in Houston, Texas
Texas wind power companies reap tax breaks from fiscal cliff deal
Thursday, Jan 03, 2013, 01:29PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
wind farm

Look! Up there! Just off the precipice of the terrifying fiscal cliff! It’s a taxpayer built and outfitted Deltaplane carrying the Texas wind power industry to safety.

And lined up behind it on the cliff are hang gliders for such deserving and needy industries as Puerto Rican rum producers, electric scooters, Coca Cola and Hollywood.

Congress is launching this flying armada under the cover of whatever unspeakable horrors might have been visited upon Americans had it not bravely stepped in at the very last minute to protect random and profligate spending, the Washington Post reports today.

Among the leaders in this glorious formation are companies that will receive a tax credit valued at about $12 billion for beginning construction of wind farms sometime in 2013. Texas, the leading wind power-producing state in the nation, will be the chief beneficiary of the 2.2 cents-a-kilowatt-hour of projected energy production tax credit, Bloomberg is reporting.

As Texas Watchdog has reported, the entire wind power industry in Texas had for months been cowering in fear that Congress would not extend a tax credit that has been crucial to its life support for 20 years.

Just how crucial? Bloomberg says the tax credit uncertainty alone caused projections of putting wind turbines online in 2013 to drop to 4,800 megawatts of power from 11,800 megawatts estimated in 2012.

With its ability to embed sleeper cells of questionable taxpayer spending well established in bills like the stimulus and Obamacare, Congress set out to keep a $14 billion tax credit for research and development and $11 billion for financial services companies to shelter income earned overseas from certain financial transactions, the Post says.

Compared to those, what is $222 million to help prop up the rum industry in American territories? Or $78 million to help auto racing better compete with amusement parks for your hard-earned dollar? The $7 million for the Oregon scooter makers is almost nothing.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, disagreed, preferring to keep his fiscal cliff rescue metaphor grounded.

“These are like the cockroaches of the policy world,” Ellis told the Post.  “You think they’re dead, and then they come back.”

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of wind turbines by flickr user the russians are here, used via a Creative Commons license.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul gets top mention in D.C. group’s rankings of lawmakers defending taxpayer interests
Monday, Sep 24, 2012, 12:53PM CST
By Steve Miller
money

The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste ranks Texas congressman and former presidential aspirant Ron Paul at the top of its latest list of federal lawmakers who defend taxpayer interests. Paul scores a 98 percent, bested only by two senators from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Also near the top of the list from the Texas delegation were Republicans Sen. John Cornyn (95 percent rating) and Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions, who both scored 91 percent ratings.

At the bottom of the list were Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee (4 percent) , Eddie Bernice Johnson (8 percent)  Silvestre Reyes (5 percent) and Charlie Gonzalez (8 percent).

The list, compiled annually by the tax watchdog group since 1989, was again much more welcoming to  Republicans than Democrats. Among the Texas Republicans scoring poorly were Kay Granger (52 percent) and Lamar Smith (56 percent).

According to the council, “the ratings separate the praiseworthy from the profligate by evaluating important tax, spending, transparency and        accountability measures.”

Charity Navigator, a group that ranks non-profits, defines the council as “a private, non-partisan organization representing more than one million members and supporters nationwide… [its] mission is to eliminate waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in the federal government.”

The council received a decent overall review from Charity Navigator, although it ranked low on transparency with a rating of 44 out of a possible 70.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of money by flickr user Dan4th, used via a Creative Commons license.

While congressmen propose new oversight for NASA, private company sets launch date to resupply International Space Station
Friday, Sep 21, 2012, 02:56PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
nasa

It has taken a generation, but four congressmen, two of them from Texas, have figured out what has been wrong all this time with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Too much politics.

Reps. John Culberson of Houston, Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Bill Posey of Florida and Frank Wolf of Virginia, all Republicans, want NASA to be run by a non-partisan administrator and an 11-member board selected by -- don’t take too long guessing -- politicians, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Culberson told a news conference in Washington, a safe non-partisan haven, the Space Leadership Preservation Act of 2012 will free NASA’s scientists, engineers and astronauts to do what they do best.

We’re assuming he didn’t mean beating the Russians to the moon.

