A couple of things became pretty obvious after rifling through the Harris County Commissioner campaign finance records -- one, these dudes got a lot of money, like, millions of it. And two, Commissioner Steve Radack LOVES the Denis' Seafood House.
So in the spirit of these revelations, here's five reasons why you'd really like being a Harris County Commissioner, but never will.
All the ching
Commissioner El Franco Lee is sitting on an astonishing $3.3 million in his campaign coffer. In just six months this year, he raised more than $300,000, and spent $200,000, and here's the crazy part. There weren't any campaigns! The next one is in
2014 the fall of 2012. Radack, meanwhile, has socked away nearly $800,000. He spent $63,000 this last six months, and raised $86,000.
Running for a seat on Harris County Commissioners Court isn't exactly like running for the presidency -- or, for that matter, even City Council. When was the last time you saw a political advertisement touting El Franco Lee? You might not even know who he is! But the scary thing: He's very, very powerful, wielding billions of dollars every year, tracking more highways and bridges across Precinct One. The significant percentage of donors are engineers and architects, and when county contracts get parceled out, they expect those favors returned, says Marc Campos, a Houston political consultant.
Seat for Life
What's more, the astronomical sums of money create an incredible deterrent to anyone else who wishes to run. There's no way a challenger could raise enough money to challenge one of these guys, Campos said. They'd have to be personally wealthy, like David Dewhurst wealthy. There aren't any term limits at the county level, and the only time a commissioner has been defeated in the last few decades was in 2010 when Jack Morman of Precinct Two knocked off Sylvia Garcia, in part thanks to his Tea Party connections.
But what happened next leads us to our next reasons it's awesome to rule the county:
You don't have to give the money back!
At least not for a few years. A cynic dabbling in rudimentary logic would likely comment that someone who's not campaigning -- because they lost -- probably wouldn't need campaign money. Well, that cynic has never served as a Harris County Commissioner. Garcia fell to Morman in 2010, but she continues to spend campaign dollars, chipping away at the $683,000 she has left. She spent nearly $40,000 in the first six months of this year, donating heavily to local candidates.
She has, however, stopped doing what Steve Radack loves to do, which is:
Going out to eat
Radack spent more than $10,000 on going out to eat in 2011. He spent a significant chunk of it at one place: Denis' Seafood House. If one thing was clear from these records, it's that Radack can't get enough seafood. These meetings were written off as "constituent" or "political" or "campaign" meetings.
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"Staying in touch with people and meeting people is one of the best things you can do to get their feelings," Radack said. "I've eaten at Denis' for years and years and years. It's convenient and nice." And, apparently, many political brainchildren have been spawned there.
Over the last 36 months, Radack also spent around $25,000 in campaign money on Texan football tickets. "When you give people Texan tickets, they're very happy," Radack said. (No kidding.) "Texan tickets aren't cheap." (Truth!) "And the ethics commission said this was okay."
Almost no accountability?
Those charged with overseeing the commission get their paychecks approved by -- yep -- the commission. Hmmm. (Ed note: We had wrong information on this. The Harris County Commissioner is overseen by the Texas Ethics Committee -- a state entity, not a county one.) "Commissioners can get too comfortable," Campos said. Who wouldn't? They get few challengers, no term limits, lots of restaurant time, hundreds of thousands of dollars.