On the one hand:
Todd Boulanger, who once worked closely with confessed influence peddler Jack Abramoff, now heads a group lobbying Congress for Texas under a $330,000 state contract.
Boulanger and his firm, Cassidy & Associates, were hired by the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations under a contract approved by Gov. Rick Perry, House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
This is the second time the state has hired as a congressional lobbyist someone with connections to the lobbying controversies surrounding former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
The state's Washington office previously had hired former DeLay chief of staff Drew Maloney, the Houston Chronicle first reported last year. Maloney has not been connected to Abramoff's activities, but he was a key figure in 2002 fundraising that brought DeLay a reprimand from the House Ethics Committee.
"It's cronyism at its worst," said Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco. "All these guys are connected to one another."
The combined Boulanger and Maloney lobby contracts will have cost Texas taxpayers $1.1 million by the time they expire on Aug. 31, 2007.
House Democratic Chairman Jim Dunnam said lobbyist Drew Maloney had made $250 in political donations before Gov. Rick Perry hired Maloney's Federalist Group for $180,000 a year to lobby Congress for the state.
Dunnam said that since that time, Maloney has given $75,000 to Republican congressional committees — including $750 meant to help defeat an incumbent Texas congressman.
Maloney appears to be "laundering" taxpayer payments into Republican campaign contributions, Dunnam said, adding that Perry should immediately terminate Maloney's contract.
Perry has primary responsibility for overseeing the national lobby office. Perry spokeswoman Rachael Novier called Dunnam's complaint a "baseless partisan attack."
Most of Texas' Democratic congressmen Friday told Gov. Rick Perry he should cancel the $1.1 million contracts of the state's outside lobbyists because they've never contacted any of them.
U.S. Reps. Gene Green, D-Houston, and Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, wrote a letter to Perry saying they are worried that the two lobby groups employed by the state are linked to convicted influence peddler Jack Abramoff and the fundraising scandals involving U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.
The letter, signed by seven of the 11 Texas Democratic representatives to Congress, said employing outside lobbyists is a waste of money because the state already has the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations working with Congress.
"In our view these lobbying contracts appear to be a poor use of state taxpayer money," they said. "It should be unnecessary for the state of Texas to pay private lobbyists $1 million to lobby the Texas congressional delegation when it employs 12 state workers to do the exact same work."
At issue was an agenda item to pay the Texas Municipal League $68,000 for Houston's membership in the organization. TML represents cities at the state Legislature on issues ranging from wi-fi to pension plans. But it also lobbied against appraisal caps in Austin during the last session, contrary to the direction of city of Houston officials. When TML staff refused to meet with two council members to discuss it, a group of council members decided to withhold Houston's annual membership fees to the organization.
The tax appraisal cap is the clarion call for Texas conservatives and an issue on which Republican elected officials at all levels dare not err.
Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill sent out the call to grass-roots Republicans on Tuesday to notify councilmembers that a vote for TML was a vote against the base, and that paying TML dues was tantamount to a tax increase.
[A] much bigger lobbying "evil" in GOP eyes at the statehouse was the successful effort by school board members and other educators last year to help scuttle GOP efforts to pass an inadequate school funding plan and alleged education "reforms" that may or may not have lived up to their billing.
Republican leaders also blasted the role that cities, counties and their lobbyists played in killing the effort to lower the cap on property appraisals.
Speaker Tom Craddick ordered a House committee to investigate how school boards and other local governments use tax money to lobby the Legislature.
Perry accused school districts of spending too much on administration and directed them to report how much they spend for various non-classroom functions, including lobbying.
While this dispute continued to simmer last week, more fuel was added with the revelation that, criticism of school board lobbying notwithstanding, Perry had seen fit to approve the expenditure of $1.1 million of taxpayer money through 2007 to hire two firms to lobby for the state of Texas in Washington.
This is in addition to several state employees already working in Washington for the state's interests, plus two elected U.S. senators and 32 members of the U.S. House from Texas.
Yet the state of Texas, which has two elected officials in Congress who do represent the state, and which also has several fulltime employees in Washington to act as lobbyists on the state's behalf, saw fit to pay $1.1 million to two outside lobbying firms. The principal of one of those firms, since being hired by the state, has made sizeable contributions to various Republican officeholders and even one Republican challenger to a Democratic incumbent. The governor, who has been one of the more vocal opponents of lobbying by school boards, sees nothing wrong with this and casts criticism of it as "baseless partisan attacks". Huh?
I don't see how you can object to the Municipal League and school board stuff but think that what the state is doing is okay as is. Frankly, even if you accept that the state needs lobbying support above and beyond what it already has, the fact of the political donations changes the nature of it. I suppose I should be surprised that this isn't obvious, but nothing Governor Perry does is surprising to me any more.Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 22, 2006 to Scandalized! | TrackBack