Perry’s anger over federal spending hasn’t extended to friends who received it
While the national press bats around the question of whether, or how, Gov. Rick Perry ought to be called a racist, newspapers in Texas have unearthed a few new chapters in the governor’s tradition of funneling business to his friends.
On Sunday the Dallas Morning News took a long look at Perry’s ties to PlainsCapital, the bank that manages his presidential campaign funds, and is headed by James R. Huffines, a close Perry friend:
Perry’s relationship with PlainsCapital shows the sort of intermingling of business and political interests that could add fuel to repeated allegations by some of his Republican presidential rivals that he has practiced “crony capitalism.” No one has accused Perry of steering significant state business to the bank, but his presidential campaign could deposit millions in political contributions there.
PlainsCapital just paid back its loan from the U.S. Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, a program Perry has long railed against, including in a series of passages in his book, “Fed Up!”
A PlainsCapital subsidiary loaned Perry nearly $200,000 for a home in College Station while his daughter attended Texas A&M, and loaned Perry’s son Griffin the money he’d need for a home in North Dallas.
While the connections aren’t don’t suggest the governor directed taxpayer funds to hand-picked banking industry players (the Associated Press had that story on Monday), they do speak to a glaring disconnect between Perry’s fiery language on the campaign trail, and his more pragmatic approach when it comes to his own friends and finances.
Andrew Wheat, research director of the liberal-leaning Texans For Public Justice, contended that Perry’s continued use of PlainsCapital was part of a pattern of duplicitous actions by the governor.
“There are countless examples of this kind of thing — railing against the federal government while whining about the need for more federal aid for forest fires or hurricanes or border security,” Wheat said.
Federal disaster relief, too, offers another look at how Perry and Texas officials’ actions tend to upend the narrative of that the state is lean and efficient, and the feds just get in the way.
As the Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday, Texas’ has drawn criticism from the unusual decision to outsource management of federal disaster relief money after Hurricanes Dolly and Ike is drawing criticism from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Texas has received $3.1 billion so far in the federal disaster recovery money (of the $3.1 billion it’ll eventually get). While Kansas City-based HNTB has nearly maxed out its contractual allowance for administrative fees, at $45 million, the Statesman reports it’s only doled out 20 percent of the money it’s charged with disbursing:
The role played by HNTB in managing grants for nonhousing infrastructure — originally the responsibility of the now-defunct Texas Department of Rural Affairs — has largely escaped public attention, but not the federal government’s.
In a May letter to state officials obtained by the American-Statesman, Stanley Gimont , director of block grant assistance for the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, said that using HNTB “to administer virtually all aspects” of the state agency’s work on the community development block grants “presents significant cause for concern.” Gimont said that as an engineering firm, HNTB lacked experience with community development block grant programs — the funding vehicle for Ike and Dolly disaster relief.
In May, HUD warned Texas about the potential for “considerable cost increases” in its contract with HTNB, and that it lacked ways to measure how the company was doing its job.
HNTB was also a major consultant on the Trans-Texas Corridor, a widely opposed highway mega-project that would have cost the state $184 billion. HNTB pocketed $109 million in consulting fees along the way. The Statesman reports HNTB has profited mightily off its latest work with the state, as well:
Exactly how HNTB was chosen is not clear; because its contract was for professional services, it was not subject to a bid process. State records show the firm was paid $45 million under the contract before it was canceled.
The Statesman details the firm’s close ties to Perry associates — his presidential campaign’s communications director Ray Sullivan has lobbied on behalf of HNTB, and the comapny and its executives have given $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which, in turn, has been Perry’s largest campaign donor.