Last week when Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced the deep bench of millionaires, heavyweight GOP donors and corporate figureheads he's tapped to officially advise him as he steers legislation through the state Senate, he lamented that private interests don't have a loud enough voice at the table.
"Very often the private sector is asked for help by a candidate, and after they get elected, there's not much follow up," Patrick told reporters. "Why would you want a legislative body to disconnect themselves from the private sector?"
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Maybe Patrick is being insincere, or perhaps he's just conveniently oblivious to how lobbying actually works. But there's hardly been a "disconnect" between Patrick's handpicked "advisory panel" members and the Texas Legislature. In fact, in addition to being comprised largely of people who have contributed directly to Patrick's campaign, the advisory panel members have another thing in common: Many of them are connected to companies that have dropped serious cash lobbying the Texas Legislature.
According to a recent Texas Tribune analysis of filings from the Texas Ethics Commission and state comptroller's office, companies directly connected to people appointed to Patrick's advisory panels have already reported between $900,000 and $1.8 million in lobbying contracts (you can thank Texas' system of only tracking "maximum" and "minimum" lobbying expenditures for that wiggly number). And the Lege has only been open for business for one week.
Take for instance Brint Ryan, the man Patrick has picked to help brainstorm tax policy proposals. Ryan's firm has so far hired seven lobbyists for the upcoming session, spending anywhere between $250,000 and a half million dollars (how else would Ryan's clients get all those Enterprise Zone tax breaks?). While mega-restaurateur Tim Fertitta sits on Patrick's economic forecasting panel, his company Landry's has already hired 5 lobbyists for the session at a cost somewhere between $155,000 and $275,000.
The most stunning takeaway from the Tribune's analysis might be that it shows how some advisory panel members are already deeply entrenched in state business. Take for instance Dick Collins, the founder and CEO of the educational technology company Istation who sits on Patrick's workforce development advisory board. The Tribune reports that Istation currently has a $32.2 million contract with the state to provide remedial support to school districts, the Texas Education Agency's second-largest contract.