By eerie coincidence, the congressmen announced their bill on the very day SpaceX announced plans in partnership with NASA to send a loaded unmanned Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station on Oct. 7.

The scheduled flight comes less than five months after SpaceX became the first private company to complete a mission into space. And six months after proposing to build a rocket launch complex just south of South Padre Island.

While the company currently awaits the results of an environmental impact statement, Environment Texas, a wholly apolitical Austin non-profit, made a statement of its own: Launch your rockets someplace else.

The private space industry is plenty used to that kind of politicking, having fended off Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking but outgoing member of the Commerce Science and Transportation Committee.

In the past Hutchison expressed, reliably, forcefully and without favor, a preference for space travel planned by and commencing from the taxpayer-funded Johnson Space Center in Houston.

It is this sort of space travel Americans need, without all the back room dealing, to stave off the Chinese, a space competitor that doesn’t share our democratic values, Wolf said.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of Ed White during the first American spacewalk via NASA.

Texas members of Congress dip once, twice, three times at the public trough
Friday, Aug 10, 2012, 08:04AM CST
By Steve Miller
ice cream

Of the state’s 34-member U.S. congressional delegation, 12 are taking a pension from a public retirement plan, according to financial disclosures filed by the politicians.

Among the best compensated in the pack is Republican Ted Poe, 63, a former prosecutor and judge in Harris County whose district includes Kingwood and Beaumont, who reported dual pension payments in 2011; he was paid $82,153 by Harris County and $57,229 by the Texas County and District Retirement System.

U.S. reps, many of them former state elected officials, receive a congressional salary of $174,000. They are not prohibited from taking their taxpayer-subsidized retirement while serving in Washington.

Steve Ellis, with the D.C. watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, says public pensions make elected officials that much more out-of-touch with the retirement realities of private-sector workers, whose plans are usually packaged as defined contributions to a 401(k) or IRA.

“The public derides career politicians, but that’s what a pension is generally for, rewarding someone for a career’s worth of work,” Ellis said. “At some point you have to question whether elected officials should be receiving pensions at all.”

Members of the delegation draw on a number of retirement programs established for state employees, most through the Employees Retirement System of Texas.

Cities also offer a pension plan, usually under the Texas Municipal Retirement System. Counties use the Texas County and District Retirement System. State judges, the Texas Judicial Retirement System.

All but one, the Municipal system, are tapped by at least one member of the state’s delegation.

Rep. Al Green, a Democrat from Houston and a former justice of the peace in Harris County, reported a pension payment in 2011 of $96,948 from the Texas County and District Retirement System.

John Carter, a Republican from the Austin area, served as a district judge for 20 years in Williamson County. He has received generous payments from the Texas Judicial Retirement System. According to his financial disclosure, Carter, 70, last year received a pension of $76,458 from the judicial system. Carter, who has spoken out against other forms of perceived judicial and legal abuse, has drawn a pension payment every year since taking office in 2003, totaling $693,162.

 

Other lawmakers reporting state pension income in 2011 were Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, who listed $65,748 in income; John Culberson, R-Houston, $26,983; Gene Green, D-Houston, $51,862; and Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, $35,000. Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison reported $23,774, also from a state plan.

 

Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, a former Houston City Council member, noted on her disclosure form that she is vested in the city's plan but has not yet received a benefit.

Some lawmakers listed their pensions as assets, for which the member is required to report the value in a broad range and, if income was generated in that year, the amount.

Two lawmakers disclosed their pensions in this way but did not report receiving payments.

Republican Kevin Brady, a former state rep from the Woodlands whose U.S. district takes in part of suburban Houston and Beaumont, listed his state pension valued at $15,001 to $50,000 in 2010.

Charlie Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Antonio, last year reported pensions worth between $50,001 and $100,000 from the Employees Retirement System of Texas and between $15,001 and $50,000 from the Texas County and District Retirement System. Gonzalez spent time as a state district judge and a state district judge before being elected to Congress in 1999.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn also listed a pension for the first time in 2011 worth $50,001 to $100,000 from the Employees Retirement System of Texas. He reported taking a $10,131 distribution. Cornyn was a state district judge and a member of the Texas Supreme Court before he was elected state Attorney General in 1998. He won his Senate seat in 2002.

Ellis, of Taxpayers for Common Sense, sees a distinction in the public’s mind between double-dipping by members of Congress in state or local plans and workers who are taking two checks from the same level of government. 

For example, Gov. Rick Perry was discovered in December to have been drawing his state pension while serving in state office – and making a short-lived bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

“I think some of the noise about Gov. Perry was that it was state pension & state salary,” Ellis said. “Especially considering it is a state or local pension – which they would be owed no matter what their job was - Congressman, plumber, or dog-catcher - it becomes harder to go after. At some point it does seem excessive, that they are able to feed at the various public troughs.”

The federal-state double dip is “hard to justify,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a consumer rights group.

“It’s become more problematic up and down the level of bureaucracy, where members of Congress or high state officials like Gov. Perry do this kind of stuff,” Smith said. “Then it becomes OK for executives in state agencies to retire and then go back to work as consultants for the agencies they worked for, which is becoming more common.”

However distasteful double-dipping may be, it would be hard to ban.

“The situation isn't any different, technically, from a teacher receiving pension payments from Texas and doing some part-time or full-time teaching in another state,” said Ron Snell, who studies state pensions for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Given the general understanding that a pension is deferred compensation -- compensation a person has already earned by employment but that has been deferred from the time of service until later -- it would be difficult to construct state law to prohibit the practice.”

It would take a federal law to prohibit the state-federal double dip, which, Smith said, “I don’t expect to happen in my lifetime.”

More information about lawmakers’ finances in 2011 will trickle out over the summer. Nine members from Texas requested extensions to get in their paperwork, according to Legistorm.

Most of the former state lawmakers in Congress receiving state pensions introduced bills during their time in Austin regarding retirement benefits.

Rep. Kenny Marchant, a state rep from 1987 to 2004, in 1997 authored a pension bill that would have based lawmakers’ pensions on starting teacher’s salaries. The bill failed. Marchant, R-Coppell, in 2010 received a $35,000 state pension. In 2010, he was determined to be the 17th wealthiest member of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Laredo Democrat Henry Cuellar, a state rep from 1987 to 2001 who received $38,596 last year from the Employee Retirement System of Texas, pitched a bill in 1997 that would have given county court at law judges credit toward a state pension. He also authored a 1991 bill to allow communications officers with the Department of Public Safety qualify for the same benefits as troopers. Both failed.

Lloyd Doggett, who served in the state Senate from 1973 to 1985, authored a bill in 1979 that would allow state employees to take their accrued sick pay in a lump sum. The bill, which was determined to cost taxpayers up to $6 million a year, went nowhere.

Doggett, though, also authored a joint resolution that was adopted and asserts a retiree cannot collect “from more than one system for the same service, but the legislature may provide by law that a person with service covered by more than one system or program is entitled to a fractional benefit from each system or program…”

Doggett, D-Austin, listed income of $64,906 in 2010 from his state pension.

Texas Watchdog’s review found Republicans and Democrats alike double-dipping.

Smith, of Public Citizen, pointed out that conservatives have been most outspoken on the problems caused by public pensions, “and you can’t have it both ways.

“You can’t be openly critical of people doing what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s part of why people are so distrustful of their elected officials, and
it exemplifies that public service is abused by those at the highest level of government.”

Members of Congress are also able to participate in the federal pension system and are vested after five years of service.

Lawmakers who are 62 or older with five years of service or 50 or older with 20 years of service are able to take a full pension. Lawmakers with 25 years of service qualify for full pension benefits as well, no matter their age. Amounts are based on their time of service, age at retirement and which plan they are in. A detailed assessment of the system can be seen here.

Ron Paul, the Libertarian congressman from east Texas, proclaimed in 1997 that he would never take a federal pension. He does take $104,516 a year in benefits from the private pension he set up when he was a practicing physician.

congress graphic

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Felicia Harris, Randy Weber vie for GOP nod to succeed Ron Paul in Congress
Friday, Jul 13, 2012, 05:44PM CST
By Curt Olson
Capitol

Playing to anti-Washington sentiment, the two candidates in the GOP primary runoff to succeed Ron Paul in Congress have each staked their claim to being more Texan, and unlike Washington, than the other.

In Texas, after all, one day officials are hurling verbal rebukes at President Barack Obama and federal lawmakers about the $16 trillion national debt. On another day, they’re challenging moves by federal regulators that hurt oil and gas production, the engine of the Texas economy.

That scorn has spilled into the race for Paul’s old district, where two-term state Rep. Randy Weber, a self-employed businessman, faces lawyer and Pearland city councilmember Felicia Harris, in the July 31 primary runoff for District 14. Harris stepped down from her post July 1.

The district just south and southeast of Houston has the counties of Jefferson, Galveston and Brazoria. In the May GOP primary, Weber received 27.6 percent of the vote, Harris, 18.9 percent.

Both claim the conservative brand based on endorsements and track records.

Weber received Paul’s endorsement in June, while Harris has been endorsed by GOP U.S. Reps. Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Bill Flores of Bryan and Ted Poe of Jefferson County. Harris also has endorsements from GOP U.S. Reps. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Jeb Hensarling of Athens and Francisco Canseco of San Antonio.

Randy WeberRandy Weber

Weber counters with Texas-based endorsements from Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Comptroller Susan Combs, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, and Texas Rangers owner Nolan Ryan.

Touting his Texas endorsements, Weber said the choice comes down to “the Washington way or the Texas model.”

Harris doesn’t back away stating she has support from people in the district who identify with the Tea Party movement.

With early voting July 23-July 27, Perry held a rally for Weber on Wednesday in Galveston.

In a phone interview, Weber said Harris’ Washington endorsements are tainted with votes by Olson, Flores, Granger, Hensarling and Canseco to raise the debt ceiling nearly one year ago. Poe voted against it, as did Paul.

“I think the Harris campaign’s in a world of hurt,” said Weber. “If you like the way things are going in Washington, D.C., vote for Harris.”

Harris’ website states her stance against raising the federal debt ceiling, She questions Weber’s own conservative credibility.

“Mr. Weber forgets his own record,” Harris said.

Felicia HarrisFelicia Harris

She points to key votes by Weber in the Texas Legislature in 2011 that gave him a 48 percent conservative rating with Texas Eagle Forum, a key conservative organization in the state.

She also highlights Weber’s vote for Texas Senate Bill 1 in the June 2011 special session (See page 659). SB1 compelled Amazon to charge Texans sales tax, which the comptroller started collecting July 1.

Harris said this raised taxes.

“He says he won’t raise taxes, but look at what he did?” Harris asked.

She said Americans ridicule members of Congress because “they say one thing and do another.”

Weber fires back that as a Pearland City Council member, Harris increased property taxes and city spending. He also contends she has been absent from 30 percent of city meetings.

Mark Jones, chairman of Rice University’s political science department, sees a close race.

He said after the May primary he gave the edge to Weber because of support by Texas establishment Republicans. He said that has evened out with Harris’ endorsements from several members of Texas’ congressional delegation.

“It helps there’s no doubt about it. It’s a key ace in the hole,” Jones said of Paul’s endorsement of Weber. “Paul has a core of dedicated supporters, but a lot of the Tea Party people are going with Harris.”

Despite the fight over conservative cred, Weber and Harris are strikingly similar on the big issues. They agree on repealing Obamacare, needing to cut the national debt, and creating jobs, specifically in the oil and gas-rich district on the Gulf of Mexico.

Both seek less regulation on energy businesses and play up their expertise in this area. Weber pointed to his service on the House Environmental Regulation committee, which has some jurisdiction over oil and gas, during his first term. Harris said she has represented energy businesses as a lawyer.

Weber has a potential advantage having represented a segment of Brazoria County, including almost all of Pearland, as part of his state House District 29, and the name recognition that comes with a state office.

But Harris said 53 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the primary voted for someone other than Weber or herself. Since the primary, Harris has been endorsed by two primary opponents, Robert Gonzales, founder and chairman of the Clear Lake Tea Party, and school administrator John Gay.

“Mr. Weber hasn’t been endorsed by any of the other candidates,” Harris said.

Meanwhile, there’s still time on the calendar before runoff election ballots are cast to have some debates.

Harris has said she would like some debates, but it’s uncertain at this time.

“We’ve given her three or four dates,” Weber said.

“He has told me he doesn’t want debates,” Harris responds.

Jones handicapped the race heading into November, when the winner will face former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson.

