With the notable exception of a certain campaign for president, the fundraising season is off to a slow start. You don't have to believe us -- the evidence can be found in the stacks on the tenth floor of the Sam Houston Building, where the Texas Ethics Commission keeps candidate reports on contributions and expenditures, and increasingly, on candidate borrowing.
The slow start on the money end isn't that unusual, but even though the reports are skinny, some of them are interesting. For instance:
• The attention on Gov. George W. Bush has all been on his federal campaign, but there's a fairly fat report from his state office committee. He raised no money for that account during the first half of the year. Like other state officials, he wasn't allowed to seek money for state office during the session, and by the time the session was over, he was busy with Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond. The committee spent $839,278 and ended the first six months of the year with no debt.
• Garry Mauro, who ran against Bush for governor, raised $188,263 during the first half of the year, including a $100,000 contribution from Brian Stearns of Austin. Mauro spent $177,590 during the period and ended with $225,000 in outstanding debts.
• Lt. Gov. Rick Perry paid a $50,000 bonus to Jim Arnold, his campaign manager, in January. Perry's report also reveals that the Texas Farm Bureau is finally coming around. That group, which supported Perry's opponent, John Sharp, during the election, made no contributions to the winner between the election and the fundraising shut-off in December. Now they're trying to make up, giving Perry a $25,000 contribution in the latest report. Sharp's report showed contributions of $173,428 and spending of $104,288. He showed no outstanding debt at the end of the period.
• Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander's report showed end-of-period debts of $425,000, but included a footnote that said the loans were paid off on July 13, which is after the period covered by the report and two days before that report was due. Like Perry, she paid her campaign manager a nice bonus after the campaign. But Rylander's manager, Scott McClellan, is also her son. He got a $25,000 paycheck in January. One other note: Rylander's predecessor works now for G. Brint Ryan of Dallas, a tax consultant. But while former Comptroller Sharp supported Rylander's opponent, Paul Hobby, his new boss gave Rylander $25,000.
The Beginnings of an Expensive Senate Race
David Fisher, the Democrat running for Senate in Republican Drew Nixon's SD 3, raised $114,000 in cash and pledges, and spent about $5,000 during the first half of the year. Aides said the pledges -- totaling roughly $45,000 -- are from the candidate's family members and law partners. Another potential Nixon opponent, Rep. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, has said he's interested in the race. He didn't say -- but his report does -- that he's hired Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth as his political consultant while he's investigating the possibilities.
Another candidate in that race, Les Tarrance of The Woodlands, raised $101,787, including a slew of in-kind contributions, and spent $21,975. His campaign had previously said they raised $100,000 in one event alone, which turns out to be a small exaggeration. He also borrowed $100,000 on a 15-year signature loan to help finance his campaign. One more, Bob Reeves of Center, filed a report but has neither spent nor raised money for the race. The incumbent, who says he hasn't decided whether to run for reelection, raised no money during the period, and spent about $21,700.
Transfers, Loans and Startup Accounts
There aren't really any races for the Texas Railroad Commission yet, but you can't tell that from the campaign accounts. The incumbents, some former commissioners and potential ones were busy.
• Railroad Commissioner Charles Matthews moved $90,000 from his old account to his new one. If you leave that number in the totals, he raised $299,050 and spent $6,685 in the new committee and raised nothing while spending $172,927 out of the other one. He also borrowed $210,063 against his airplane, pledging himself and his wife, Julia Matthews, on the note.
• Former Sen. Jerry Patterson, a Republican who's still considering a run against Matthews, raised $23,124 during the first half of the year while spending $9,647. He also reported $23,000 in debt, including (according to a footnote on the report) a $10,000 balance on credit cards from his last campaign, a failed primary run last year against Dewhurst for land commission.
• Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, in his first report as a state office holder or seeker, reported raising $238,592, spending $24,613 and borrowing $30,000.
• Railroad Commission Chairman Tony Garza reported contributions of $213,368 and expenditures of $75,830. Unlike Matthews and Williams, Garza won't be up for reelection during the current election cycle.
