Let the national media pile on Rick Perry for appointing big donors to plum state government posts.
He just did it again.
On Wednesday, Perry named Dan Friedkin, chairman and CEO of the Houston-based Friedkin Group, to head the influential Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Friedkin is the son of Thomas H. Friedkin, the Houston billionaire and founder of Gulf States Toyota distributors. Since 2000, the Friedkins have given more than $700,000 to the governor's state campaign organization, Texans for Rick Perry, making them his fifth-biggest donors, according to a Tribune analysis of campaign finance data from the Texas Ethics Commission.
The elder Friedkin is an African big-game hunter, and Dan Friedkin is a trustee of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Perry first appointed him to the Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2005 and reappointed him last February.
Also on Wednesday, the governor appointed his 2010 gubernatorial campaign finance chairman, James H. Lee, to the Higher Education Coordinating Board. The Houston investor has given almost $194,000 to Perry's state campaigns and previously served on the Teacher Retirement System Board of Trustees from 2006 to 2009.
Lee served as Perry's chief fundraiser in the 2010 campaign and is helping him raise money for the 2012 presidential race. Lee left his post at TRS in 2009 amid questions about an unpaid gambling debt, which got settled, at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas.
The elevation of donors and fundraisers to state agencies is not a new concept, either for this governor or his predecessors. Unlike federal law, Texas law does not limit the amount of money individuals may give to a nonjudicial candidate for statewide or local office. But as Perry runs for president, the spotlight on his appointees has grown bright. The New York Times published a front-page article on Sunday highlighting the Perry administration’s habit of handing out tax breaks, contracts and appointments to his strongest supporters and the businesses they own.
“It’s pay-to-play politics at its worst,” says Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the consumer and ethics watchdog group Public Citizen.
“When it comes to Rick Perry’s record, the obvious correlation between campaign contributions and favors is so high,” Holman says. “It definitely raises all kinds of red flags that government favors are being doled out based on money, rather than merit.”
Perry spokesman Mark Miner says there is no tie between the governor's appointees and any donations they give him.
“The governor appoints people based on their qualifications, and just like other governors have done in the past, he has the responsibility to appoint people to boards and commissions," Miner says. "He appoints people that are qualified to serve.”
Among other appointees named Wednesday are several officials who had been named to agencies previously by the governor. Bill Jones, an attorney at the Jones Law Firm and general counsel to the Office of the Governor from 2000 to 2004, is headed to Parks and Wildlife. Jones received his first Perry appointment in 2003 to the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, where he served until December of last year.
In addition to Lee, three of the other four Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board appointees have a direct political history with Perry. Munir Lalani, CEO of Lalani Lodging, was first appointed by Perry to the Midwestern State University Board of Regents in 2001, where he served until 2010. Janelle Shepard, director of medical management at the Texas Health Resources Fort Worth Hospital, was appointed to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2007 by the governor. Dr. David Teuscher, an orthopedic surgeon and partner in the Beaumont Bone and Joint Institute, served on Perry’s 2005 Texas Tax Reform Commission and on the Texas Youth Commission board from 2009 to 2011. Teuscher is also a member of the Texas Medical Association’s Board of Trustees.
Robert Jenkins Jr., the final Higher Education Coordinating Board appointee, is the current chairman of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Perry also appointed three new members to the University of Houston System Board of Regents, including Welcome Wilson Jr., president and CEO of the GSL Welcome Group of Houston. Wilson, who has given almost $20,000 to the governor's state campaigns, was previously appointed to the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation by Perry in 2009. Wilson is replacing his father, Welcome Wilson Sr., who has given almost $60,000 to the governor's past state campaigns and was appointed to the University of Houston System Board of Regents in 2006. His appointment expires at the end of this month.