He said the district leans Republican although Lampson has a past of being a conservative Democrat. Jones envisions the winner of the GOP runoff succeeding Paul in the U.S. House.

“Obama at the top of the ticket is too much to overcome,” Jones said.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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El Paso Democratic primary race looks to be a photo finish
Monday, May 28, 2012, 09:48AM CST
By Steve Miller
elpaso

El Paso, Texas – U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a political upstart who had never served in a state office, took his office 16 years ago after an entrenched Democratic opponent retired rather than fight a newcomer in a runoff election.

Today, Reyes calls that 1996 episode his toughest political fight.

On Tuesday, Reyes will defend his eight-term incumbency against a challenger who has never held state office in a Democratic primary election.

When the similarities between his contest in 1996 and the upcoming primary are pointed out, Reyes notes what he considers the big difference: “I was a Democrat.”

In one conversation, Reyes never strays far from pushing his view that challenger Beto O’Rourke, a former El Paso city council member, is “a Republican masquerading as a Democrat.”

“I see this as a Democratic versus Republican election,” Reyes said. He also claims the 39-year-old O’Rourke is a wealthy 1 percenter using Super PAC money and that the $174,000 a year salary received by U.S. reps, including himself, is a middle-class wage.

Given that, Reyes and his team anticipated a battle when he ran his first campaign ad during the February Super Bowl.

“We expected it because this guy challenging me is very wealthy, his father-in-law is very wealthy and the approval rating for Congress overall is low,” Reyes said. “And we found that he is both wealthy and unscrupulous.”

The Democratic primary here is heading toward a photo finish on Tuesday, when Reyes will know the results of the toughest political battle of his life. Other than the one, he said, that got him here in the first place, after serving for 26 years with the U.S. Border Patrol.

The winner will go to Washington in this Democratic-dominated region.

What has been a contest of issues has evolved – or dissolved  into an ad war attack.

Reyes called attention to O’Rourke’s drunk-driving charge 14 years ago in one ad.  In another, Reyes claims O’Rourke wants to take away Social Security.

O’Rourke admits to the DUI, and says he completed the allotted program for such offenses. As far as Social Security, O’Rourke said, “we actually need to save it because we aren’t going to be able to meet demand.”

He suggests raising the income cap on paying FICA.

O’Rourke came back with a 30-second spot that notes Reyes advocated in Congress for a $200 million virtual border fence, and that the deal came in as a no-bid contract with the contractor, IMC, Inc., hiring all three of Reyes’ kids.

Reyes admitted to a local newspaper that IMC hired two of the kids.

And as far as the Super PAC backing, it’s a matter that O’Rourke says he can’t control; the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a political action committee based in Houston, has spent $195,000 this month on ads targeting Reyes.

The battle has a generational component as well. At 67 years old, Reyes is one of 254 of the Boomer generation in Congress, the largest of the age demographic. He is a law and order Vietnam vet with an associate’s degree in criminal justice.

At 39, the Gen X O’Rourke touts drug war reform and an end to the ongoing talk of security on the Mexican border.

“Border security is not a problem, O’Rourke said, jabbing at one of his opponent’s pet causes. “Zero terrorists have passed through the southern border. And no amount of border patrol will solve our drug demand problem.”

The gap is illustrated in a number of ways.

In downtown El Paso, a sign proclaiming that “Reyes Works” sits in the window of an immigration and criminal defense law firm. In the window of a tiny diner next to the firm, a sign supporting “Beto for Congress” jams the space along with a poster for an upcoming Snoop Dogg show and flyers for gigs at a local bar.

And there’s the social media reliance.

On Friday morning O’Rourke has posted an invite on his Facebook page: “Beto is NOW at VISTA HILLS SHOPPING CENTER, located at 1840 Lee Trevino! He will be there until 1pm! Stop by during your lunch, say hello, and cast your vote!”

There he stood on the median, white shirt and khakis, a loose-tie version of the Beltway uniform, holding a campaign sign and waving at cars.

At the Facebook page of Reyes there is a photo of the congressman with two uniformed gentlemen.

Without saying so, it also declares, ‘the Establishment supports me.’

Reyes looks the gentleman, the elder statesman. He’s at the polls, doing door knocks – by Tuesday he said he will have hit 33,000 homes.

But on Facebook, no invite to an event in a shopping center parking lot.

“I’m a moderate Democrat,” Reyes said. He ticks off his accomplishments: the money for veterans, his vote for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, his work in the expansion of Fort Bliss, one of three military installations in the district.

Then it’s back to O’Rourke.

“If he by some quirk were to get elected, it would put [the Affordable Care Act] in danger,” Reyes said.

That might look good in an ad.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of El Paso post card, used via Flickr.

Texas reps maintain support for $1.4 trillion Joint Strike Fighter project beset with delays and cost overruns
Monday, Apr 02, 2012, 10:43AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Congress

You know what they always say in government, in for a dime, in for $1.4 trillion.  As long as the money keeps coming to Texas.

The Defense Department calls it the Joint Strike Fighter, but what it is is Congressional pork on the hoof, gorging itself for a decade on horrendous spending overruns at the Lockheed Martin assembly plant in Fort Worth, according to a story by the Dallas Morning News.

Why, that’s in U.S. Rep. Kay Granger’s district. The Republican has gained a measure of dubious renown for her facility in getting the public to fund a Fort Worth downtown redevelopment project headed by her son, JD.

Granger, it seems, worked her magic at one time to make a present to the Joint Strike Fighter of its very own congressional caucus. A quarter of the 48 members of the caucus are from Texas.

Granger, in turn, was the single biggest beneficiary of contributions - $45,700  - from people connected to the Joint Strike Fighter project, a Center for Responsive Politics report in December, said.

Members of the Strike Fighter Caucus, on average, received twice as much in contributions from the interested parties as their fellow, not as fortunate representatives, the report says.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, whose fondness for family has also been expressed with our tax money, lobbied for funding for an optional engine for the fighter that the Defense Department had even given up on.

Even U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who never seems to make the annual lists of pork barrel divers, has taken to reflexively defending the most expensive defense project in history, one that cost as much as a decade fighting the Iraq War.

“We’ve put all our eggs in the F-35 basket,” Cornyn told the Morning News.

To steal shamelessly from Chief Brody in Jaws, you’re going to need a bigger basket.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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House members - including almost two-thirds of Texas delegation - boost family interests; CREW tracks payments in nepotism study
Monday, Mar 26, 2012, 11:34AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
money

This will come as little surprise to those of you who pay the slightest attention to American politics but one of the best investments a family can make is getting one of their own elected to Congress.

Almost two-thirds of the Texas delegation, 248 members of Congress in all, managed, somehow, to get political money into the hands of their relatives, according to a new report by a non-profit watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

While the group is commonly described as liberal or left-leaning, its study identifies 143 Republicans and 105 Democrats, 15 of the 23 Republicans and six of nine Democrats from Texas as committing some form of political nepotism.

While the study is careful to point out that none of this nest feathering is illegal, neither is it particularly savory. “The American people don’t expect [politics] to be a family business," Melanie Sloan, the group’s executive director told NBC News.

The group devoted a full four pages of the 347-page report to Texas presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul. The report says 11 relatives, from wife, Carol, to a gaggle of grandchildren, received something connected to his role in Congress.

Paul had six relatives on his payroll, more than any other congressman, paying them a combined $304,599 in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, the report says. He reimbursed family members $47,421 during that time.

The family connections of five other Texas lawmakers -  Reps. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio - were exposed in an earlier Washington Post study reported on by Texas Watchdog.

Granger finished second on a list of 49 congressmen who delivered earmarked federal funds to someone close to them, in Granger’s case almost $52 million for a downtown Fort Worth redevelopment project run by her son.

The Citizens’ study found 90 representatives paying or contributing $3,148,495 to family businesses, employers, or nonprofits over the 2008 and 2010 election cycles.

Another 82 representatives paid $5,575,090 in salaries or fees to 117 family members during that period.

The study also found the representatives were related to 58 registered lobbyists or government affairs professionals.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Houston-area Congressional delegation gets wealthier even in recession
Monday, Mar 05, 2012, 11:35AM CST
By Steve Miller
money house

While median incomes among Texas residents increased a barely-perceptible 0.8 percent between 2007 and 2010, the capital gains of most of our Beltway delegation climbed with gusto, according to this Houston Chronicle analysis.

