To a certain extent, this Texas vs. California roundup is incomplete, since we’re hot and heavy into the new legislative session and I haven’t had a chance to fully digest the proposed budget numbers yet. By the Legislative Budget Boards numbers, they’re only projecting a 1.5% increase in the 2016-2017 biennium budget over 2014-2015. But see the first link…
Archive for the ‘Texas’ Category
Back when the University of Texas Law School “forgivable loan” scandal broke, I said it was for all intents and purposes a slush fund and a serious ethical problem for UT.
I didn’t know the half of it.
For years before a forgivable loan scandal forced him to resign as dean of the University of Texas Law School in 2011, Lawrence Sager was running up annual six-figure bills on a credit card paid for by the UT Law School Foundation.
From 2007 to 2010, Sager racked up $401,498.29 on that card, all of it paid by the foundation, apart from tens of thousands in other expenses for conferences, computers, club dues, food, travel, storage units and other items.
I can imagine numerous scenarios where a UT law school dean could rack up $400,000 in credit card expenses, but most of them involve words like “gambling,” “hookers” and “blow.”
More from Cassidy:
In all, the foundation has spent more than $1 million in compensating and reimbursing Sager. That’s just a fraction, however, of the $68 million the foundation has spread around UT during the past decade, most of it compensating the school’s faculty and administrators.
The question the attorney general’s report does not answer, or even ask, is whether the members of the Law School Foundation have received anything in return for their largesse. Reporting by Watchdog.org has established that many children of generous foundation members have been admitted into UT Law, although there is little evidence that would cast doubt on their qualifications.
More on that “forgiveable loan”:
The report says that “under Dean Sager’s leadership the Law School provided incorrect or incomplete responses to requests for salary information by both University management and the public pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act. To settle a lawsuit, both Foundation and public funds were expended in order to paper over a climate of non-disclosure.”
Scott also faulted Sager for concealing the $500,000 forgivable loan he procured for himself, reporting that “the Law School maintained two forgivable loan lists — one that contained Dean Sager’s $500,000 forgivable loan and one that excluded that particular loan.”
Keeping two sets of books is a classic indicator of financial fraud.
Thus far I have only skimmed the official Attorney General report on the loan issue (much less dug through all of the appendices), but there are several other questionable practices highlighted, like an unrecorded, $25,000 payment to one faculty member.
As Dallas Observer writer Jim Schutze notes, the state media continues to ignore the scandal regent Wallace Hall uncovered:
Cassidy’s and Williamson’s reporting was uniformly ignored by reporters and editorial pages of the state’s mainstream media. Most of the state’s major editorial pages joined the exposed members of the Legislature in denouncing Hall. An ad hoc committee of the Texas House of Representatives labored for months to find a way to remove Hall from the board of regents. When their own lawyers told them Hall hadn’t done anything for which he could be impeached and was in fact carrying out the duties of a regent, the committee slapped Hall instead with a gratuitous and toothless “censure,” an act with the legal meaning and gravitas of “fuck you anyway.”
And while he may no longer be Dean, Sager is still listed among UT law faculty.
The report goes to show, once again, that Wallace Hall was right about the need for tighter and deeper board oversight at UT. And that UT’s stables still haven’t been fully swept out…
For those not up to speed on the EarthQuest saga, it was an attempt to build an “ecological theme park” northeast of Houston in Montgomery County. The fact that it was going to be built with a large dollop of taxpayer money via a special taxing district only enhanced the stench of Eu de Boondoggle EarthQuest gave off, as grandiose plans gave way to missed construction and funding dates, at least one bankruptcy filing and a complete halt to visible activity. It’s essentially been moribund since 2012.
Now from dedicated EarthQuest watcher Sopboxmom comes news that the IRS has revoked Institute EarthQuest’s tax-exempt status:
Exempt Organizations Select Check
Automatic Revocation of Exemption Information
The federal tax exemption of this organization was automatically revoked for its failure to file a Form 990-series return or notice for three consecutive years. The information listed below for each organization is historical; it is current as of the organization’s effective date of automatic revocation. The information is not necessarily current as of today’s date. Nor does this automatic revocation necessarily reflect the organization’s tax-exempt or non-exempt status. The organization may have applied to the IRS for recognition of exemption and been recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt after its effective date of automatic revocation. To check whether an organization is currently recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt, call Customer Account Services at (877) 829-5500 (toll-free number).
Revocation Date (effective date on which organization’s tax exemption was automatically revoked):
Employer Identification Number (EIN):
Doing Business As:
21575 US HIGHWAY 59 NORTH
NEW CANEY, TX 77357-8355
Revocation Posting Date (date on which IRS posted notice of automatic revocation on IRS.gov):
Exemption Reinstatement Date (effective date of tax exemption, determined by the IRS
after the organization’s exemption was automatically revoked and the organization applied for reinstatement of exemption.):
Finally, despite their zombie website, EarthQuest has ceased to be, and even nailing it back on the perch wouldn’t help.
