Friday, January 25, 2008

SMOKING GUN -- TxDOT confronted with docs showing they hired lobbyists

By Terri Hall - TURF - Jan. 23, 2008
Houghton admits TxDOT hired lobbyists, defended it, and admitted to doing it personally, too!
Hempstead, TX, January 22, 2008 – TxDOT was confronted by TURF Board Member Hank Gilbert at tonight's Town Hall Meeting in Hempstead about it hiring 4 federal lobbyists (paid $5,000 and $10,000 monthly retainers ) Chad Bradley, Drew Maloney, Garry Mauro, Billy Moore and one state lobbyist with Alliance for I-69, Gary Bushell, to lobby elected officials and solicit them in selling the public on the controversial Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 privatized toll project.

On March 23, 2007, Bushell met directly with 4 Waller County Commissioners Glenn Beckendorff, Bill Eplen, Terry Harrison, and Milton Whiting. Apparently at the first meeting, Bushell didn't identify himself as a lobbyist as required by law. He failed to declare that he was a lobbyist until the second meeting with commissioners when two TxDOT personnel accompanied Bushell.

It apparently didn’t do TxDOT any good since the Waller County Commissioners have since passed a resolution against the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 project coming through Waller County. But that’s not the case in other meetings where elected officials raced to the microphone to sing the praises of the TTC-69 to their constituents like they did in Texarkana, January 15.

As part of TURF’s lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for its ad campaign to advocate toll roads and the Trans Texas Corridor (in violation of Texas Government Code Chapter 556), new evidence uncovered this taxpayer-funded lobbying by TxDOT.

TURF discovered detailed logs showing a concerted campaign to lobby politicians, particularly newly elected officials, which is a BIG no-no for a state agency that must remain apolitical. Bushell personally lobbied more than two-dozen elected officials in the path of TTC-69 prior to the Town Hall meetings.

Houghton admits TxDOT violated the law!
At the packed Town Hall meeting in Hempstead tonight (estimated 800-1,000 people in attendance), Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said he also personally met with every county judge in the path of the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-69 as he defended the “necessity” of TxDOT hiring lobbyists to “lobby” elected officials (he used that exact word multiple times).


Texas Government Code:
§ 556.005. Employment of Lobbyist

(a) A state agency may not use appropriated money to employ, as a regular full-time or part-time or contract employee, a person who is required by Chapter 305 to register as a lobbyist. Except for an institution of higher education as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code, a state agency may not use any money under its control to employ or contract with an individual who is required by Chapter 305 to register as a lobbyist.

"Where's the Travis County District Attorney? TxDOT has now publicly admitted, on camera, that it has violated the LAW!" says an incredulous Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (or TURF).

Zachry sends observer
Trouble in the private toll paradise?

Another first at tonight’s Town Hall was the presence of a Zachry employee taking meticulous notes on his laptop. Zachry Construction is one of the private consortiums seeking the development rights to the TTC 69 project.

“This is a first,” said Hank Gilbert, a TURF Board member attending the Town Halls. “I’ve never seen a Zachry employee at a single public meeting in my 3 1/2 years fighting this thing.”

This may indicate trouble in Governor’s Perry’s world of private sector control of our public highways. The 80th Legislature passed a private toll moratorium (SB 792) in 2007 and the public-private partnership lobby has been jittery ever since. The public opposition is growing more fierce and more organized.

TURF also discovered in a memo to TxDOT dated November 8, 2007, that Rodman & Co. marketing gurus seem to have drafted quotes on behalf of elected officials in order to place them as positive quotes in press releases about the TTC-69 project.

TxDOT also hired Governor Rick Perry’s political polling outfit, Bacelice & Associates, to conduct a poll that included asking one’s political party affiliation in its questions.

“What does a person’s political party have to do with a supposed ‘public information’ campaign? Nothing, it’s clear this ad campaign is about pushing a political agenda and brainwashing the public with pro-toll talking points like ‘tolls are better than gas taxes to fund roads'. C’mon, this is politics run amok and an agency run amok. Who’s going to rein them in?” criticizes Hall.

“TxDOT has patently and repeatedly denied that they’ve been illegally lobbying elected officials, yet they secretly and knowingly hired registered lobbyists to do the Governor’s dirty work in ramming toll roads and this Trans Texas Corridor down the taxpayers’ throats! It’s an outrage and we intend to put a stop to it since no one else will,” promises Hall.

“The LAW forbids TxDOT from using taxpayer money for a political purpose, only to find they’ve blown millions on PR firms and are currently using OUR MONEY to put up more than 2 dozen TxDOT employees as they galavant all over the state in a series of Town Hall meetings. The Town Halls are for purely political purposes, and they’re more akin to a propaganda-filled dog and pony show than a real dialogue giving the public veto power over this project,” notes Hall.

TxDOT is holding this series of Town Hall Meetings ahead of the official LEGAL public hearings for TTC-69 in order to win over an unsuspecting public and to divert critics AWAY from registering their opposition on the official LEGAL record at the public hearings to follow.

TxDOT’s behavior demonstrates why there are laws prohibiting the government from using its power and OUR money against the taxpayer. The citizens have the deck stacked against them when their own government forcibly takes their money and uses it to clobber them.

What TxDOT calls “outreach” is, in reality, an ad campaign ( using public relations firms and political strategists to “sell” the public on a privatized, tolled trade corridor from Laredo to Texarkana.

Like TTC-35, TTC-69 plans to convert some existing highways into privately controlled toll roads, making Texas taxpayers pay twice for the same stretch of road as well as to force Texas landowners to give-up their farms and ranches for a massive new stretch of road in order to complete the entire TTC-69 project.

Read the latest in TURF’s lawsuit against TxDOT’s misuse of taxpayer money for an ad campaign advocating tolls and against its lobbying activities here.

Read TURF’s formal complaint against TxDOT’s illegal use of taxpayer money filed with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle here.

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