse in Austin.

In at least one case, Perry donors got their own state agency. In 2003, the Legislature created the Texas Residential Construction Commission, at the governor’s behest, ostensibly to regulate the home-construction industry. Homebuilders, however, have dominated the agency from the start. Seven of the nine agency commissioners appointed by Perry have direct ties to homebuilders. That includes Commissioner John Krugh, corporate counsel for Perry Homes—the building company owned by GOP mega-donor Bob Perry [see "The Agency That Bob Perry Built," February 4, 2005]. Perry Homes has contributed $690,000 to Gov. Perry (no relation) since 2000. In all, employers of the governor’s appointees have donated more than $3 million.

By law, candidates are required to disclose the employers and occupations of individuals who donate $500 or more. Curiously, the Perry campaign seems to have trouble identifying the occupation of the governor’s own political appointees. For instance, under a $25,000 donation from Erle Nye—chairman of TXU Corp. and a Perry appointee to the Texas A&M Board of Regents—the campaign left blank Nye’s occupation. For a $20,000 contribution from William F. Scott—whom Perry once appointed to the Jefferson and Orange County Pilot Commission—the campaign listed Scott’s occupation as “best efforts,” meaning the campaign didn’t know. Others were left blank or simply labeled “retired” or “self.” Here’s a suggestion: how about “money bags”?

Leah Caldwell is a freelance writer and Observer intern originally from Houston.

Houston native Leah Caldwell is a writer and editor living in Austin.