More information here.
Sadly, my previous analysis was right on the money. Straus maintained his hold on the Texas Speaker’s chair by a 127-19 margin over Scott Turner. For all the numerous Tea Party endorsements of House candidates (indeed, the North Texas Tea Party said that a vote for Straus for Speaker would preclude their endorsement), it seems that only a tiny minority of Tea Party-endorsed candidates are interested in challenging Straus’ iron grip.
I would be most interested in hearing behind-the-scenes information on how Straus has managed to continue to procure the votes of so many conservative Republicans despite widespread grassroots opposition to Straus’ Speakership…
Via PushJunction comes word that Amber Mostyn (wife of rich trial lawyer Steve Mostyn) is stepping down as chair of Annie’s List. What’s Annie’s List, you ask? Essentially an attempt to do Emily’s List for Texas, i.e. elect liberal female Democrats to office.
So how did Annie’s List do in 2014? By one measure they were quite successful: They raised 18th largest amount of money of any statewide political entity in 2014, raising $1,422,009.16 and spending $1,601,945.83.
So Annie’s List racked up a winning percentage of .111 for the races they publicly supported, which is pretty far below the Mendoza Line, and their lone win came for a seat Democrats already held. Going through Annie’s List campaign reports for 2013-2014 (more about which anon) shows two other campaigns they backed at some point in the cycle:
One wonders how long Annie’s pale, middle-aged, female leadership can keep raising money with such poor results.
For the sake of completeness, and providing a “one stop shop” for information about Annie’s List, here’s their official filing information via the Texas State Ethics Commission:
POLITICAL COMMITTEE INFORMATION
Committee Type: General Purpose
Files Reports: Semi-Annually
8146-A Ceberry Drive
Austin, TX 78759
Pinnelli, Janis W.
P.O. Box 50038
Austin, TX 78763
And here are their electronic filings covering the 2013 to 2014 fundraising period:
Beyond Mostyn and Lisa Blue Baron, some of the names who gave significant amounts to Annie’s List include Obama bundler Naomi Aberly, Lee and Amy Fikes, and Serena Connelly, the daughter of late billionaire businessman Harold Simmons. So your usual batch of rich left-wing pro-abortion feminists. Fortunately for Texas, the state’s voters seem actively hostile to precisely the message they seek to push…
Here’s your first Texas vs. California update of 2015:
This is all the result of the regents’ irresponsible oversight. In 1990, UCRP had 137 percent of the assets it needed to meet its obligations, so regents suspended employer and employee contributions to the pension fund. State legislators also stopped allocating money to UCRP. This “pension contribution holiday” lasted 20 years. To top it off, during this period, university officials boosted pension benefits a half-dozen times. By 2012, more than 2,100 UC retirees were each collecting six-figure pensions for life.
(Hat tip: Pension Tsunami.)
— HeisenbergHattie (@HBergHattie) January 4, 2015
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Liberal elitists confidently sweep into a new situation, arrogantly tell everyone they’re in charge, refuse to listen to advice, alienate all those around them, and make a gigantic hash of everything, worsening the problem they sought to “solve.”
That could be a description of, well, just about everything the Obama Administration has done in the last six years, but in this case it’s a description of Battleground Texas’s spectacular failure in the 2014 elections from the left-wing Texas Observer.
“Battleground was opaque in its dealings, shied from making firm commitments, negotiated with a heavy hand and was coy about its long-term goals.” Hmm, that sounds strangely familiar…
Like a plane crash or an industrial accident, many things small and large had to go wrong to produce the dismal results on Nov. 4. The Davis campaign’s effort was bungled from the get-go, and it was certainly a bad year for Democrats nationally. But neither of these fully explain the scale of 2014’s loss. The most serious failing of the Democratic coalition this year was its inability to mobilize and turn out voters, a responsibility that fell largely to Battleground.
As dozens of conversations with individuals associated with the party, local Democratic groups, campaigns and other progressive organizations make clear, Battleground Texas had a major part—though definitely not the only one—in contributing to Democrats’ terrible showing in November. The group, they argue, made critical and avoidable mistakes that cost candidates up and down the ticket.
The models, the party staffers say, seemed to treat Bill White’s performance in 2010 as a floor, beyond which Davis could improve—failing to recognize that it had taken a lot of money and effort to reach White’s level.
So in some parts of the state, Battleground volunteers spent time combing white suburban neighborhoods for “crossover” voters—soft Republicans and independents—while neighborhoods rich with potential Democratic votes went underworked.
Battleground had a peculiarly fraught relationship with many county parties around the state. A huge number of Democratic voters live in the state’s 15 largest counties, so local parties are major footsoldiers of the Democratic effort, representing the permanent party infrastructure in Texas’ largest cities. Forging close cooperative relationships with them should have been a no-brainer, but Battleground wanted to dictate the terms of the relationship.
Battleground tried to get county parties to sign formal working agreements, according to four individuals familiar with the negotiations, which included policies regarding data and sharing of volunteer resources. The common perception was that Battleground asked for far too much, and didn’t offer enough in return.
The Travis County Democratic Party signed a contract, which worked more or less acceptably, according to both sides. It’s unknown how many others did. The fact that Travis County had signed such an agreement with Battleground was well known in other parts of the state, according to three local party officials, but Battleground refused to share details of the agreement with other county parties—presumably under the belief that it would weaken their negotiating position. One county party leader describes it as a “divide-and-conquer” approach: another, as an attempt to “annex” local party groups.
In largely Hispanic Nueces County, home to Corpus Christi, Republicans swept every contested race in an area that should be fertile ground for Democrats. One of the problems, local organizers say, was that the coalition didn’t spend enough time mobilizing Democratic base voters early on.
The Nueces County Democratic Party struggled to build a relationship with Battleground, which didn’t know how to talk to Hispanic voters and was reluctant to use volunteers to support Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Leticia Van de Putte, says former Corpus Christi state Rep. Solomon “Solly” Ortiz Jr. When Battleground and the state party tried to compensate late in the game by running their own voter canvasses, they ended up unnecessarily duplicating each other’s efforts. “It was just a clusterfuck, man,” Ortiz says.
Another ongoing dispute involves what may be Battleground’s greatest asset: the 34,000 Texans who have volunteered for the group since its inception. Even critics acknowledge that the scale of Battleground’s volunteer operation was impressive, and could prove helpful to future Democratic campaigns. Many who critique the group emphasize their appreciation and respect for the volunteers.
But some Texas Democrats were operating under the belief that the list of volunteers would be shared with the party after the election. Their thinking is that the volunteer base should be a sort of communal property. Volunteers are the lifeblood of campaigns: Money can make campaigns viable, and data can inform strategy, but it’s volunteers who go out to walk blocks, make calls and keep people excited.
Senior staffers with Battleground say that was never in the cards, that it would be virtually unprecedented to give away that kind of asset. The volunteers help give Battleground continued influence in the state—they are the group’s future.
For all the talk of Hispanics being the key to turning Texas blue, Battleground Texas seemed distinctly uncomfortable reaching out to them.
All in all, the piece offers a rich buffet of failure, and I’ve only skimmed some of the highlights here.
So given the obvious and extensive dysfunction evident in 2014′s spectacular flameout, you’d think Battleground Texas’ backers would try something else.
You’d be wrong.
In the end, whether the group stays or folds comes down to one factor: money. Battleground’s operation, when in full gear, is extraordinarily expensive to run. The group’s most important financial backer is Steve Mostyn, the Houston lawyer. He has, according to those who know him, a great antipathy toward the Democratic Party itself. After the election, he pledged that he’d stick with Battleground.
“I’m the guy who’s got the most money in it and I’m the one writing the checks,” Mostyn told the Houston Chronicle, “and I’m telling you I think it’s working.”
He who calls the piper pays the tune. Presumably Battleground Texas will do precisely what one wealthy trial lawyer wants them to do, no matter what other Texas Democrats think.
A growing number of Texas Democrats are worried that Battleground is getting ready to use its Texas volunteer base to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign nationally. Top Texas Democrats say Jenn Brown, Battleground’s executive director, has privately admitted that she sees Texas as an “export” state in 2016—meaning that the state’s money and volunteers would be best put to work elsewhere. Attempts to contact Brown through the group were unsuccessful. Sackin, Battleground’s spokesperson, told the Observer that “Battleground Texas was created specifically to keep resources in Texas—so that people didn’t feel like they have to leave Texas to volunteer or donate to make a difference. We’ve been saying that since we were founded, that’s why we were founded, and that hasn’t changed.”
Bird, the group’s founder, and wealthy Houston attorney Steve Mostyn, the group’s most important financial backer, are prominent members of the leadership team of the Ready for Hillary Super PAC. If Battleground involves itself in a contested Democratic presidential primary, it could arouse indignation here, where not everyone has jumped on the Clinton bandwagon.
But if Battleground Texas uses its volunteers to support Clinton’s campaign in other states during the general election, lot of Texas Democrats would be downright furious.
So Battleground Texas is going to treat Texas Democrats the way Democrats treat taxpayers: As a pinata to bash and extract the goodies from.
I wonder if Texas Democrats have other plans…
(Hat tip: Push Junction.)