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Texas governor’s wife was on UT nominee’s payroll

By   /   March 6, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 42 of 72 in the series Trouble in Texas
AP file photo

THE TEXAS WAY: Gov. Greg Abbott has nominated his benefactor, Steve Hicks, to the University of Texas Board of Regents, despite Hicks’ refusal to exercise oversight.

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.

But Gov. Greg Abbott’s nomination of Steve Hicks to serve as a regent is unusual in one respect.

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.

For almost a decade, Abbott’s wife Cecilia was on the payroll of Harden Healthcare, the biggest of several companies belonging to Capstar Partners, Hicks’ holding company.

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.

Part of 72 in the series Trouble in Texas
  1. Texas’ Rep. Pitts announces retirement after improper influence story
  2. University of Texas regents show support for Wallace Hall
  3. Case against UT regent Wallace Hall is a sham — here’s proof
  4. Texas senator got $477k for supposed ‘cameo’ appearance in Wallace Hall lawsuit
  5. Lawmaker admits pulling strings on UT admissions
  6. Trustee accused of crime for rejecting dodgy accounting
  7. Longhorns: Senator used clout in UT law school admissions
  8. Children of Texas lawmakers get into UT School of Law, but struggle to pass bar exam
  9. Chancellor is probing favoritism in UT admissions
  10. UT report: Charge against Hall is legally ‘absurd’
  11. Attorney in UT case hides six-figure charges despite terms of contract
  12. University of Texas clout scandal grows as new e-mails surface
  13. Four more get into UT Law despite low LSATs
  14. Reports on UT favoritism, impeachment expected soon
  15. Attorney: Secret tape covered up by lawmakers proves regent’s innocence
  16. Dozens of UT Law’s least qualified students are connected politically
  17. University of Texas uncovers admissions corruption, halts investigation
  18. UT admissions: Straus, Branch, Pitts pulled strings
  19. Who got the 128? UT Law admits students with bad LSAT scores
  20. Patrick’s win may doom Hall impeachment effort
  21. Chancellor promises complete investigation of UT admissions
  22. Board to decide UT president’s fate Thursday
  23. Texas politicians smarten up, ditch UT pres this time around
  24. Tribune story may have doomed UT’s Powers
  25. Academics condone the privilege they denounce
  26. Three essential stories on the UT admissions scandal
  27. Texas AG Greg Abbott embraces Roe v. Wade
  28. Roe v. Wade is AG’s new pretext for blocking Texas law school investigation
  29. Two UT regents pressed for records destruction
  30. New crime invented for Hall: assisted guesswork
  31. Texas lawmaker failed to disclose his own clout letter in UT flap
  32. Texas legislator Fischer insists on role in UT investigation
  33. Hutchison pulled strings for friends’ kids and grandkids at UT
  34. Ex-UT Law dean’s credit card bill: $400k in four years
  35. Abbott’s UT picks are pro-affirmative action
  36. Report: University of Texas showed favoritism to thousands
  37. Kroll ignored hundreds of weak UT applications
  38. Billionaire defends UT admissions privileges for ‘leaders’
  39. Weak admissions to University of Texas Law increased after Sager’s ouster
  40. Kroll report takes dig at Watchdog.org
  41. Hicks won’t stop UT’s backdoor admits
  42. Texas governor’s wife was on UT nominee’s payroll
  43. Bill to limit UT oversight clears committee
  44. UT regent blasts speaker for ‘abuse of office’
  45. Texas politician rebuts himself with apparently plagiarized letter
  46. Pay-to-play scandal involves UT dean, Texas Exes
  47. Supreme Court asked to look at UT’s backdoor admissions program
  48. Lawmakers want UT applications shielded from scrutiny
  49. McRaven makes UT scandal his own
  50. An open letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton on the UT cover-up
  51. Chancellor Bill McRaven’s UT cover-up has no defenders
  52. UT’s back door still open, but can’t stay secret, AG rules
  53. Whitewash: Kroll left dozens of bad LSATs out of UT report
  54. McRaven’s defense to Hall lawsuit refuted by own words
  55. Ready for the end of affirmative action?
  56. UT admissions scandal is 10 times bigger than official report
  57. McRaven trolls Dallas Morning News
  58. Powers to get top salary at UT Law
  59. UT sues to block Watchdog access to admissions investigation
  60. UT approves ‘Spinal Tap’ policy for backdoor admissions
  61. Admissions survey: No, UT, everybody doesn’t do it
  62. UT admissions scandal prompts new investigation
  63. Ticket scandal a black mark for UT, DA
  64. Showdown over UT cover-up nears end
  65. McRaven’s rationale for UT cover-up denounced by regents, AG
  66. High court to decide if University of Texas can deep-six investigation
  67. High court hears arguments on whether UT can bury investigation
  68. Testimony by UT contradicts story fed high court
  69. These ‘horns ain’t loyal, McRaven finds
  70. UT’s Hall challenges Abbott over board picks
  71. Texas Supreme Court nullifies rule of law; impunity to reign
  72. The battle for the Kroll records goes on

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Jon Cassidy is the Houston-based reporter for Watchdog.org. He worked for six years as a reporter and editor for The Orange County Register after beginning his career at The Hill, broken up by a few years in South America working as a translator and English teacher. His work has been published by the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, City Journal, The American Spectator, Reason, The Federalist, Human Events, the Dallas Morning News, the San Antonio Express-News, and other publications. He was awarded the 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship and is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. Jon is best known for his work in bringing to light a far-reaching admissions scandal at The University of Texas.