• Former Railroad Commissioner Barry Williamson, who's now the finance guru for the Republican Party of Texas, reported no contributions and no expenditures. He closed out the period with outstanding debt of $134,332, down from the $142,168 debt he had in January. How so? He has another committee, which raised $41,375 and spent $75,363. That second committee ended the six months with outstanding debts of $316,000, bring the total debt to $450,332.
• Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, as previously noted, raised only $100 (a check from Henry Taub of Houston) and spent $287,209. His report also showed his campaign's total debt has ballooned to $3.58 million, including a $95,000 loan taken out in March and an $85,000 loan in April. Both notes were due June 30, which is also the last day of the reporting period.
• Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, who got left off our list of statewide officeholders last week, didn't raise any money during the first six months of the year (that's not unusual in legislative years), and spent $22,251.
• Democratic Party Chair Molly Beth Malcolm raised nothing, spent nothing and owed nothing on this report. Her counterpart, Republican Party Chair Susan Weddington, raised $15,075, spent $9,484 and owed nothing.
Tree-Killers Still Outnumber Propeller-heads
Some of the campaigns -- depressingly few if you don't live in Austin but want to pore over the reports -- filed their mid-year financial results on disk, and the ethics commission has posted those on its Internet site (http://www.ethics.state.tx.us).
Lt. Gov. Rick Perry is alone among state officials in filing both his contributions and expenditure reports online. During the legislative session, he said he would support efforts to put campaign finance reports on line instantly. Several legislators who pushed for campaign finance reform and electronic filing sent reports the old-fashioned way: on paper, three to five entries per page.
As we mentioned last week, the ethics commission will probably have software and rules in place by the beginning of April that will result in almost all state reports being filed electronically by this time next year. The plan is to put those reports on the Internet as they come in, so everyone from citizens to activists to opponents to reporters can get to them right away.
By the time the next full election cycle begins, the state should have electronic filing completely up and running. The elections in 2002 will probably be the first that are completely reported online
Dog Days are the Worst Days for School Boards
It shouldn't be a surprise that the education bill that passed at the end of the session had a million moving parts, or that some of those parts move in ways that weren't considered by the experts inside and outside the Legislature. But this is the grouchy season for school boards. July and August are the months of school budgets and property tax rate-setting, and as a general rule, trustees will blame anything they can on what the Legislature did at the beginning of the year.
Some of what they're worrying over is legitimate. There really is a problem, for example, with some of the new law's changes in how to pay for facilities. Some of the worry is flatly misplaced. Some is perennial, and some is curious but probably won't amount to much.
One question that came up early and got a fair amount of attention in the press was whether teachers who were already due a raise were supposed to get that raise in addition to the $3,000 the state said each teacher should get. The answer issued from Austin: Yup.
A new and related question: Is the state covering the cost of the benefits that come with that $3,000? Yes and no. The state will cover its share of the additional contributions to the Teacher Retirement System that result from its higher minimum salaries.
But teachers in almost four dozen districts are enrolled in Social Security. The state won't pay for that, and those districts will have to cough up the money for the employer contributions to that program. Lawmakers did give those districts a bone, allowing them to avoid any tax rollback efforts that result from the money they'll owe to Social Security.
Local Supplements Remain a (Mostly) Local Matter
Here's another one. Many school districts around the state pay teachers what is called a "local supplement" -- that's the amount a school district adds to the state's minimum salary. Since those supplements are funded out of local money, local officials determine the amounts. But the Legislature, full of distrust (based on a fair amount of experience in such matters) feared some school boards would lower the local supplements, pay teachers the state's $3,000 raise, and thus shift the burden of funding teacher salaries from local taxpayers to the state. Teachers would see little or none of the pay raises on their checks, but their bosses politically would be better off.
