By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org
It’s not uncommon for Texas governors to reward high-dollar campaign supporters with a nomination to serve as regent on the board of a public university.
Hicks hasn’t just poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Abbott’s campaign accounts, he’s also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars into Abbott’s household accounts.
Cecilia Abbott’s official bio says she was managing director of community relations for Harden Healthcare from 2004 to 2013.
Abbott’s annual personal financial disclosure statements filed with the Texas Ethics Commission list his wife as an employee of Girling Healthcare, a sister company, in the 2006 and 2007 filings, and as an employee of Harden Healthcare in the filings from 2009 to 2014.
The tax returns Abbott released for the years 2010-2013 list household wages of around $200,000; since Greg Abbott’s salary as attorney general was $150,000, the records suggest his wife was paid around $50,000 a year for a job organizing charitable and community activities for a 30,000-employee company.
Hicks has also donated $246,000 to Abbott’s campaigns; Harden Healthcare has donated an additional $67,500 to Abbott’s campaigns.
In 2009, Hicks also gave Abbott a “travel guide membership,” presumably to Andrew Harper Inc., an upscale service that’s also owned by Capstar.
Former Gov. Rick Perry also nominated campaign donors, but their support could usually be measured in the tens of thousands; regents Jeffrey Hildebrand and Paul Foster were both six-figure Perry supporters.
During a nomination hearing last week, several state senators subjected Hicks to aggressive questions about his role in the recent scandals at the University of Texas. Hicks has opposed investigations into an illegal off-the-books compensation program and political favoritism in admissions.
During the hearing, Hicks was unapologetic, and refused to commit to preventing UT President Bill Powers from meddling with class entering in the fall of 2015.
State Sen. Brian Birdwell asked Hicks whether he thought Powers was justified in “expanding” each freshman class to make room for the children of the wealthy and politically connected.
Hicks answered yes, favoritism was fine, but in terms too technical for most to grasp. He referred to “a list of 18 standards” that “the Legislature approved” and said those “18 categories should be looked at consistently among the group coming in.”
State law does list 18 factors such as test scores, grades and accomplishments that may be considered in admissions, but the 18th standard is “any other consideration the institution considers necessary to accomplish the institution’s stated mission.”
UT’s new chancellor, Bill McRaven, has taken the position that this catch-all criterion may be used to justify the admission of any applicant — even those, apparently, whose only merit is the size of their parents’ bank account.
Contact Jon Cassidy at [email protected] or @jpcassidy000.
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