The Lobby Reinvents Government
Texas Republican leaders boldly began delivering on their promise to increase efficiency and cut waste just one week after they won control of every branch of Texas government. Rather than having corporations pay lobbyists millions of dollars to influence government, the state’s new leaders recruited some of Texas’ most powerful lobbyists to run the government directly. Instead of eliminating the middleman, these visionaries made the middleman The Man.
The first hint of the new policy came from presumptive new House Speaker Tom Craddick, who announced on November 12 that three lobbyists named Bill–Bill Miller, Bill Messer and Bill Ceverha–would run his speaker transition team. The next day, Quorum Report reported that Governor Rick Perry would name his lobby pal Mike Toomey as his new chief of staff. Next, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Lieutenant Governor-elect David Dewhurst had interviewed Reliant Energy staff lobbyist Bruce Gibson as a potential chief of staff. Finally, insiders said that yet another Bill, Texas Association of Business (TAB) head Bill Hammond, was a candidate to be Craddick’s chief of staff. Apart from ex-lobbyist Ceverha, all of these men currently are registered to lobby, reporting a total of 59 contracts worth from $1.2 million to $2.6 million (these contracts are reported in ranges).
If lobbying is Austin’s oldest profession, one of its oldest tricks is for government officials to cash in by leaving public office through the revolving door that feeds the corporate lobby (aside from Bill Miller, all of these lobbyists served in the Texas Legislature). What may be unprecedented, though, is the extent to which this well-oiled revolving door has come full circle, spilling numerous lobbyists back into the upper echelons of government. In fact, the weak limits on the practice that exist in Texas tend to be just one-way restrictions: They put tepid limits on the speed at which some departing officials can lobby but do nothing to stop hired guns from becoming public officials overnight.
A major revolving-door scandal erupted after Texas’ 1995 welfare overhaul, when key architects of that policy for Governor George W. Bush, Lieu-tenant Governor Bob Bullock and the Texas Workforce Commission (then headed by Bill Hammond) jumped ship to lobby for companies seeking huge state welfare contracts. After these horses had already left the barn, Bobbsey Twins Bush and Bullock announced internal ethics policies that barred senior staff from lobbying their old office until one year after they left. As soon as Bush left office, new Governor Perry dramatized the limits of this one-way policy by simultaneously:
Unveiling a “strict” revolving-door ethics policy (rehashing the Bobbsey-Twin rules); and
Appointing three new senior staff members culled straight out of the corporate lobby.
In the spirit of Homeland Security, it’s time to check the baggage of the latest lobbyists retained by the government. Lobbyists Toomey, Messer and Miller collectively represent four drug-pusher interests (Merck, Abbott, Schering and their trade group), four health insurers (Aetna, Cigna, USA Managed Care, and Scott & White), and two property insurers (State Farm and Liberty Mutual). Bill Miller also has been Farmers Insurance’s spokesperson during its ongoing battles with the state. These ties are a matter of state security because the next legislature must tackle Texas’ insurance and budget crises, which involve: a largely unregulated insurance industry; the nation’s highest homeowner’s premiums; spiraling mold claims and medical malpractice premiums; HMO reimbursement woes; and escalating state health and drug costs. Tied up in several of these issues are businesses’ legal liabilities–a keen interest of Hammond’s TAB, as well as the Associated Builders & Contractors and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which are Toomey clients.
Like Reliant Energy’s Bruce Gibson, Toomey, Miller, and Messer also represent big polluters, including Alcoa, the paper industry, and such petrochemical interests as ARCO, Koch, Eastman Chemical, Rohm & Haas and the Texas Chemical Council. Next session, environmentalists expect these interests to try to: dodge their obligations to help Texas comply with clean-air standards; repeal a law that links eligibility for pollution permits to an applicant’s past environmental compliance; and oppose efforts to make polluters pay more of the state’s environmental costs.
While surrendering the reins of government to the special-interest lobby raises nasty ethical concerns, you can’t say these men didn’t earn it. During the campaign, Bill Ceverha ran the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, which raised $764,360 (including $150,000 from Farmers Insurance) to help catapult Craddick to power. To this same end, Hammond’s TAB risked possible legal repercussions by spending almost $2 million in corporate money on political mailers without disclosing who funded this operation. With such heavy investments in the GOP takeover, it’s hard to talk about undue influence. Bought and paid for by the lobby, this new regime understands the need to get out of the way and let the lobby govern.
Andrew Wheat is research director of Austin-based Texans for Public Justice.