The new findings covered the period between 2006 and 2010 and were done by mining the required financial disclosure filings by our elected federal representatives. Seven of the 11 noted made money as the S & P Index slid 11 percent over that period.

We’re especially proud of Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, whose already formidable bank rose 715 percent, from $46 million to $380 million.

Especially proud because it appears that McCaul hasn’t held a private-sector job very often, according to his biography. He came to Congress after working in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Texas, and prior to that, he was a deputy attorney general when U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was the AG. He was also a federal prosecutor in Washington.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee has also weathered to recession well, jumping her assets 433 percent, from $175,000 to $935,000.

That didn’t deter Jackson Lee from lamenting those who are less fortunate.

“The house is on fire,” Jackson Lee told an MSNBC talking head last year. “Poverty has to be our number one issue for the American people.”

But both of these legislative giants have lost value on their respective homes. McCaul’s assessed home value  - on a 10,000-square foot crib in Austin - went from $3.125 million in 2006 to $3.110 million in 2010, while Jackson Lee’s more modest 4,000-square foot place in Houston slipped in appraised value from $242,000 in 2008 to $221,532 in 2010.

Also noteworthy is the gain of Republican presidential contender Ron Paul, who reported a 46 percent increase from $2.4 million to $3.5 million.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Image 'Money House' by flickr user 401K, used via a Creative Commons license.

Rep. Kay Granger’s $52 million for Trinity River makes list of Congressional ‘earmarks’ for projects near members’ property
Tuesday, Feb 07, 2012, 03:31PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
U.S. House

Rep. Kay Granger’s tireless work in Washington has delivered nearly 52 million dollars to downtown Fort Worth redevelopment. Taxpayers can rest easy knowing she has put that money in the hands of her son, JD.

Granger, R-Fort Worth, didn’t top the Washington Post’s list of 49 members of Congress who managed to bring more than $300 million in federal money to places close enough to benefit them or someone close to them.

That would be Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., whose $124 million in what the Beltway crowd quaintly calls earmarks has spiffed up downtown Tuscaloosa where Shelby just happens to own an office building.

Granger had to settle for second, edging out California Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who believed Americans were anxious to part with $50 million to provide light rail for Union Square and Chinatown in San Francisco.

The Post examined the greasy dives into the pork barrel by all 535 members of Congress and found 33 who helped direct spending to projects within about two miles of where they live or own property.

Another 16 lawmakers slung suet-smeared slabs at programs, businesses and colleges where relatives might reasonably be seen to benefit.

And although the practice is sometimes looked down upon by the public (hence all the allusions to pigs, their ears and waistlines), as Texas Watchdog has pointed out, the story reminds us this wallow is altogether legal. The Senate earlier this month voted 59-40 against an amendment outlawing earmarks.

While the amounts of money and the projects varied, there was a single unwavering reply to questions by the Post to the pork mongers: In no way was personal benefit a consideration before my fatty, two-fisted barrel grab.

Granger has taken full advantage of her legal right. In 2010 she delivered to her district $70.4 million in 35 different installments, 29th among everyone in the House, according to the government accountability non-profit Open Secrets.

Over the past 10 years Granger has made sure all American taxpayers got a stake in the revival of downtown Fort Worth. The project includes rerouting the Trinity River for those taxpayers in Maine who might not have known the river needed rerouting.

The executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority is JD Granger. Until 2010, mother and son owned a condominium a half a mile south of the project, the story says.

Texas put four others on the list, piglet snatchers compared to Granger.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who has lobbied for light rail earmarks, helped secure $5.25 million to the University of Houston in 2009 and 2010. At the time her husband, Elwyn Lee, was vice president of student affairs.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, managed to get $2.98 million to widen three miles of bypass for U.S. Highway 287, the dust of which probably stuck to the windows of two nearby homes Barton owns.

Just up the road from Republican Rep. Lamar Smith’s San Antonio home are three road improvements paid for with $950,000 Smith earmarked in 2009 for the Fort Sam Houston military base.

That same year Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, brought home $665,000 to help widen a road for the development of  a commercial property near the family’s food processing plant. Hinojosa is a partner in the commercial development.
 
***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo from the House chambers via houselive.gov.
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