July 22, 2004
Playing the ponies with Perry

All of you who are surprised to hear that Governor Perry received large campaign contributions from horse racing interests shortly before the special session in which he proposed to allow slot machines at horse tracks, raise your hands. No one? I didn't think so.

The $232,800 in donations rolled in on Feb. 11, a couple of months after Perry's office acknowledged that Chief of Staff Mike Toomey had begun talks with certain groups about a proposal to allow video lottery terminals at racetracks and Indian reservations to help raise education funds.


Perry's office on Wednesday denied any questionable fund raising with the racing lobby, which stood to gain as much as $10 billion, by some estimates, if video lottery terminals were allowed at dog and horse tracks.

Robert Black, a Perry spokesman, said the donations were typical of the governor's fund-raising efforts.

Already, Perry's campaign has collected $5.1 million for the 2006 race.

Black said Perry had a fund-raiser in Austin on Feb. 11, which has been his most profitable campaign day so far, taking in a total $307,745, mostly from breeders and racetrack owners.

"The governor has supporters on both sides of the issue," said Black, responding to the report, "those who support gambling and those who oppose it. We have numerous campaign donations, and our books are open for all to see."

On that day, Houston-based Maxxam Texas PAC, affiliated with Maxxam Inc., which owns Sam Houston Race Park, topped the list with a $50,000 donation. In all, 67 donors accounted for the total.

Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, said the timing of the gifts suggests the gambling interests tried to buy their way into the Legislature.

"It matters that his supporters who would profit most from gambling all seemed to reach him at the same critical time," McDonald said. "I can't say for sure that they influenced Perry, but it sure looks like it, or it at least deserves questioning. Why else would Perry support ideas even his own party doesn't support?"

Now, I dislike Rick Perry as much as the next guy, but this is a bit of an overbid by Craig McDonald. Even in Tom DeLay's Texas, there are disagreements within the Republican Party, and I'm not sure that I'd claim there's a default party position on gambling. I don't endorse gambling, and I certainly don't endorse its use as a pillar of school funding, but I don't see Perry's position on gambling as being unusual in and of itself.

That said, it should be clear to anyone with two brain cells to rub together that these donations stink.

McDonald pointed out that the timing of the donations more than a year and a half away from the gubernatorial election makes them unusual.

Officials with Max-PAC and other donors, however, said their checks were run-of-the-mill contributions that they have given to candidates from both major parties in any given year. The timing was coincidental, they said.

"I suspect our check was submitted independently," said Elizabeth Brumley, Max-PAC treasurer. "We just happened to cut a check that day."

Harlan Crow, who owns a significant stake in Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, contributed $25,000 on Feb. 11. Lone Star Park President Corey Johnsen was one of the company's officials who kicked in an additional $5,000.

"I wrote a check in support of something I believed in," Johnsen said. "I don't think it's a case of us coming together as a group. If it was, I honestly can't remember. I make a lot of donations, and I believe in writing a personal check as an individual to the person I'm supporting."

Oh, please. I never cease to be amazed at how rational, profit-maximizing firms like Maxxam can claim to fling their money about willy-nilly, without any thought of or concern for a return on the investment when it comes to making political donations. If they really are that profligate with their campaign cash, their shareholders ought to rise up in revolt and demand better oversight. Either we admit there's always quid pro quo when a corporation gives to a politician, or we risk having our brains fall out of our ears from believing there isn't. I choose the former.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 22, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack