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Looking for equivalence in all the wrong places

Where your tax dollars are going, thanks to the benificence of Governor Perry.

Two weeks after the state made its first $15,000 monthly payment to a contract lobbyist in Washington, D.C., the lobbyist and his firm spent $7,600 to host a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority.

Texas Office of State-Federal Relations lobbyist Todd Boulanger and his firm, Cassidy & Associates, put on the fundraiser on March 2.

Cassidy Vice Chairman Gregg Hartley, registered as a member of Boulanger’s Texas lobby team, later that month also made a direct contribution of $5,000 to the DeLay leadership political committee, according to Federal Election Commission records reviewed Wednesday by the Houston Chronicle.

[…]

Texas House Democratic Chairman Jim Dunnam last week accused Maloney of “laundering” his state payments into Republican political donations.

Dunnam said Wednesday he is not surprised to learn Boulanger held an event for DeLay within weeks of getting his first state payment.

“It’s clear these guys are turning taxpayer money into political donations,” Dunnam said. “The timing is too coincidental. It speaks for itself. It doesn’t need any political spin.”

[…]

The Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday that the Office of State-Federal Relations hired Boulanger and Cassidy over firms that met more of the office’s selection criteria and cost less.

The newspaper reported that Cassidy got the edge because of Boulanger’s ties to important officials in Washington, including presidential adviser Karl Rove.

Here’s that Statesman story, which goes into a good amount of detail. I recommend reading it because the full story is both better in some respects for the choice of Cassidy and worse in others.

This is pretty straightforward, right? Texas already has fulltime staff in DC to advocate for its issues, not to mention a senior Senator and until recently the House Majority Leader, which raises the question why an outside firm was needed. Whatever the merits of hiring such an outside firm may be, hiring one that spends lavishly on political donations, especially to a single party, raises more questions about whose interests are actually being represented here. This Statesman editorial puts it together nicely:

Apparently, no governor prior to Perry found it necessary to hire beltway lobby firms, which adds to the smell emanating from these contracts. The circular connection of large amounts of taxpayer money, Republican cronies and the K Street lobbyists is not coincidence. Nor is it a matter of “everybody does it.” According to Democratic critics, no other state hires lobbyists to supplement their governmental relations staffs.

Democrats have a right to complain. All that money went to lobbyists who never bothered to contact the Democratic members of Congress from Texas. It was a partisan effort, like the K Street project itself and this state’s 2003 congressional redistricting fiasco.

A Perry spokeswoman said the firms were paid to lobby members from other states, but that’s not what the records show. Boulanger’s firm, for instance, was paid to organize a luncheon for Texas House and Senate legislative directors.

Largely under DeLay’s direction, the Republicans created a continuous loop of power and influence. It was as simple as directing lobbying firms to hire former staff members if they wanted access to congressional leadership, and as complicated as channeling campaign funds through several different entities to wash it.

DeLay’s influence was so intense that he demanded the Texas Legislature redistrict the state in mid-census to increase GOP power in Washington. And on his whim, Texas Republicans complied.

In light of all that, Perry’s lobbying contracts look like another sop to curry favor with the Republican power brokers. It’s a shame that Texas taxpayers had to foot the bill for nothing more than tribute.

With all that in mind, one has to wonder what the heck Harvey Kronberg was thinking when he attempted to draw a parallel to the lobbying efforts of the Texas Municipal League.

[T]he Democrats stepped on to a slippery slope when they claim that the state is sufficiently represented by the Office of State Federal Relations and the Texas delegation.

Elected officials have their own agendas. Sometimes they coincide with the governmental institutions they represent. Sometimes they don’t.

[…]

Some Republicans believe that cities, counties and school boards should be prohibited from using tax dollars to hire lobbyists to make their case to the Legislature. It is an effort to silence those with whom the GOP leadership disagrees.

The House Democrats cannot have it both ways. They can not categorically oppose state contracts to D.C. lobbyists yet support their cities and school districts when they hire lobbyists.

Let’s put aside for a moment the crony/K-Street Project part of the Democrats’ complaint. Does Kronberg not see any distinction between the hiring of lobbyists by cities, who as I’ve said before do not have any dedicated representation in Austin, and the hiring of lobbyists by the state when they have both elected and fulltime employed representatives in Washington? Whatever the merits of the TML, at least one cannot say they’re duplicating someone else’s efforts. What’s so hard about that?

Secondly, while it is necessarily in the Democrats’ interests to oppose the hiring of a lobby group by the state that funnels cash to Republicans, the alignment of the TML’s interests with those of the Democrats (which has spawned those Republican complaints lately) is by no means a given. The TML lobbied against specific agenda items of the state’s Republican leadership, in particular appraisal and revenue caps, plus the anti-municipal WiFi provisions of the telecom bill. That put them largely in alliance with the Dems, but there’s no reason to believe that a future Democratic-controlled state government can’t or won’t do things that would get crosswise with the TML and its members (two words: “unfunded mandate”). Similarly, a Republican-controlled 80th Lege could easily take up items that the TML will support. This is a marriage of convenience, and it will eventually end.

This doesn’t of course mean that one cannot raise legitimate questions about the use of public dollars for TML’s services. Same thing with school boards and their lobbyists. But there is simply no equivalence between TML’s lobbying contract and the Cassidy Group’s. Pretending otherwise is disingenuous at best.

One last thing to note in this story is this:

The contract was approved by an advisory board made up of Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick.

Dewhurst and Craddick have both said Perry was the official who wanted to hire outside lobbyists.

State-Federal Executive Director Ed Perez was appointed to the job by Perry, and serves at the governor’s pleasure.

It’s always interesting to see Dewhurst and Craddick back away from something Perry has done. Craddick has been vocal about his lack of interest in hiring Drew Maloney for some time now. Even more amusing, as I noted in 2003, is that the Office of State-Federal Relations, which is the official state-employed lobbying office in DC, has been under heavy bipartisan criticism for its ineffectiveness. What was their solution at the time? Why, hire Drew Maloney of course, allegedly at the urging of Tom DeLay. The OFSR is now officially under the auspices of the Governor’s office, so any lingering complaints about its aptitude should be directed there. Sure is amazing how you can make incompetence work in your favor if you put your mind to it, isn’t it?

Thanks to Eye on Williamson for the Statesman and Kronberg links.

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2 Comments

  1. PDiddie says:

    Boy, Harvey and Royal have really left their red slips hanging out a lot lately.

  2. PDiddie – Actually, I think Kronberg is genuinely non-partisan, and I mean that in a complimentary fashion. That’s why I was surprised by how facile his piece was. I expect that from certain corners of the punditsphere, but Kronberg is better than that.