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The competition to be the most conservative Republican candidate for governor has played out on the stump, the Internet and on the airwaves.
In a radio ad that we heard Feb. 24, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison portrays Gov. Rick Perry as a hypocrite, guilty of betraying bedrock conservative principles.
Hutchison's ad makes claims about Perry on spending and taxes that we have already investigated. It was another statement that caught our eye: Perry "spent over a million dollars on D.C. lobbyists asking for more federal money and lives in a luxury house that costs taxpayers $10,000 a month."
"People who live in $10,000-a-month houses shouldn't throw stones," the ads says.
Has Perry spent that much on lobbying and his suburban digs? We decided to check, starting with the lobbying claim.
Hutchison's campaign pointed us to newspaper articles about state contracts with two Washington lobby firms that Perry canceled in 2007 after Democratic members of the Texas congressional delegation and others questioned the deals.
The contracts were procured by the state's Office of State-Federal Relations, which is overseen by the governor, lieutenant governor and Texas House speaker. Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Perry, said the Washington firms were hired to help the Office of State-Federal Relations after its staff was cut almost 60 percent in 2003.
The governor's office estimates that terminating the lobbying contracts saved taxpayers $173,000. But how many state dollars actually went to the firms?
The governor's office told us how long the firms worked for the state and estimated how much they were paid. The Federalist Group, which was first hired by the state in 2003, received about $585,000. Cassidy & Associates, which got its contract in 2005, was paid about $350,000. Together, that's still shy of $1 million.
But Castle said a third D.C. firm, Piper-Rudnick, had a contract with the Office of State-Federal Relations for about six months starting in October 2003. The governor's office estimated that it was paid about $142,000, which brings our running total spent on Washington lobbying by private firms above $1 million.
And that doesn't include the money spent by the Texas Department of Transportation, whose governing commission is appointed by Perry. Chris Lippincott, a TxDOT spokesman, said that starting in 2005, the agency had two contracts that included Washington lobbying services. All told, Lippincott said, the amount of taxpayer money spent for TxDOT lobbying was $891,500.
So, Hutchison's statement about past spending on Washington lobbying is on the money. But what about that luxury house for the governor?
In fall 2007, Perry and his wife moved out of the Governor's Mansion and into a 4,600-square-foot house in the Barton Creek neighborhood that had been on the market for $1.8 million. The state rented the home for Perry so the mansion could be renovated.
The lease for the house at 8113 Hickory Creek Drive, which is valued by Travis County at $1.1 million, was initially for one year; the rent was $9,900. The Hutchison campaign based its statement on television news stories that quoted that figure and aired soon after the governor's relocation was announced.
Less than a year after the Perrys moved into the rental home, the Governor's Mansion was heavily damaged by arson. What had been expected to be an 18-month renovation became a vast reconstruction project, which is still under way.
Castle said the lease on the house now runs through October 2011. The monthly rent was lowered to $9,000 in November 2008.
We know there are additional costs to taxpayers related to Perry's stay in the rental house, which also accommodates the governor's security detail. Despite our inquiries, we haven't found out exactly what they are. John Sneed, executive director of the State Preservation Board, said the agency has been paying the utility bills for the governor's home away from home since Sept. 1, but he did not provide details.
According to Austin Energy spokesman Ed Clark, the utility doesn't release how much electricity any customer uses. But the average electric bill for a home of similar square footage would run about $250 a month, assuming the home is heated by gas.
The bottom line: Hutchison is correct that state offices controlled by Perry or his appointees spent more than $1 million on Washington lobbyists. As for the rental house that is currently Perry's home, Hutchison's claim that taxpayers are paying $10,000 a month is so close that she gets the cigar.
Based on available information, we rate Hutchison's statement as Mostly True.
Texans for Kay, "These Days" radio ad, heard Feb. 24, 2010
Austin American-Statesman, "Perry urged to end lobby contracts," by Tara Copp, Nov. 11, 2006
E-mail interview with Allison Castle, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, Feb. 26, 2010
E-mail interview with Chris Lippincott, spokesman, Texas Department of Transportation, Feb. 26, 2010
Austin American-Statesman, "Perrys pick a stand-in for Mansion," by W. Gardner Selby and Shonda Novak, Sept. 27, 2007
Interview with Ed Clark, spokesman, Austin Energy, Feb. 26, 2010
E-mail interview with John Sneed, executive director, State Preservation Board, Feb. 26, 2010
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