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Bell ordered to pay $300K to RGA


Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Unsuccessful 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, once awarded $2 million in his lawsuit against the Republican Governors Association, has instead been ordered to pay the organization $300,000 in legal fees after losing on appeal.

The case dates to the closing days of the 2006 campaign, when the national association wrote two $500,000 checks to the campaign of Gov. Rick Perry, Bell’s Republican opponent.

After losing to Perry by 9 percentage points, Bell filed suit, arguing that the association violated state law by making political donations without appointing a Texas campaign treasurer or supplying a complete donor list. In 2010, Travis County District Judge John Dietz agreed, awarding Bell $2 million, or double the amount of the disputed contribution, as allowed by state law.

Last year, however, the 3rd Court of Appeals overturned Dietz’s ruling, saying out-of-state organizations cannot be penalized for disclosure violations and are not required to designate a state treasurer. Bell appealed, but the Texas Supreme Court declined to accept the case, leaving the appeals court ruling intact.

The appeals court also returned the case to Dietz to determine how much money — if any — Bell owed the association for attorney fees.

Last week, Dietz signed a judgment ordering Bell to pay $300,000 — with an additional $30,000 due if Bell appeals to the 3rd Court of Appeals, plus another $10,000 if he turns to the Texas Supreme Court.

See here, here, and here for the background. Bell is considering an appeal and has until next month to ask for a retrial on the legal fees issue. Judge Dietz is retiring at the end of the year, though, so a new trial would be in front of a new judge. Can’t say I envy him having this hang over his expected Mayoral campaign for next year. Hope he has better luck if there is a next time.

Bell lawsuit award against RGA tossed by appeals court

Some old history got raked up recently.

Chris Bell

An attorney for failed 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell is considering appealing a state appeals court’s decision to throw out a $2 million award to Bell in a lawsuit where Bell contended a national Republican organization violated state laws with $1 million in campaign donations to Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin tossed the August 2010 judgment by a Travis County judge who ruled in Bell’s favor, agreeing instead with arguments from the defendant, the Republican Governors Association, that out-of-state organizations can’t be penalized for disclosure violations and aren’t required to designate a state treasurer.

Bell’s lawyer, Buck Wood, told the Austin American-Statesman [last] Friday he may ask the appeals court to reconsider its ruling or take the case to the Texas Supreme Court.

“As soon as everyone figures out what I already know, then there won’t be any reporting (of political contributions),” Wood said. “There will be lots of money thrown into Texas, and you won’t have any idea where it’s coming from.”


The Republican governor’s group received money from Houston developer Bob Perry, the nation’s largest individual donor during the 2006 election cycle, and Bell’s lawsuit accused the governor of trying to hide the donation. The governor is not related to the developer.

Bell argued the money was illegally funneled through the organization in the final days of the 2006 campaign.

See here for the background. As William Faulkner once said, past elections are never dead, they’re not even past. My first reaction when I heard this was “Wait, wasn’t there a settlement in that lawsuit?” No, there was a settlement in Bell’s separate lawsuit against Rick Perry over the same thing; see here and here for background on that. I wonder if Perry is kicking himself now for having settled. In any event, I don’t know why we have rules if they never get enforced. Of course, the way things are going at the federal level, we might not have any rules soon enough.

Our expensive Governor

Another story about our Governor and his expensive travel habits.

The cost is mounting for Texas taxpayers as Gov. Rick Perry pursues the presidency, with new figures showing the tab for the governor’s security detail has topped $364,000 for out-of-state trips since his re-election.

Figures released by the Texas Department of Public Safety in response to a public information request by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News show the security costs for eight recent out-of-state destinations – most in August, the month that Perry announced his bid – totaled $70,869.54.

They included trips to three key early voting states: South Carolina, where he announced he was seeking the GOP presidential nomination, Iowa and New Hampshire. South Carolina was listed twice as a destination, and Iowa three times. The bill included travels to Colorado in July and to Alabama, where Perry spoke on the eve of his Aug. 13 announcement.

That’s on top of $294,096.34 in security detail costs for 30 out-of-state trips by Perry or his wife, Anita, between his November re-election and July 21, as reported earlier.

Those earlier destinations included the Bahamas for a family vacation; economic development trips by Anita Perry; and trips by Perry to promote his book, meet with business leaders or supporters and perform duties related to his then-chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association.

The tally so far extends only through early September. It doesn’t include travels by Perry or his wife for his three debates or for later campaign events.

Perry’s direct travel costs generally are paid by his campaign, but the cost of his security detail is picked up by the state. The security cost – which also went up when then-Gov. George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 – has drawn particular scrutiny because the state’s in a budget crunch.

There are two things I’d like to see. One is a point of comparison. How much did it cost the state when Bush started campaigning to be President? For that matter, how big a state-paid travel bill was Laura Bush ringing up in those days? How much does it cost other Presidential candidates – Ron Paul, for example – to travel? I’d like to be able to calibrate my outrage here, and that’s harder to do without some idea of the scale.