The fix, as far as lawmakers were concerned, was simple: They told local school districts that their local supplements could not be lowered for two years. That ensures that teachers will get what they got last year plus the $3,000 from the state. But it also means that the state is stepping into a local issue it has previously left alone, and some districts want to know whether the state is willing to pay for what they see as a "mandate." They contend the state -- at least in their local arenas -- has effectively raised the state minimum salary to include the real state minimum plus last year's local supplement. And some of them say they might have been able to use that money for other things if the state hadn't stepped in and told them to keep local supplements at last year's level for two more years.
The argument, as you might expect, gets nowhere with lawmakers. Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, says the districts can't make that argument unless they're willing to say they were going to cut teacher pay and that the state's pay scheme forced them to abort that plan. Nobody, he's wagering, is going to confess to such a thing.
The notion that the frozen local supplement is now a state mandate gives rise to two questions, one of which will remain unanswered for a couple of years. The first is this: If one school district is paying teachers the state minimum, and another district is paying the state minimum plus what is now a state-ordered local supplement, are the teachers in those two districts getting the same treatment and protection from the state? That's a question only a lawyer could love.
The second concerns the future of the pay raise, and is related in a way to the first. Will the state be willing in two years time to thaw the freeze on local supplements, freeing districts to lower pay if they want to? Or will the temporary freeze become permanent and perhaps prompt more lawyers to talk about varying state-set minimum pay scales in different parts of Texas?
The Man Who Would Be...
Gov. George W. Bush was goaded into releasing a list of his campaign "pioneers," but only put out the names of the 115 who've already made their nut. He says there are about 300 pioneers, and the rest are working to raise the $100,000 each that will make them worthy of the title.
The goading came from the press, after the press was goaded by Texans for Public Justice, a group that has made the lobby and some officeholders uncomfortable with its reports on political fundraising and influence peddling. They "demanded" the list of pioneers, and turned out to have nice timing. Their call for the release of the list hit media fax machines not long before reporters went over to the Capitol for a press conference with Bush. When reporters asked, Bush said they could have it.
One funny note about the whole ruckus is that the list that got released -- and that has now been printed in some papers -- has been available for a couple of weeks in the form of an invitation. Bush held a well-publicized "thank you" party in Austin to honor Texans who have given to his presidential campaign, and the names of the pioneers who have actually raised what they promised were on the programs. Most of the major news organizations -- in Texas and beyond -- had copies in hand the whole time. And after the "demands" were met, only one paper, the Austin American-Statesman, bothered to print the whole list. Most just said that Bush had made it available.
TPJ got a smart kick in the pants, too. After TPJ pushed the governor to release the list and then chided him for not releasing the names of the pioneers who haven't made their quotas, the Republican Party of Texas got after the group for not releasing the names of its own financial backers.
The point is well taken, but it also opens a can of worms. In the Texas courts last year, non-profit groups from all over the political spectrum successfully fought to keep their lists secret. The arguments each way (oversimplified for sake of brevity) were, on the one hand, that the public should know who's behind a group that gets a public tax benefit and, on the other hand, that opening the rolls for public examination would have a chilling effect on supporters of a given group. The records remain secret, and legislators haven't made any major attempts to change the law.
Take a Meeting, But Please -- Take it Out of Town
Lt. Gov. Rick Perry named a 23-member small business advisory panel he says will suggest ways the state can help businesses in Texas. He'll follow that, he said, with regional panels that supplement the bigger one. Perry said he has no particular reforms in mind, but wants to see what the group cooks up during and after sessions in Texarkana, El Paso, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. That group's recommendations will go to the next Legislature, which meets in 2001.
Perry is also looking over senators' suggestions for studies that should be done before that legislative session, but it will probably be several weeks before he makes decisions about forming interim committees. He has previously said he'll have lawmakers doing some work between the sessions, but has also said there won't be as many interim committees during this break as there were before the last legislative session. Several senators say they'd like to be on Perry's higher education task force, but it's not clear how much of that panel will come from government. Perry has said he wants business people, university people and others to think out the future game plan for higher ed.
It's safe to say that all of the senators will have a hand in redistricting, but it's not clear who'll be sitting in the driver's seat. Here's the knockdown on the Rumor of the Week: Perry is nowhere near deciding who'll be on the Senate Redistricting Committee during the interim and probably won't name members until late this year or even early next year. The rumor was that he'd picked Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, as co-chairs. Aides say it ain't so.
That said, the committee probably won't wait for all of the Census Bureau data that will finally determine the state's population and it's location and demographics. The Legislature has to hold public hearings around the state before it draws apportionment maps, and that can start before any final numbers are in. As a practical matter, those hearings probably need to be complete before the beginning of the legislative session in January 2001.
Here They Come a-Courting
The race for Judge Steve Mansfield's seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals promises to draw a crowd, whether he's on the ballot or not. And a couple of weeks after saying he was pretty sure he would run for reelection, Mansfield has decided to drop out.
He says he wants to spare his family and his fiancée the embarrassment of a nasty political year and a race based on his past mistakes. Mansfield was certain to be pilloried for illegally scalping his tickets to a University of Texas football game last year. That infraction was compounded by the fact that the tickets were complimentary; the school gives tickets to state officials to inspire goodwill. He got caught in the act by a campus police officer, and later had his hand slapped by the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct. All that would have been the basis for everyone's TV ads.
But wait! This is the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- nobody in that race can afford television ads. Races for the court are, by Texas standards, low-budget affairs that depend mainly on the results of voter turnout efforts by various factions and on coattails. For instance: Mansfield, with very little money in his campaign account, was elected in the Republican tsunami of 1994.
Mansfield's opponents were counting on his problems for publicity. The easy battle plan would be to talk about Mansfield and leverage the easy-to-get free coverage that would derive from his ethical lapse last year and another during his first election (he ran on an inflated resume). In short, he was drawing both Republicans and Democrats and was looking at a rough reelection campaign.
With him out of the way, there will be a lot of candidates, but they'll have a harder time getting into the newspapers. This being a court race, it would require something unusual or bizarre to ever get the affair onto a television newscast.
We've mentioned Tom Greenwell of Corpus Christi; he's running in that race as a Republican. Greenwell has never served on the bench, but the new competition has. State District Judge Jim Wallace of Houston says he'll be on the Republican primary ballot. Wallace gets a free shot at the job: His own term in office expires in 2002. If he loses this one, he can go home to a waiting job. If he wins, a Republican governor will pick his successor in Houston. Jim Arnold will run the Wallace campaign. Others, like Vicki Isaacks of Denton, are considering the race but haven't declared their intentions.
Eyes on Laredo, Other Candidates on Parade
When she first ran for office in 1986, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said she would serve for 12 years and then make way for someone else. The way things fell, she will have served 14 years at the end of her current term. Around the end of August, she'll decide whether to run again. Zaffirini says the only question left is whether she "can balance being a full-time senator with running a business." Take it how you'd like: She says she genuinely hasn't made up her mind.
The betting here is that she'll run. Democrats in her district have encouraged her to make another go of it, and so have a fair number of people in the business community in the district. They argue that Zaffirini's seniority in the Senate gives her an advantage.
If she doesn't make the race, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and former Rep. Richard Raymond, a Benavides Democrat who now lives in Laredo, have made it pretty clear they'll jump in. In fact, Cuellar was raising money last year to be used for a Senate run, and Raymond moved to Laredo, presumably to be closer to one of the biggest vote bases in the district (a chunk of San Antonio and Bexar County makes up the other end of the 19-county district). But neither would run against Zaffirini, and she says both have encouraged her to run again.
Elsewhere: Retired professor Charles Elliott of Commerce is gearing up for a run against freshman Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. Elliott taught at East Texas State University and has been active for years in Democratic Party politics. Brown was elected last year to an open seat in a district traditionally held by Democrats... Ben Bius of Huntsville, who lost the HD 18 race to Rep. Dan Ellis, D-Livingston, wants a rematch... Also on the potential returning challenger list is Eddie Shauberger, who lost to Rep. Zeb Zbranek, D-Winnie, in HD 20.
