In an election season marked by fights over the connection between campaign contributions and political appointments, members of the state's boards of regents continue to dominate the landscape.
Over the past decade, the men and women chosen by Gov. Rick Perry to govern state universities have given his campaigns at least $5.8 million, according to an analysis by The Texas Tribune. About half of the governor’s appointed regents gave to his campaign; of those who gave, the average total given was about $64,000. The top giver, University of Texas System Regent Paul Foster, gave nearly $400,000.
In total, Perry has collected nearly $90 million in donations over the past decade. At least $10 million has come from appointees to various boards and commissions — and more than half of that money has come from regents, who earn no salary but can be reimbursed for travel and other fees incurred for official business; they also collect perks ranging from reserved parking to free tickets to football games, though the latter has itself been a cause of some controversy over the years.
The Perry campaign denies any connection between the donations and the appointments. “The governor appoints people to boards and agencies based on their qualifications and nothing more,” says Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for the Perry campaign. “It’s their right to contribute to his campaign based on what they think of his leadership.”
Perry's 10 top regent-donors — almost all from the University of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech systems — together have exercised that right to the tune of nearly $3 million in the last decade. None responded to calls seeking an explanation of their generosity. Their resumes, however, shed some light on who runs higher education in Texas: politically connected captains of industry, some of them among the state's richest people in Texas, even the country.
One of the top 10 — former UT Regent Robert Rowling — has been listed on Forbes’ ranking of the world’s billionaires. He owns TRT Holdings, which controls Gold’s Gym and Omni Hotels, among other entities. Rowling resigned his seat on the regents last year following an ugly public exchange at the Legislature over bonuses for executives of the University of Texas Investment Management Company, whose board he chaired.
The top 10 and the amount they gave Perry’s campaigns over the years:
|Paul Foster||University of Texas||$388,758||Oil and gas||Western Refining|
|Erle Nye||Texas A&M||$258,000||Electricity||TXU Corp.|
|Robert Rowling||University of Texas||$257,262||Various||TRT Holdings|
|Larry Anders||Texas Tech||$383,171||Insurance||Summit Alliance Financial|
|Richard Salwen||Texas Southern||$250,000||Legal, tech||Retired|
|Phillip Adams||Texas A&M||$284,914||Insurance||Phillip Adams Co.|
|Jim Dannenbaum||University of Texas||$297,500||Engineering||Dannenbaum Engineering|
|Lowry Mays||Texas A&M||$261,400||Media||Clear Channel|
|Steve Hicks||University of Texas||$290,002||Investing||Capstar Partners|
|Rick Francis||Texas Tech||$241,290||Banking||Bank of the West|
Source: Texas Ethics Commission; governor's office
Throughout the general election campaign, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White has criticized the governor for using appointments to reward campaign donors. "It's clear that, for Rick Perry, appointments aren't about serving Texans but about building his own self-serving partisan political machine," says Katy Bacon, a spokeswoman for the White campaign.
White himself recently came in for some criticism of his own when a Texas Tribune analysis of the appointments he made as mayor of Houston showed he collected about $2 million in donations from the people he appointed. White’s response? Yes, he gave donors jobs, but “not like Perry,” and the donations had nothing to do with the appointments.