UT System Board of Regents donate more to Perry than all Democratic candidates combined

Alexa Ura

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series examining UT officials’ political donations. This installment examines contributions by members of the UT System Board of Regents. The final installment will focus on contributions by UT-Austin professors.

Members of the UT System Board of Regents have donated more to Gov. Rick Perry than to all Democratic candidates during the past eight years.

Regents have donated almost $2.6 million to political campaigns and political action committees affiliated with Republican candidates since 2004, according to filings compiled by The Daily Texan from the Texas Ethics Commission and the Federal Election Commission. UT regents’ contributions totaled $3.3 million to campaigns and PACs at the state and federal level during the last eight years. The regents have donated $144,245 to Democratic political campaigns and PACs affiliated with Democratic candidates since 2004 — only 4 percent of total contributions.

UT regents have donated $796,892 to Perry, who appointed all members of the board, through Texans for Rick Perry, RickPerry.org Inc. and Make Us Great Again, Inc.

Board chairman Wm. Eugene Powell donated $27,650 to Perry in the years leading to his appointment in 2009. Vice chairman Paul Foster donated $93,602 before his appointment in 2007.

Foster donated the most to Perry in a single year before he was appointed, contributing $68,602 to Texans for Rick Perry in 2006. In 2011, Foster donated $110,268 to Make Us Great Again, Inc. and Texans for Rick Perry, a committee that supported Perry’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Foster is also the board of regents’ most prolific donor, contributing a total of $1,440,296 on the state and federal level since 2004.

Regents Printice Gary, Brenda Pejovich, Robert Stillwell, Wallace Hall, Alex Cranberg and James Dannenbaum also donated thousands of dollars to Texans for Rick Perry before their appointments.

Regent R. Steven Hicks is the only regent who has not contributed to Perry

Harold Cook, an Austin-based Democratic consultant, said the actions of gubernatorial appointees are often challenged because of the perception they are serving the governor’s interest instead of fulfilling the responsibilities of their position.

“People question if the goals the regents are pushing are Perry’s goals and if they are appointed to serve them, as witnessed in part by campaign contributions,” Cook said. “Sadly, there is nothing unique about the governor appointing big contributors to important positions.”

Regents have also donated significantly to political committees supporting Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and attorney general Greg Abbott, both Republicans, who have received $295,000 and $208,306, respectively, since 2004.

A UT System spokesperson was unavailable for comment, and a spokesperson for Perry did not return a request for comment.

The UT System’s rules and regulations state the board of regents is the only channel through which recommendations concerning administration of the System or any institutions should reach the Legislature, state agencies or state officials.

The System does not have a policy against political contributions, but a rule on political activities states staff is only allowed to participate in political activities that do not involve the UT System in partisan politics.

Most of the UT regents’ political donations went to political action committees, including PACs supporting members of the Texas Senate, the Texas House of Representatives, the U.S. Congress and presidential races.

Regents have also contributed to national, state and local Republican party committees, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Party of Texas.

Cranberg contributed to various politicians and committees in Colorado where offices of Aspect Holdings, LLC, which he chairs, are located. Beneficiaries include the Colorado Republican Committee and a PAC supporting former UT System special adviser Rick O’Donnell.

UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa has donated $2,350 since 2004, but he made all but one of his contributions before he was hired as chancellor in 2009.

Most regents have continued to donate to the same beneficiaries after being appointed to the board of regents, but Hicks did not donate to the Friends of the University political action committee after his appointment in 2009.

John Doner, Friends of the University PAC volunteer, said last week that the PAC’s goal is to donate to legislators and other state officials who support the University and higher education in general.

“We are entirely separate from the University and make independent decisions based on our own research,” Doner said.

All nine regents have contributed to political campaigns or PACs since 2004.

Printed on Monday, November 5, 2012 as: Regents donate $2.6 million to Republicans