And two, I’d like to see somebody who is either in the Lege or who hopes to be make a big deal out of this. If everybody was supposed to have been made to sacrifice in this last budget, that ought to include Rick Perry as well. Granting that there are legitimate costs being incurred here, what is he doing to ensure he’s minimizing those costs and doing more with less, like the rest of us all are? Is he leading by example, or is he standing out as an exception? I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, and I’m also pretty sure there’s an issue there for someone to make a big deal out of.

No, he can’t

This week, President Obama gave Republican critics of the Affordable Care Act a way out, if they met certain conditions.

President Obama, who has stood by his landmark health care law through court attacks and legislative efforts to repeal it, told the nation’s governors on Monday that he was willing to amend the measure to give states the ability to opt out of its most controversial requirements right from the start, including the mandate that most people buy insurance.

In remarks to the National Governors Association, Mr. Obama said he supported legislation that would allow states to obtain waivers from the mandate as soon as it took effect in 2014, as long as they could find another way to expand coverage without driving up health care costs. Under the current law, states must wait until 2017 to obtain waivers.

The announcement is the first time Mr. Obama has called for altering a central component of his signature health care law, although he has backed removing a specific tax provision that both parties regard as onerous on business.

But the prospects for the proposal appear dim. Congress would have to approve the change through legislation, and House Republican leaders said Monday that they were committed to repealing the law, not amending it. Even if the change were approved, it could be difficult for states to meet the federal requirements for the waivers.

The White House described the proposal, based on a bipartisan bill recently introduced in the Senate, as a common-sense date change that would give states the freedom to innovate and act as laboratories. Mr. Obama called it “a reasonable proposal,” telling the governors, “It will give you flexibility more quickly while still guaranteeing the American people reform.”

As Kevin Drum observed, this was basically a poker play.

Obama is calling the bluff of Republicans who insist that they can build a healthcare system that’s as extensive and affordable as PPACA using some combination of tea party-approved “free market” principles. He’s telling them to put their money (or, rather, money from the feds) where their mouths are, which will probably demonstrate fairly conclusively that they can’t do it. It’s possible that a state like Oregon might enact a more liberal plan that meets PPACA standards, but I doubt that Alabama or Tennessee can do it just with HSAs and high-deductible health plans.

Still, we’ll see. This is a chance for conservatives to show that they have a better healthcare answer in the real world, not just as talking points at a tea party rally. Obama is betting they’ll fail, and he’s also betting they’ll tear each other apart arguing over details while they do it. Life is easy when all you have to do is yell “Repeal Obamacare!” but it gets a lot harder when you have to produce an actual plan.

And as expected, Rick Perry folded like a cheap suit.

Perry said Obama’s flexibility “doesn’t address the structural flaws” with the health care overhaul that confronts state executives with federal mandates to provide multibillion dollar shares to provide Medicaid coverage to the poor — a requirement that many GOP governors complain will squeeze state budgets.

Perry, who also serves as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said he was “disappointed” by Obama’s gesture because it falls short of GOP governors’ effort to win federal block grants with no strings attached to implement their own measures to provide health care coverage to the poor.

“Pretty much all he did was kind of reset the clock on what many of us consider to be a ticking time bomb that is going to absolutely crush our state budgets,” Perry told a news conference. “The states need more than that. We need some tough principled decisions of the sort that address the real budgeting issues that we have.”

Perry said that governors’ resistance to Obama’s health care overhaul had “put the administration on its heels” as state executives demand greater flexibility to adapt required coverage that is paid for by states.

You will note that the one thing Perry did not say was “Of course we states can do it better than the federal government can! Just get out of our way and watch us!” That would be because he has no plan to improve access to health care – quite the opposite, in fact – he has no intention of ever coming up with a plan to improve access to health care, and would really like it if things went back to how they were during the first eight years of his reign when nobody was making him talk about improving access to health care. He knows he can’t do it, he doesn’t want to try, and he’s desperately hoping for a bailout from the Supreme Court to get him off the hook. The same is true for all of his Republican Governor colleagues, and he knows that as well. It’s easy to see why that swagger of his can disappear in such a hurry.

Bell scores $2 million verdict against RGA

Chris Bell racks up his second legal victory related to a lawsuit stemming from the 2006 Governor’s race.

A state district judge Tuesday ruled that the Republican Governors Association violated state campaign finance laws and ordered it to pay Chris Bell, the 2006 Democratic candidate for governor, $2 million.

Judge John Dietz’s order, following a May trial, found that the GOP group failed to disclose two $500,000 donations made to Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign in the final days of the 2006 campaign.

The $2 million judgment comes after it was disclosed this summer that the Perry campaign had paid Bell $426,000 to settle similar claims against him.

Bell can’t comment about the Perry settlement because of a confidential agreement, but he was free to react to Tuesday’s decision.

