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Gregg Phillips

The thing you need to know about the guy behind the “three million illegal votes” claim

He’s a known liar and grifter.

When President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Sunday — without evidence — that “millions” of people voted illegally in the race for the White House, he invited a wrath of condemnation for again stoking doubts about the U.S. election system.

But in Texas, he found at least one fan: Gregg Phillips, a former Health and Human Services Commission executive who appears to be the source of the unsubstantiated claim. In the days following the election, the self-styled voter integrity activist said on Twitter that he has discovered that more than 3 million people who voted were not citizens — a claim which was later highlighted by InfoWars, a conspiracy theory website run by fellow Texan and Trump ally Alex Jones.

Phillips, who described himself on social media as founder of VoteStand, an election fraud reporting app, has declined to provide proof to the media, saying he will instead “release all methodologies, data and analysis directly to the public.” He does not appear to have given any indication when that will happen, and efforts to reach him early Monday were unsuccessful.

While Phillips is re-emerging in the news following Trump’s tweet Sunday, Texans may be more familiar with his tenure as an executive deputy commissioner at the state’s Health and Human Services Commission. According to his LinkedIn profile, he held the position from March 2003 to August 2004, playing a big role in shaping the 2003 bill to privatize large parts of the state’s social safety net.

By 2005, Phillips was beset with allegations of cronyism stemming from contracts signed at both HHSC as well as the Texas Workforce Commission. At the time, a Houston Chronicle investigation found he helped craft the privatization legislation in a way in which he personally profited along with a private consultant.

After leaving HHSC, Phillips went on to run AutoGov, a health care analytics firm where he still works. In 2015, AutoGov was mentioned in reports questioning the state’s $20 million Medicaid fraud tracking software deal with Austin-based 21CT, which was not competitively bid. Jack Stick, the former top HHSC lawyer at the center of the scandal that led to a string of resignations and prompted multiple investigations, briefly worked for AutoGov.

Politifact has already debunked this, not that fact-checking has any meaning anymore. What I want to do here is give you a bit more information about Gregg Phillips, the main character of this story, as he has been mentioned a few times on thi blog in the past. The Trib story does a pretty good job of introducing him and his self-enriching character, so consider this to be some extra reading:

What they didn’t tell you
Let me be your sweetheart dealmaker
Chron investigates Gregg Phillips
Making money on both ends

There are more posts in my archives if you want to search for Gregg Phillips, but you get the idea. Forget about professional fact-checking sites and just ask yourself, is this the kind of person who is basically honest in his words and deeds, or is he not? Let that inform how you perceive anything else he has to say, and anything that others say based on what he said. The Chron has more.

Feds fine Texas for food stamp failures

Our longstanding food stamp problems continue to cost the state of Texas millions of dollars.

Federal officials have fined Texas $3.96 million for errors in issuing food stamp benefits, according to a letter sent to House Speaker Joe Straus.

The penalty is for exceeding 105 percent of the national average rate of payment errors — overpayments or underpayments — for the past two federal budget years, according to the letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Texas plans to appeal the fine, said Geoff Wool, a spokesman for the state Health and Human Services Commission. He said that the number of food stamp recipients in Texas spiked after Hurricane Ike in 2008, increasing 26 percent in the year that followed.

It’s true that Hurricane Ike made a bad situation worse. But it was a bad situation to begin with because of the miserable failure privatization extravaganza that started in 2005 until its merciful death less than two years later. In the meantime, of course, the state had seen thousands of experienced HHSC employees leave the agency, which is the proximate cause of the staff shortages that led to the initial lawsuit over food stamp application processing delays. Ike was a factor, but without that screwed up experiment, HHSC would have been in much better shape to handle the increase in caseload that Ike helped cause. Rick Perry and his Republican cronies took something that was working, and they broke it. And the cost of that – the human cost, not just the dollars and cents cost – keeps mounting. And just as a reminder, one of the guys who helped screw things up in the first place has now been hired to un-screw them.

Speaking of that lawsuit from last year, here’s a brief update.

In December, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid sued the commission in state district court in Travis County over the backlog. The group expanded its lawsuit in June, adding more plaintiffs and arguing that the entire food stamp system is purposely dissuading people from participating.

But Wool said, “We feel that because this is a federal program governed by federal rules, the state court is limited in its ability to provide relief.” The state is seeking to get the case dismissed, arguing in a June 22 court filing that food stamp processing deadlines aren’t mandatory.

“That,” said Cynthia Martinez of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, “is about as ridiculous as it sounds. This is an attempt for them to avoid accountability by making the argument that the king can do no wrong because he is the king.”

Business as usual, I’m afraid. Hair Balls has more.

Making money on both ends

I’m glad to hear that the food stamp backlog should be cleared up soon. I’m not so glad to hear that one of the guys who bears responsibility for getting us into that mess in the first place now stands to benefit from the work to get us out of it.

Gregg Phillips was the state’s No. 2 social services official several years ago, and he led a push to hire a private company to evaluate applications for public assistance.

Now his Austin-based company, AutoGov Inc., has received $207,500 since November to help the state eliminate errors in deciding whether an applicant gets food stamps or other aid and how much recipients get. AutoGov was hired without other companies having a chance to bid for the work.

Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said that the agency’s commissioner, Tom Suehs, and his predecessor, Albert Hawkins, agreed that the company’s software might alleviate the problem.

“They both faced the same problem – high error rates – and thought it offered a potential solution,” Goodman said.

State laws on former employees lobbying or contracting with agencies would not prohibit such an arrangement, given that Phillips had been off the state’s payroll for several years. But critics of the deal say it’s troubling that a former employee is getting paid to try to fix problems spawned by an idea he helped hatch.

A leader of a state employees union complained that Hawkins and Suehs – both appointees of Gov. Rick Perry – again have sought high-tech, low-cost fixes for the loss of experienced state workers.

Mike Gross, vice president of the Texas State Employees Union, also said he’s troubled that Hawkins approved a vendor subcontract with two of his former aides – Phillips and AutoGov’s chief executive, Rose A. Hayden, Hawkins’ former chief of staff. The company is paid as a subcontractor to the larger firm that the state hired to run the system.

“The whole thing smells very bad,” Gross said. “We’re now hiring the guy who got us in the mess in the first place. It is absolutely stunning.”

The Gregg Phillipses of the world are like cockroaches. You can never get rid of them. I suppose after all this time I shouldn’t be surprised. The DMN story has a lot of background, and you can get more here.