Gov. Rick Perry had hired Cassidy & Associates and The Federalist Group a rate of $15,000 a month each to push Texas priorities in Congress, even though the state already has its own taxpayer-funded Office of State-Federal Relations.
The contracts would have run through August and totaled $1.3 million dollars. But the contacts came under fire last year when Texas' Democratic members of Congress questioned the close ties of some of the firms' associates to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was convicted on charges of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
The Democratic members said the firms had sidestepped them when meeting about Texas policy. Also, two controversial staffers in each firm had donated to Republican campaigns to assist DeLay's 2004 effort to redistrict and defeat five Texas incumbent Democrats.
With the power switch in Congress, the surviving Democratic members had questioned how effective the firms could now be.
In related news, Governor Perry had a sit-down with the state's Democratic Congressional delegation, as they are now the majority party in Congress and he kinda has no choice.
Perry's meeting with the Democrats was the first he's had with them since he took office, several of the members said.
Members described the meeting as frank and candid, at times testy, though never hostile. They said they reminded Perry, a Republican, that a redistricting plan he helped push through the Texas Legislature had cost their state possible chairmanships of the Agriculture, Homeland Security and Rules committees.
"We told him now that we are in majority ... we control a lot of money," said Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi.
The Democrats invited Perry to meet with them after Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio brought Ed Perez, director of the Office of State-Federal Relations, to their weekly luncheon.
The meeting turned into angry complaints about what members see as the partisanship of Perez's office, which reports to Perry, and cooperation from the governor's office. The lobbying firms were contracted through Perez's office.
Perry called three special sessions to help push through a plan orchestrated by DeLay to redraw the state's congressional districts so Republicans could be more easily elected. As a result, two Democrats who were in line for House committee chairmanships lost re-election, and another retired.
In the Democratic-controlled Congress, El Paso Rep. Silvestre Reyes of the Intelligence Committee is the only chairman from Texas, which now has 19 Republicans and 13 Democrats in the U.S. House.
"He didn't dispute it, but I can't say he said, 'Yes, you're right,'" said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas.
Members said Perry told them he would meet with them again and invited the Democrats to Austin.
"The beauty of it is we met," Rodriguez said. "We've got to get it together. We've got to help everybody."
Capitol Letters has more. Click on for a press release on the matter from the State House Democratic leadership.
The following is a statement by House Democratic Leaders in response to reports that the taxpayer funded lobby contracts with two Washington D.C. lobbyists (Jack Abramoff crony, Todd Boulanger, and former Tom DeLay Chief of Staff, Drew Maloney) were cancelled. Since 2003, House Democrats have repeatedly called on Republican elected officials in Texas to cancel the exorbitant and unnecessary lobby contracts.Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 20, 2007 to Show Business for Ugly People | TrackBack
Rep. Jim Dunnam, House Democratic Leader:
"Well, it's about time.
House Democrats have been calling on Governor Perry, Speaker Craddick and Lt. Governor Dewhurst to cancel these exorbitant and unnecessary lobby contracts since 2003, when we first offered legislation to stop wasting more than $1.1 million state taxpayer dollars on two Abramoff/DeLay cronies. For four year, House Republicans voted to protect these corrupt lobbyists. I am happy to see that our efforts have finally paid off."
Rep. Pete P. Gallego:
"I am glad we are cleaning up the mess in Washington; but unfortunately, here in Texas these same lobbyists will still have special access to the back halls of the Capitol where everyday Texans cannot go. Texas House Democrats have a lot more to do in the continuing fight for more open and honest government."
Rep. Garnet Coleman, Chair of the Legislative Study Group:
"The incestuous nature of the money game through the use of policy initiatives has got to stop, and this is a good first step. We still must cut out the rest of the cancer that has grown in our state and federal government."