State Rep. Charles Perry, a member of the House committee considering impeachment proceedings against University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall, received a $2,500 campaign contribution in late December from a political action committee that has received hefty financial support from the embattled regent, according to a Texas Ethics Commission report.
Perry, R-Lubbock, serves on the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, which is in the process of investigating whether Hall committed impeachable offenses. The campaign contribution from Accountability First, a political action committee that had received major donations from both Hall and Jeff Sandefer, an unofficial adviser to Gov. Rick Perry on higher education issues, came at a time when the committee had already been charged with investigating Hall.
Charles Perry has publicly expressed doubts about continuing the investigation into Hall. His campaign said he did not know of the regent's affiliation with Accountability First when he accepted the contribution.
"Charles Perry was not aware of any contribution Wallace Hall made in September 2013 to Accountability First PAC when the PAC contributed to him in December 2013," Perry's campaign said in a statement. "Texas Ethics Commission filings weren't even made public for contributions made in this time period to or from any PAC until mid-January 2014."
Hall has been accused of abusing his office by personally conducting extensive inquiries into the operations at the University of Texas at Austin and mishandling private student information in the process. Through his lawyers, Hall has denied any wrongdoing and has said that overseeing and investigating the university is part of his job as a regent.
“There is a general belief in ethics circles and various parts of the law that people who are sitting in a judicial position, which functionally this transparency committee has become, should not take contributions from people whose cases are pending and in front of them," Smith said.
While he noted that the money did not come from Hall directly, but rather from a political action committee that includes other contributors, Smith added, "The linkage of this contribution, its timing and that at least part of the source of the money is from Wallace Hall are all reasons why people's eyebrows ought to be raised on this deal."
House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, issued a proclamation giving the committee the go-ahead to investigate Hall in late June.
In late September, Hall contributed $100,000 to a new political action committee called Accountability First. His contribution made him among the group's largest donors. The group's largest contributor is Sandefer, who in an unofficial capacity has been a strong influence on Gov. Rick Perry on issues relating to higher education, including the appointment of regents. Sandefer gave the PAC $200,000.
The legislative committee wrapped up a months-long series of public hearings related to its Hall investigation in December. That same month, Charles Perry received the $2,500 contribution from Accountability First.
Early this month, the committee received a report from its special counsel laying out possible grounds for impeachment of Hall. Members plan to meet on Thursday to discuss their next steps.
While he has declined to discuss specifics about the committee's plans, Charles Perry has made clear his lack of enthusiasm for pursuing impeachment. "It is my desire and intent to bring closure to this matter and the process that provides nothing positive to the educational institutions, the taxpayers, the appointment process or the Legislature," Perry said in a statement last week. "In other words, it is time to move on."
No other member of the legislative committee have reported any contributions from Accountability First.
Charles Perry's campaign said Tuesday that he has never received campaign contributions directly from Hall, though some other members of the Legislature have.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Rusty Hardin, the special prosecutor in the case, was a major donor to the Tribune in 2012 and 2013. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.