Analysis: What if top Texas politicians ran their businesses like businesses?
"Analysis: What if top Texas politicians ran their businesses like businesses?" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Editor's note: If you'd like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey's column, click here.
You’re a public official just reelected to office. You get your friends to raise $5.3 million, throw an inauguration ceremony and party and candlelight dinner, spend all the money, and shred the receipts. Or burn them. Or put them in a drawer nobody will ever open. Just put them where the sun won’t shine.
This is about the state’s top two elected officials, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and the committee they appointed to put together their inauguration this year. The Texas Tribune's Jay Root and Shannon Najmabadi reported the details last week, including the fact that the Tribune has sued under open record laws to get the details of how the money was spent.
The committee, headed by Abbott’s campaign director, says it has no detailed records of how it spent that $5.3 million. It gave the Texas Secretary of State’s office a one-page financial summary with 11 broad categories of expenditures. They spent $2.4 million on the inaugural ball and special events, $930,927 on fundraising, $898,865 on payroll and $800,000 on charitable contributions, among other things.
Just on the surface, for instance, that looks like a sweet deal for the fundraisers, who according to the numbers, got to keep about 17.5% of the money they raised. And the charities did almost as well. But who were the fundraisers? And what charities benefited?
If you’re going to claim that you’re running your government like a business — heck, if you’re going to run your business like a business — you have to keep your receipts.
Ask your accountant. Ask your lawyer. Ask anyone with genuine business experience.
You have to track expenses. You have to know where the money went and where it’s going. Receipts are information. They are evidence. The nitty gritty.
It’s nearly impossible to believe that anyone could collect $5.3 million from political donors, spend it on inaugural ceremonies and galas for Abbott and Patrick, and not be able to itemize the spending.
But that’s what they’re asking the public to believe.
And it makes the governor and the lieutenant governor look like they’ve got something they don’t want you to know about their operations. Who gave? Who got? What’s the big deal?
Can we see the receipts, please?
When the public sees who gives to politicians and their allies, the public gets an idea of who is seeking favor and who’s associated with those people. When the public sees how the politicos are spending their political money, that gives the public an idea of who the spenders are associating with.
Abbott’s office says no tax dollars were harmed in the making of this year’s inauguration, something else that might be verified with receipts. They say they got the building and the grounds for free, as well as the jets that flew over in formation, and the Ross Volunteers who formed the saber arch to salute the newly reelected officials and their families and friends, and the extra Department of Public Safety troopers who were on hand to keep everybody cozy and safe — is that right?
Who are the favored charities, and are they straight-up charities or politically affiliated ones? Who were the fundraisers and how much did each of them raise and get paid? Which vendors got the work, printing programs, doing public relations and all of that? Was there any logrolling (such a great political word, isn’t it?) going on here, or was the inauguration just a boring bit of business?
That’s why it ought to be public, even though the dollars involved were not tax dollars. It’s why the contributions and expenditures of regular political campaigns in Texas are made public — so all of us on the outside can see what the insiders are doing, who they’re associating with, who they might be trading favors with — so we’ll know which dogs are sleeping with which fleas.
Contributions show who is seeking favor. Expenditures show, to some extent who’s getting it.
This is easy. Either they have the receipts and they’re lying about it, or they don’t have the receipts — which would raise reasonable questions about whether they’re fit to run a business, much less a government. Or a $5.3 million celebration for the state’s top two elected officials.
Maybe everything was done properly and there’s nothing for these public officials and institutions to be ashamed of. Transparency is the way to prove it.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/10/14/what-if-top-texas-politicians-ran-their-businesses-businesses/.
Texas Tribune mission statement
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.