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Rick Casey - Builder Contributions to AG Abbott, Tough Grandma & TRCC
Sunday, 02 July 2006

Houston Chronicle's Rick Casey - Proposal: A $1 million recusal rule
Take the case of Attorney General Greg Abbott. Last Dec. 15 he received $100,000 in campaign contributions from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and his wife... Perry and his allies in the homebuilding industry worked hard to obtain the commission as a partial shield against lawsuits... Still, it hardly inspires confidence for the attorney general to accept a hundred grand from an interested party on the eve of entertaining a request to rule on an issue of considerable interest to that party. In addition, five days after sending his request to Abbott, Swinford received his first contribution from Perry, for $2,000. Six weeks later he would receive another $10,000... But the notion that the attorney general can take $100,000 from someone with a direct interest in his ruling is outrageous.  And it's actually worse. Since 2001, Abbott has received $1.1 million from Mr. and Mrs. Perry...

Rick Casey Houston Chronicle
Proposal: A $1 million recusal rule
July 1, 2006
By RICK CASEY
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

ONE thing you have to like about Texas politicians is their resistance to embarrassment.

Take the case of Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Last Dec. 15 he received $100,000 in campaign contributions from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and his wife.

The next day, he received a letter from Rep. David Swinford of Dumas, chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs.

Swinford wanted Abbott to issue a formal opinion on whether Grandma, a.k.a. state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, had the authority to conduct a review of the performance of the newly created and controversial Texas Residential Construction Commission.

Perry is one of Houston's top homebuilders and one of the state's champion political contributors, together with his wife giving millions per election cycle to state officials.

Related by cash, not blood

Perry and his allies in the homebuilding industry worked hard to obtain the commission as a partial shield against lawsuits. Gov. Rick Perry (related not by blood but by money, Bob and his wife having given more than $500,000 to Rick's campaigns) pushed for the commission and appointed a top executive of Perry Homes as a commissioner.

There was every reason to believe that Strayhorn would issue a report highly critical of the commission. For one thing, consumer groups and news reports had already made a case that it was dominated by the construction industry.

For another, Strayhorn was running for governor and missed few chances to criticize anything backed by Perry or the Republican leadership.

Even before she became "independent" for the purpose of running for governor, Strayhorn showed her independence of state Republican leadership in some of her reports.

Swinford got cash, too

The leadership retaliated by passing a law in 2003 transferring the authority for such reviews to the Legislative Budget Board, which happens to be headed by the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House and their appointees.

She argued that she was simply honoring the request of a legislator, but there was a legitimate legal question as to whether Strayhorn had the authority to investigate the commission.

Still, it hardly inspires confidence for the attorney general to accept a hundred grand from an interested party on the eve of entertaining a request to rule on an issue of considerable interest to that party.

In addition, five days after sending his request to Abbott, Swinford received his first contribution from Perry, for $2,000. Six weeks later he would receive another $10,000.

Swinford said Perry had nothing to do with his request.

"I thought (Strayhorn) was overstepping her authority," he said.

He said Perry's contributions came because Swinford chaired an important committee and faced his first strong election challenge in ages.

"I was needing help in a tough race, and he was kind enough to give it," Swinford said.

The script went as expected. After considerable staff research, Strayhorn issued a scathing report in January on the commission and called for its abolishment.

Calling it a "builder protection agency," she said, "If it were up to me personally, I would blast this Texas Residential Construction Commission off the bureaucratic books."

In May, the attorney general ruled that she didn't have the authority to assess the commission.

The fact that she is running for governor rendered Strayhorn's report suspect, which is a shame since I think it was a good report.

That is why in an earlier column I suggested that comptrollers should have to step down if they want to seek another office. We need to be able to trust their findings.

But the notion that the attorney general can take $100,000 from someone with a direct interest in his ruling is outrageous.

And it's actually worse. Since 2001, Abbott has received $1.1 million from Mr. and Mrs. Perry.

In Vermont, legislators tried to limit campaign contributions to candidates for statewide office to $400 per two-year electoral cycle. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional this week.

A few Texas legislators last spring introduced a bill that would have limited campaign contributions to a total of $100,000 per two-year election cycle by any individual for all state races. The bill got nowhere.

But can't we agree on a modest proposal: that when a state official has received, say, a million bucks from one source he should recuse himself from decisions involving key interests of that source?

Memo to Rep. Swinford: Don't bother asking the attorney general for an opinion on that.

I phoned and e-mailed his press office Friday to discuss the issue but received no response.

You can write to Rick Casey at P.O. Box 4260, Houston, TX 77210, or e-mail him at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/casey/4017073.html

 
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