Donations and appointments

A lot of the people Rick Perry has appointed to various government offices have contributed to his campaign. Who knew?

Gov. Rick Perry has accepted nearly $5 million in political campaign donations from people he appointed to state boards and commissions, including some in plum jobs that set policy for state universities, parks and roads, records show.

Nearly half the appointee donations came from people serving as higher education regents, including more than $840,000 from those at the University of Texas System, according to a Houston Chronicle review of campaign-finance records.

Political patronage is nothing new for Texas governors in both political parties. The contributions are a legal and common practice, though it has been fodder for critics over the years.

“The reason people should care is that it would be nice to think that government functioned as a meritocracy,” said Andrew Wheat of the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, which has tracked appointee donations in the past.

Perry’s office didn’t dispute the Chronicle’s analysis, but rejected any notion that the governor considers donations in choosing his appointments. His spokesman, Mark Miner, noted that many people serving the state for the governor aren’t donors.

Indeed, only about one in 10 of the 2,400 people currently serving Perry have written campaign checks, according to the review, which matched names and other records in computerized data to flag donors.

The appointees have given about $4.9 million since Perry became governor in late 2000, with the average donation topping $7,000. The total is only a fraction of the more than $60 million the governor has raised since he took office.

You know, I dislike Rick Perry as much as anyone, but I don’t see what the story is here. There’s no indication that the level of giving is significantly different than it was in the past; the story acknowledges this is nothing new, but has no numbers to compare him to, most likely because the historic data isn’t accessible, at least not easily. All other indicators – the ratio of contributors to non-contributors, the total share of their donations, the lack of any allegation that there’s a pay-to-play aspect to this – take whatever edge there might have been off of this.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand Andrew Wheat’s point, and Lord knows there’s plenty of examples of quid pro quo in our campaign system. I’ve said many times that the reason many big donors give the huge sums they do to various campaigns is precisely because they expect a return on their investment. Had this article shown some kind of connection between the donors, their legislative and/or regulatory interests, and the appointments they received, that would have been a different matter. But the fact that the class of political appointees contains a number of political donors as well shouldn’t be seen as something onerous in and of itself. If it were, then logically anyone who might be a meritocratic selection to fill some chair or board or whatnot would be barred from contributing to the campaign of a candidate they believe in, lest they render themselves un-appointable later on. Surely that’s not a desirable outcome.

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