While unwilling to make assumptions about Perry’s motives, campaign watchdog Fred Lewis lists possible benefits of contributing to a lobby PAC. If the contributor is a client, the donation enhances the power of his or her lobbyist, giving the lobbyist more money to influence politicians. And political consultants and big party players will know if the source of the money is from a lavish campaign contributor like Perry. “If you are getting contributions from the really big financial donors in this state, it suggests that, if you [the lobbyist] are unhappy with a legislator, you might be able to cut off the whole source of funds,” says Lewis, who heads the public interest group Campaigns for People. Shuffling large campaign contributions through a lobby PAC also makes it more difficult for the general public to identify the source of the money, he notes. When people look at a candidate’s campaign report they will just see the PAC, not the original contributor. “You might [also] do it because you were putting so much money into the system that you were starting to become controversial;’ speculates Lewis. Bill Miller offered a third reason last year when the Dallas Morning News reported that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his family had funneled more than $141,000 through HillCo’s PAC between August and December 2002. Miller suggested that Jones had taken the unusual step of using the PAC as a stealth strategy against continual requests for contributions. \(The Cowboy’s owner, a HillCo client, wants a new stadium paid for by increased hotel and rental car taxes in Dallas County. In the last regular session Perry signed a bill that would put that increase before Dallas County voters in everybody knows gives plentifully. Another reason why a sharp businessman like Bob Perry might give to a lobby PAC like HillCo’s involves the state Supreme Court and its voluntary limits on campaign contributions. 1 n 1995 the Texas Legislature passed the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act. The new law codified voluntary campaign caps on contributions for statewide judicial campaigns. The caps were triggered when a candidate agreed to abide by them at the beginning of the campaign. The law laid out contribution limits for law firms, political action committees, and individual donors. If the candidate accepts the caps, they include $30,000 in the aggregate for a law firm or its members. The total from political action committees is set at $300,000 in the aggregate and $25,000 per individual PAC per cycle. The limit for individual contributions is $5,000. For purposes of the new law, an individual donor was defined to include children and spouses. So if Bob Perry gave $5,000 to a candidate for the state Supreme Court in a Republican primary, Doylene Perry couldn’t also give $5,000 to the same candidate. While the caps were not binding, the Texas Supreme Court had endured enough public ridicule in the eight years prior to the passage of the act that few candidates dared run the risk of flaunting them. The nation’s focus on Texas courts as a fount of corruption started in 1987 when 60 Minutes broadcast a report titled “Justice for Sale.” Hosted by Mike Wallace, the segment focused on the influence of the plaintiff’s bar, which footed most of the judicial campaign costs for the Supreme Court justices. It was a time, as one columnist would write years later, when the Texas Supreme Court seldom saw a damage suit it didn’t like. In one famous instance, a Supreme Court justice reversed himself to swing a vote for a motion for rehearing after receiving a more than a $100,000 campaign contribution from a litigant. Back then, the legal pendulum nationwide had swung toward the plaintiff’s bar and away from the defense bar. “I would say from 1965 to 1985, the academy, the Legislature, and the legal profession as a whole thought that lawsuits were dandy,” says Tom Phillips, who will step down as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court in September. “You know, nothing better than a good lawsuit.” Today, the pendulum has swung the other way. Now, the defense barfronting for big corporationsreigns supreme, and tort reform is the rage. In 1998, Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes returned to Texas to make the point that the faces had changed but the actions had not. lmost precisely a month after Perry gave his first $5,000 to HillCo PAC in early December 2001, the lobbying firm donated the exact same amount to Republican Supreme Court candidate Wallace Jefferson, who had agreed to abide by the caps. Perry and his wife had already each contributed $5,000 to Jeffersonan apparent violation of the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act. \(Jefferson says he tried to reimburse Doylene’s contribution but the Perrys lost the check. So instead, he opted to keep the $5,000 and put it toward a yearlong spree of Perry funneling money into HillCo and the PAC doling it out to campaigns. Up until that point, HillCo PAC had been in the habit of giving out donations in amounts no greater than $2,500. On January 18th, 2002, Perry capped out with a $5,000 contribution to Republican Supreme Court candidate Dale Wainwright for the GOP primary. Perry would do the same for the general election cycle. A little more than a month after the January donation, the HillCo PAC started pumping money to Wainwright and Republican Supreme Court candidate Xavier Rodriguez. By March 21, HillCo had given a total of $30,000 in contributions to court candidates$25,000 to Wainwright and 20, the day before the last and largest installment to Wainwright of $15,000, Bob Perry gave HillCo PAC $30,000the exact amount the PAC had spent on judicial candidates during that time period. Did Bob Perry give money to HillCo to evade the caps on individual donations to court campaigns? HillCo PAC partner and spokesman Bill Miller is quick to stick up for Perry. “That’s not his style,” he says. “He’s not continued on page 17 6/4/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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