Saturday, November 1st, 2014

My opponent is... RICH!

Bill White ad, "Profile in Courage," Oct. 4, 2010.

As in past campaign seasons, how Texas candidates make money has led to several attack lines.

No ads have seemed as provocative to us as the spot Gov. Rick Perry ran in 2002 casting the wealthy Democratic nominee, Laredo businessman and banker Tony Sanchez, as laundering drug money, though if we're overlooking a doozy, nudge us at politifact@statesman.com.

But the Texas Truth-O-Meter has kicked in for several wealth-related claims.

In February, we checked Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Farouk Shami's charge that Democratic candidate Bill White, who accrued wealth via investments and the energy business, had a "major stake" in the Barnett Shale, a natural gas field that covers more than 20 counties in north central Texas. We rated the statement Barely True. Yes, White has a financial interest in two oil companies with connections to projects in the Barnett Shale, but we judged White's shares a tiny piece of the action.

Perry, who faces White in the November election, later said White "profiteered" as mayor of Houston in the wake of Hurricane Rita. After defining Perry's chosen verb--it means to take unreasonable profits, especially by taking advantage of a shortage of supply to charge exorbitant prices — we walked through White's actions involving a company that he helped oversee before he was mayor and with which he later made a profitable personal investment. Our call? Perry's statement was False; White might have risked conflict-of-interest criticisms, but there's no evidence he profiteered.

For his part, White says Perry became a millionaire while on the public payroll. We determined that Perry, who entered state office in 1985 as a Texas House member, has seen his net worth escalate from about $25,000 in 1984 to a little more than $1 million in 2009. We rated White's statement Mostly True because it's impossible to know precisely what Perry's worth; he keeps his holdings in a blind trust, meaning its value isn't public information.

White's campaign concedes that he too has fared well financially. As of April 30, the market value of White's liquid net worth — cash, publicly-traded stocks and mutual funds — was approximately $2.7 million, according to a comparison by the White campaign of White's and Perry's publicly disclosed financial information. Additional assets include IRA accounts with about $2 million invested in common stocks and mutual funds.

And most of us?

In January, Linda Chavez-Thompson, now the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, pointed out that most Texans aren't millionaires. Indeed, median household income in Texas lags behind the national figure. In 2007, according to the Census Bureau, half of American households had income exceeding $50,740 and half made less than that. Texas had a median household income of $47,548. Of course, Texas still had enclaves of wealth. According to the bureau"s study, the Dallas suburb of Plano was a nationally prominent pocket of financial well-being, with a median household income of $84,492.

Doesn't cost a penny to vote, right?