Couple of news items of interest regarding everyone’s favorite political chameleon, Carole Keeton Strayhorn. First, a little backscratching on taxes.
In early June, a lawyer and an accountant who represent businesses challenging taxes collected by state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s office met with a legal adviser to Strayhorn. By month’s end, the visitors and their colleagues had given more than $400,000 to Strayhorn’s gubernatorial campaign – 13 percent of the $3 million she raised from January through June.
Strayhorn’s office said Monday that there was nothing inappropriate about the confab initiated by an Austin lawyer and a Dallas tax consultant. Aides said talk focused on drafting plans for rules implementing the business tax created by lawmakers in a spring special session.
“It was kind of an innocuous meeting,” said Tim Mashburn, the agency’s general counsel, who hosted the visitors. “I have an open-door policy. Anyone who calls and comes by is going to get to talk to me.”
Mashburn said there was no mention of campaign donations. “Absolutely not.”
He was echoed by Jesse Ancira, associate deputy comptroller, who said he reminds agency directors at weekly meetings about the wall between politics and government. “I would hope that (mention) would never occur,” Ancira said.
Democrat Chris Bell’s campaign, which learned of the meeting through documents it received after an open records request, disagreed, saying the meeting and donations raise questions about possible political abuses of the office responsible for collecting state taxes and determining refunds.
Last September, the State Auditor’s Office reported that more than 750 taxpayers received $461 million in tax credits and refunds from the comptroller’s office less than a year after they or their representatives donated to Strayhorn’s campaign.
Auditors said they were not implying wrongdoing by anyone, though they recommended that lawmakers prohibit contributions to the comptroller or comptroller candidates from a person or group, such as a law practice or an accounting firm, that represents taxpayers before the office.
Bell spokesman Jason Stanford said Monday: “Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. You shouldn’t take money from people you regulate. It’s unethical.”
This is a continuation of an old story, but a little reminder never hurts. It may well be that meeting in question was innocuous, and it may well be that every one of those tax credits and refunds were wholly legit. It’s also the case that any reasonable person looking at the plain facts will naturally be suspicious of the whole thing. The State Auditor’s recommendation here may be a bit broad, but it’s better than the status quo.
Strayhorn had been named as a defendant by Edd Hendee, executive director of Citizens Lowering Our Unfair Texas, which filed the lawsuit in June. But in a court filing last week, Strayhorn said she wanted to be aligned with CLOUT.
She said she “welcomes and urges” a review of the issues presented in the lawsuit, which is pending in state district court in Travis County.
Hendee is asking the court to enforce a provision in the Texas Constitution that limits the state budget from growing more than the state’s economy.
Hendee said he is “heartened” by Strayhorn’s response and said he wished the other officials would join her lead.
“I question why a private citizen should have to go to court to see that the constitution is followed,” he said.
They’re having a hoot with this one over at Lone Star Times. I’m perfectly happy for Strayhorn to make her pitch to the disgruntled conservative faction (though judging by the comments there, she’s got a ways to go to convince some of them she really means what she’s saying). Hell, I wish she’d do more of it – maybe we’ll finally get some tangible evidence that Rick Perry’s base is actually going to retailiate against him for the school finance bills. (One wonders what Dan Patrick will say to these folks – will he give them the Kinky treatment?) I’m just going to say that any politician who tries to make nice with Edd “Tom DeLay’s BFF” Hendee is someone all Democrats should be very wary of.
Anyway. LST has all the lawsuit info – the original filing, the state’s response, and Strayhorn’s response (all PDFs). I tried to find the state’s brief, but no one at the Attorney General’s office had a clue where I could find it – the closest I got to an answer was a suggestion to check the court’s website. Of course, they couldn’t tell me what court to look for. Way to keep the public informed, Greg Abbott!