Nine months after members of the Texas House stripped Midland Republican Tom Craddick of his speakership, Craddick’s daughter is dusting off her Austin lobbying shingle again.
In September Christi Craddick reported to the Texas Ethics Commission that Scythian Ltd., a Midland-based company, will pay her up to $25,000 to lobby in the last quarter of 2009. Midland businessman Jafar Salehi organized Scythian in 1998. It’s not clear what business the company is in. Scythian appears to have started out in the energy industry before selling those assets to competitor Endeavor Energy Resources in 2006. Christi Craddick and Salehi, who has no previous record of hiring Austin lobbyists did not return calls seeking comment on the lobby contract. Scythian spokesman Tom Clifton declined comment, except to say that the company is involved in ranching, with olive oil and vineyard interests. If Christi Craddick is promoting these bucolic pursuits she didn’t tell the Ethics Commission. She reported on her recently filed lobby-registration form that she would lobby on such matters as “Energy,” “Oil & Gas” and “Utilities.” Craddick notably passed over a subject-matter box labeled “Agriculture.”
Salehi—whose company bears the name of an ancient people from present-day Iran—contributed $2,500 last year to then-embattled Speaker Craddick (he later gave $1,000 to Republican gubernatorial candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison). Rep. Craddick’s legislative office said he wouldn’t comment on his daughter’s return to the lobby.
Christi Craddick abandoned her lobby career right after Republicans won a majority in the Texas House in 2002. At the time, she figured into a couple ethics scandals that imperiled her father’s bid for House speaker. One of these scandals involved statements by the then-executive director of the state Employees Retirement System that Rep. Craddick worked behind the scenes to help pass a 1997 law that allows unmarried adult children of state employees (read: Christi Craddick) to indefinitely receive state health insurance benefits. Rep. Craddick repeatedly has said he had nothing to do with the matter.
Another controversy involved Christi Craddick’s former lobby client Cap Rock Electric Cooperative. A 1999 law made the Midland-based cooperative the only electric utility in Texas that could convert into a for-profit power company while preserving its local monopoly powers. Cap Rock documents credited Christi and Tom Craddick with helping to pass the sweetheart legislation. In November 2002 Rep. Craddick took the unusual step of writing every incoming House member to reassure them about Cap Rock. His letter praised Christi for quitting the lobby “to dispel any appearance of a lack of integrity in my speakership.”
From 1995 until she departed the lobby in 2002, Christi Craddick billed 28 clients a total of up to $665,000 (Texas lobbyists report incomes in ranges). During some of these years, Rep. Craddick chaired the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, prompting recurring media questions about whether his daughter’s clients received special treatment. Christi Craddick may have fed such speculation when she named her consulting firm “Direct Contacts, Inc.”
Quitting the lobby did not hurt Christi Craddick’s bottom line. With her father installed as House speaker, she took over operations of Rep. Craddick’s campaign account, as well as Stars Over Texas—a political action committee formed to defend Speaker Craddick’s leadership position. These two political committees have paid Christi Craddick a total of $924,087 since 2002. (Although Stars paid Christi Craddick $17,500 in the first half of 2009, this once-powerful PAC recently reported that it had not raised a dollar so far this year—leaving less than $60,000 in the bank.) Six months before Speaker Craddick’s demotion, Christi Craddick upgraded her lifestyle. She sold a 1,500 square-foot Austin home that the county had appraised at $318,000 and bought a house twice that size appraised at $821,486.
In the wake of Tom Craddick’s legislative demotion, it remains to be seen if the market will remain bullish for Christi Craddick’s brand of Direct Contacts.
Contributing writer Andrew Wheat is research director for Austin-based Texans for Public Justice.