“People should be glad that there are repercussions when people try to hide the source of campaign donations,” Bell said. “If the judge had ruled for them, most of our election laws would have gone out the window.”

Bell had previously settled with the Perry campaign for $426K. The Chron has more, including the final judgment and findings of fact, which seem pretty clear. The RGA will appeal anyway, so this story isn’t over quite yet.

Perry settles lawsuit with Bell

The settlement in the lawsuit by Chris Bell against the Rick Perry campaign over allegations of illegal campaign contributions to Perry by the Republican Governors Association (RGA) is now official.

Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign paid $426,000 to former Democratic challenger Chris Bell to settle a lawsuit.

Bell, Perry’s unsuccessful Democratic challenger in 2006, sued the Perry campaign a few years ago, claiming that it had accepted contributions that were improperly routed through the Republican Governors Association to hide their true source.

Shortly before giving Perry $1 million in the closing days of the 2006 campaign, the RGA received a couple of major donations from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry.

The Perry campaign paid Bell on March 3, the day after this year’s primary. The money went to Bell personally, not to a political campaign.

Actually, if you read the lawsuit Bell filed, the claim Bell made that he said entitled him to damages was that the Republican Governors Association PAC was not a qualified PAC in Texas at the time of the donation. The Bob Perry issue was mentioned in the suit, but it was a political matter, the idea being that by having him give a million bucks to the RGA, which then sent two donations totaling that amount to Perry, that donation was effectively hidden from public view. (See here for a copy of the original Chron story reporting on that.) You may recall that towards the end of the race, the Bell campaign got an infusion of over a million dollars from Houston trial lawyer John O’Quinn, which Perry used to bash Bell. One can certainly understand why Perry didn’t want it widely known that he was taking a similar infusion from this well-known Republican sugar daddy. But the crux of the lawsuit was the claim that the RGA was not legally able to make a donation to Perry’s campaign at that time because they were not officially recognized as a political organization in Texas. (Or at the federal level, apparently.)

Interestingly, the Houston Chronicle reported [Friday] morning that the Democratic Governors Association, which has given former Houston Mayor Bill White more than $1 million this year, has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from Texas donors.

That Chron story is here. I understand the parallel that is being drawn, but unless someone is claiming that the DGA hasn’t filed the proper paperwork as was the case with the RGA in 2006, it has nothing to do with anything. Fortunately, the full Statesman article clears that up.

Whereas the Bell lawsuit alleged that Perry did not properly report contributions from the governors’ group in 2006, White spokeswoman Katy Bacon said White’s campaign made the required disclosures when his out-of-state money came in. The ethics commission confirmed that the proper reports were filed.

It also notes that as Perry has been the Chair of the RGA, some of their abundant resources will likely be headed his way.

Settlement reached in Bell lawsuit against Perry

Texas Watchdog:

A 2007 lawsuit alleging Texas Gov. Rick Perry unlawfully hid $1 million in illegal campaign contributions has been settled in a confidential agreement, a lawyer connected to the case said Friday.

The case was filed by Chris Bell, Perry’s Democratic opponent in the 2006 gubernatorial contest. Bell, a former Congressman, claimed that Perry tried to hide the source of money he took from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation). The suit claims the money was illegally funneled through the Republican Governors Association in the waning days of the 2006 campaign, which Perry won.

“The agreement is confidential, and I am not privy to it,” said Terry Scarborough, a lawyer representing the governors association, a D.C.-based political committee.

The case has two elements, with Bell going against two named defendants: Texans for Perry and the governors’ association. The settled case, against Perry, was dismissed by the court May 20 after a joint motion for dismissal with prejudice, meaning the plaintiff cannot file another case on the same claim. There is no mention of the settlement in the court file.

The case involving the governor’s association remains active after a trial before a judge, also held May 20. A ruling is expected shortly.

The case against both defendants survived a motion to dismiss a year ago; my post on the original suit is here. At this point, that’s all I know. Thanks to Local Texans for the heads up.

Bell lawsuit against Perry advances

In November of 2007, Chris Bell filed a lawsuit against Governor Rick Perry’s 2006 re-election campaign and the Republican Governor’s Association claiming they illegally hid $1 million in donations from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry. The suit alleges that the RGA was not legally set up to make donations at the time of the contributions to Perry. More information on the allegations in the suit is here. On Tuesday in Austin, the plaintiffs survived a motion to dismiss.

District Judge John Dietz late [Tuesday] denied efforts by Texans for Rick Perry and the Republican Governors Association to throw out a lawsuit brought against them by Democrat Chris Bell, who ran against Perry in 2006, said Bell lawyer Buck Wood.


Wood said the Dietz ruling did not address Bell’s own effort to have a summary judgment in the case. If that effort is also denied, the case will move closer to a trial.

Good for Bell. These things obviously move very slowly, so don’t expect the next update to come any time soon.