Chronicle reports TxDOT hired former lobbyist to lobby Democrats in Congress
Houston, TX, May 27, 2008 – A May 25 Houston Chronicle article reveals that while TxDOT ceased hiring OUTSIDE lobbyists, it hired Rebecca Reyes using taxpayer money to work in TxDOT’s Washington office. Reyes is the daughter of Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso.
TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott expressly stated she was hired because she has a background in “lobbying.” TURF filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for its taxpayer-funded political ad campaign to advocate toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor (in violation of Texas Government Code Chapter 556), and it found evidence TxDOT had also illegally hired registered lobbyists. Lippincott tried to spin it by claiming they stopped hiring outside lobbyists due to budget cuts.
“TxDOT has ceased hiring outside lobbyists in response to being caught red-handed in violation of the law, but now it’s obviously still engaging in lobbying members of Congress by bringing a former lobbyist in-house. Both the Texas Government Code (Chapter 556.004) and federal law prohibit a government agency from engaging in lobbying and using taxpayer money for a political purpose. TxDOT is just getting more sneaky in how they do it,” says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (or TURF).
“Where is the OUTRAGE from lawmakers and where is the Travis County District Attorney to put a stop to this illegal activity at taxpayer expense?” asks Hall.
The applicable federal law is found in the Hatch Act:
5 C.F.R. 151.121 – “a state or local officer or employee may not…directly or indirectly…command…a state or local officer or employee to pay, lend, or contribute anything of value to a political party, committee, organization, agency or person for a political purpose.”
What TxDOT calls “outreach” and “education” is, in reality, an advocacy and political ad campaign (www.KeepTexasMoving.com) using public relations firms and political strategists to “sell” the public on a privatized, toll roads, and this sales job includes members of Congress as evidenced in TxDOT’s Forward Momentum report asking them to relax federal legislation in order to buy back existing interstates in order to toll them.
Through TURF’s lawsuit, it uncovered detailed logs showing a concerted campaign to lobby politicians, particularly newly elected officials, which is a BIG no-no for a state agency that must remain apolitical. Alliance for I-69 Lobbyist Gary Bushell was hired by TxDOT to personally lobby more than two-dozen elected officials in the path of TTC-69 prior to the Town Hall meetings.
Houghton admits TxDOT violated the law!
At the packed Town Hall meeting in Hempstead last February, Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said he also personally met with every county judge in the path of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 as he defended the necessity of TxDOT hiring lobbyists to lobby elected officials.
This action is in DIRECT VIOLATION OF THE LAW!
Texas Government Code:
§ 556.005. Employment of Lobbyist
(a) A state agency may not use appropriated money to employ, as a regular full-time or part-time or contract employee, a person who is required by Chapter 305 to register as a lobbyist. Except for an institution of higher education as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code, a state agency may not use any money under its control to employ or contract with an individual who is required by Chapter 305 to register as a lobbyist.
“TxDOT has now publicly admitted, on camera, that it has violated the LAW! Are government agencies under the rule of law or not? Who is going to step in and prosecute this rogue agency?” asks an outraged Hall.
TURF also discovered in a memo to TxDOT dated November 8, 2007, that Rodman & Co. marketing gurus drafted positive, pro-TTC quotes on behalf of elected officials in order to place them as positive quotes in press releases about the TTC-69 project.
Political Poll conducted on taxpayers’ dime
TxDOT also hired Governor Rick Perry’s political polling outfit, Bacelice & Associates, to conduct a poll that included asking one’s political party affiliation in its questions.
“What does a person’s political party have to do with a supposed ‘public information’ campaign? Nothing, it’s clear this ad campaign is about pushing a political agenda and brainwashing the public with pro-toll talking points like ‘tolls are better than gas taxes to fund roads.’ C’mon, this is politics run amok and an agency run amok. Who’s going to rein them in?” criticizes Hall.
TxDOT’s behavior demonstrates why there are laws prohibiting the government from using its power and OUR money against the taxpayer. The citizens have the deck stacked against them when their own government forcibly takes their money and uses it to clobber them.
Like TTC-35, TTC-69 plans to convert some existing highways into privately controlled toll roads, making Texas taxpayers pay twice for the same stretch of road as well as to force Texas landowners to give-up their farms and ranches for a massive new stretch of road in order to complete the entire Trans Texas Corridor project.
Read more about TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT’s misuse of taxpayer money for an ad campaign advocating tolls and against its lobbying activities here.
Read TURF’s formal complaint against TxDOT’s illegal use of taxpayer money filed with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle here.