Political People and Their Moves
Forty lashes: We put Richard Raymond in the wrong race last week. He was a candidate for land commissioner in 1998, not railroad commissioner... Susan Harry, who worked on Democrat John Sharp's lite guv campaign before becoming the fundraiser for Raymond in his race for land commissioner last year, is now the fundraiser for the Texas Democratic Party. She joins Sherry Boyles, the new executive director there, who also worked on the Raymond campaign... Dean Murray, the chief investment officer for the Texas Education Agency, is leaving next month. He's the head guy at the state's $20 billion Permanent School Fund. He has held that position since 1996, when the fund was worth $13 billion... Gov. George W. Bush is still busy taking over the executive branch, this time appointing three Dallas men to the University of North Texas board of regents: Roy Gene Evans, a banker and North Texas alum; Richard Knight Jr., owner of an oil products company; and Tom Lazo Sr., president of a data processing company. The appointments are subject to Senate confirmation... Austin lobbyist Tom Forbes gives up his solo practice to sign on with Hinkle Cox, a New Mexico law firm. He'll be the firm's Austin outpost, but not their first foray into Texas; they've got offices in Midland and Amarillo... Keith Elkins, who went to work for Carole Keeton Rylander when she was elected comptroller last year, moves on. The former TV reporter returned to the Texas Lottery Commission, where he's the new communications director... Rylander's son, Scott McClellan, is leaving his state job as a spokesman for the governor to join Bush's presidential campaign... Joy Anderson, who was an aide to former Gov. Ann Richards and to former Comptroller Sharp, is the new chief of staff at the Texas Youth Commission, replacing Judy Briscoe, who will be -- take a deep breath for this title -- Assistant Deputy Executive Director for Juvenile Corrections... The Texas State Library and Archives Commission hired Peggy Rudd as director and librarian. She was with the agency's Florida counterpart... Isabella Cunningham, an advertising professor at UT-Austin and the wife of outgoing UT System Chancellor Bill Cunningham, was reappointed to a three-year term on the board of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of National History... Ernie Pereyra Jr., deputy director of the Texas Commission for the Blind, died of an apparent heart attack. He was 41.
Quotes of the Week
Texas prison spokesbot Larry Todd, on a withdrawn rule that would have defined what kinds of news organizations would be allowed to interview death row inmates: "What we want to do is come up with a rule that will allow legitimate news coverage without turning our prisons into a circus."
Julian Palmer, spokesman for a poverty program at Columbia University in New York, on a study that shows suburbs are outpacing cities in the growth rates of children living in poverty: "Our hypothesis is people are migrating from urban to suburban areas in search of work but not earning enough to escape poverty."
Reform Party chair Russell Verney of Dallas, on the presidential candidates: "If the Republicans and Democrats nominate George Bush or Al Gore or Bill Bradley, it will be the Bore Wars."
U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, in a letter to Texas Monthly after that publication printed speculation that he might be in his last term: "I love my job and I think I'm pretty good at it and I expect to run for reelection at least a couple more times. It has occurred to me that if I equal Strom Thurman's record, I'll be in the Senate for another 40 years. I hope that doesn't give any Democrats nightmares."
Ben Stein, a former Nixon Administration official who now hosts a game show on Comedy Central, on politics and government: "It is incredibly important to dethrone politicians, make government a laughing matter. Countries get into trouble when... their governments seem to be all-powerful and sacred. Countries stay on an even keel when the citizenry considers itself able to laugh at the powers that be."
Benjamin Barber of the civic exchange program at Yale University, on progress: "We're trying to address the dilemma that technology moves people too fast. It's an impediment to democracy, which should be slow and deliberative. So we're trying to install speed bumps on the Internet."
Texas Weekly: Volume 16, Issue 4, 26 July 1999. Copyright 1999 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited.