The UT System Board of Regents’ personal donations to the Texans for Rick Perry campaign totaled more than $1.9 million from 2000 to Jan. 1, according to a Daily Texan analysis of financial reports from the Texas Ethics Commission.
Governor Rick Perry appoints the Regents to serve six year terms which are then approved by the state Senate. There are no UT System Regent rules or state campaign finance laws that prohibit the giving or receiving of personal donations from people serving in governor-appointed offices.
Andrew Wheat, research director of Texans for Public Justice, said there is a clear pattern in which a disproportionately large share of the regents have been major donors.
“Do the campaign contributions seem to affect appointments? That seems pretty clear,” Wheat said. “Not only is there a lot of money changing hands, but there’s a loyalty oath. It’s not to the students, but it’s to the governor.”
Perry pressed regents across the state to push the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s higher education reforms last year. UT System Regent Brenda Pejovich serves on the board of directors for the TPPF, a conservative think tank that values teaching, financial productivity of professors and efficiency in graduation rates and deemphasizes the importance of research. UT administrators and faculty have expressed concerns about maintaining the University’s tier-one research status in the face of this influence.
“They do seem to have an agenda that’s not necessarily shared by the University communities,” Wheat said.
Wheat said this practice is not unusual among governors.
However, he said it is unusual how long Perry has had to further his influence. Perry is the longest serving governor in Texas since first entering office on Dec. 21, 2000.
“He’s built a political patronage system that’s unrivaled,” Wheat said. “I think that this is something that’s not necessarily in the best interest of the students.”
Steffany Duke, spokesperson for the governor’s office, said campaign contributions do not play a role in the governor’s appointment process.
“He would like the board to be diverse, so he picks people from all different backgrounds,” Duke said. “He makes decisions based on their qualifications, their willingness to serve and what’s in the best interest for Texans.”
UT System Board of Regents Chair Gene Powell declined to comment and Regents James Dannenbaum, Paul Foster and Steven Hicks did not return requests for comment.