Sunday, August 20, 2006
Trans-Texas Corridor firm hires ex-Perry aide
Terry D. Barhorst Sr.
DALLAS — Republican Gov. Rick Perry's former liaison to the Legislature is working once again for the Spanish company that won the rights to develop the state's $7 billion Trans-Texas Corridor toll road project.
Lobbyist Dan Shelley worked for the firm as a consultant just before he went to the governor's office, a connection first revealed in 2004.
State officials denied any connection between that circumstance and the decision, three months later, to award Cintra-Zachry the huge highway contract. Now Shelley has left the governor's office, and he and his daughter have large contracts to lobby for the road builder, The Dallas Morning News reported today.
This week, Shelley had planned to take four state lawmakers on a four-day, all-expense-paid trip to Canada. But the trip was abruptly postponed by the state transportation department after the newspaper asked questions about it.
A call to Shelley seeking comment was returned by Rossanna Salazar, an Austin spokeswoman for Madrid-based Cintra, who said Shelley's contract with the company prohibits him from discussing his work with news reporters. Salazar confirmed that Shelley was helping to arrange the fact-finding trip to visit a Cintra toll road near Toronto.
"Dan Shelley was going to cover those costs" for the lawmakers' expenses, Salazar said. "He would have had to publicly report those costs to the Texas Ethics Commission."
Texas law does not restrict former gubernatorial staffers from lobbying, but Perry has instituted his own rule for former high-level staffers. They can lobby the Legislature and state agencies but are banned from lobbying the governor's office for a year, or until the end of the first legislative session after they've left, whichever is longer.
"Governor Perry has the strongest ethics policy that any Texas governor has ever had," said Kathy Walt, Perry's spokeswoman.
The Canadian trip was to include a visit to Cintra's state-of-the-art Highway 407 Electronic Toll Road. Interviews with Ontario government officials also were scheduled.
Among the lawmakers included were Rep. Mike Krusee, the Round Rock Republican who heads the House Transportation Committee, and three members of the Senate committee that writes the state budget: Democrats Royce West of Dallas and John Whitmire of Houston, along with Republican Kim Brimer of Fort Worth.
Several top employees of the Texas Department of Transportation also were to go on the trip, but the agency was to pay their way. Transportation department officials said they postponed the trip because a more pressing duty arose.
Though the payment of trip expenses for legislators by Cintra would have been legal, companies stand to gain by having lawmakers' undivided attention for several days, said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen of Texas, a watchdog group. Lawmakers should use their campaign funds for such expenses, Smith said.
"That's preferable from taking money from corporations that stand to make billions in the continuation of this Trans-Texas Corridor project," he said.
Shelley resigned his state job in September and struck a lobbying deal with Cintra worth between $50,000 and $100,000 to work from March through the end of this year. His daughter and lobbying partner, Jennifer Shelley-Rodriguez, will earn between $25,000 and $50,000 from the company over the same period, state records show.
The Trans-Texas Corridor is Perry's vision for a statewide network of toll roads, rail lines and utility lines to improve transportation for the next 50 years. Cintra-Zachry won the development rights in 2004 to the first corridor section, which will parallel Interstate 35.
The corridor has become an issue in the governor's race, as independent candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn has tried to capitalize on opposition from landowners and others to the project.
When Shelley worked for Cintra before, he never registered as a lobbyist. Instead, he worked nine months as an unregulated "consultant" trying to generate business for the company in Texas.
At the time, the governor's office said Shelley was never paid by the company, because his fees were to be based on any deals closed. They said that when he left the firm before the contract was complete, he gave up the right to such fees.
The director of Texans for Public Justice, a group that tracks money in politics, said the Shelley case demonstrates that the policy and the law both need tightening to prevent "the revolving lobby door."
Donate to DemLog, a project of Marcus Comton (click on box below to go to PayPal and donate). Thank you very much: