EDITOR OF REDSTATE
Bipartisan Corruption in the Texas Legislature the Media Mostly Ignores
Wallace Hall is a University of Texas Regent appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. He is presently facing impeachment and possible jail time for uncovering what looks and smells like systematic corruption in the enrollment process of the University of Texas system due to interference from members of the Texas legislature. The Speaker of the Texas House is implicated. The Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee has decided to retire. A powerful state senator is in the crosshairs. The heads of the University of Texas may be involved. And the media, both in Texas and nationally, is largely silent.
Normally, the media would be all over a story like this. It is Texas. It involves allegations of bipartisan corruption with Republican ring leaders. And it looks like there could be a cover up. But a number of media outlets in Texas most likely to kick off coverage of this scandal get solid ad revenue from one of the players in the scandal. So Wallace Hall heads to impeachment while Texas’s reporters turn a blind eye.
The media always protects its precious. In this case their precious is profit, not Obama. This story provides one answer to the question of who watches the watchers: not the media if they’re given part of the spoils.
It all began when Wallace Hall dared to do the unthinkable — his job. He began asking questions about enrollment practices in the University of Texas system. In particular, he wanted to know about the University of Texas law school. Within weeks of his investigation beginning, he had identified members of the Texas legislature applying pressure to the UT system for their friends and families’ benefit. Two weeks later those same legislators began impeachment proceedings against him. Now the legislators also want him carted off to jail for uncovering the corruption.
In essence, Wallace Hall found that qualified applicants to the University of Texas system get shoved aside for less qualified students who have political connections.
Speaker Joe Straus and two of his top lieutenants in the Texas House, Reps. Dan Branch and Jim Pitts, sent more letters to the president of the University of Texas on behalf of applicants than anyone else whose correspondence was included in a recent inquiry into admissions favoritism.
Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s office recently reviewed 86 “recommendation” letters, almost all of them from lawmakers, sent to UT President Bill Powers instead of through the proper channels.
Brooks and Straus also blocked an investigation into the UT Law School.
Wallace Hall’s investigation also uncovered that the House Appropriations Committee Chairman, James Pitts, pulled strings to get his son into law school. His son has subsequently failed the bar exam three times. Chairman Pitts decided not to seek re-election.
At least fifteen students likely were placed ahead of more qualified law school applicants because of their political connections and political pressure.
At least 12 of the students have roots in Laredo, home of state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who is known to have pulled strings on behalf of other applicants. As Laredo has just 2 percent of the state’s population, it’s highly over represented in this sample.
Watchdog.org, picking up on Wallace Hall’s investigation, found this troubling situation:
Of the nearly 2,700 UT Law students to take the exam since 2006, only 29 have failed it three times or more. Thirteen made our list for closer inspection, and seven of those have ties to Laredo.
Among the 13 are Carlos Manuel Zaffirini Jr., the state senator’s only son, and Jeffrey Carona, the son of Republican state Sen. John Carona. Sen. Carona has donated some $31,043 to Zaffirini’s campaign in recent years, in addition to undisclosed sums his company paid her as a “communications consultant.”
As of the February 2014 exam, Ryan Pitts, son of the outgoing Appropriations Committee chairman and one of Straus’ Gang of 11, has failed the bar three times.
Robert B. Armstrong, for years legislative director for longtime state Rep. Charlie Geren, another member of the Gang of 11 and a top Straus lieutenant, passed the bar on his third try in 2008.
Armstrong is the son of Gaylord B. Armstrong, one of the state’s top lobbyists until 2011, when he was forced to resign from McGinnis Lochridge & Kilgore after writing himself $125,000 in checks from a client’s account.
Between 2002 and 2008 McGinnis Lochridge gave $85,000 to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is close to UT President Bill Powers, a chief Hall antagonist.
And there are so many more.
But the Texas media has been largely silent. When the Texas media has run stories, the stories have focused on claims that Wallace Hall exceeded his charge as a Regent and is being impeached for that reason. Even those stories are uncommon, however. As the tangled web of connections has become more and more exposed, it appears University of Texas officials have been collaborating with the legislators.
The University of Texas spends a lot of money on sponsorships and advertisements, including in some of the very print publications that have punted on the story or deflected to attack Wallace Hall.
Wallace Hall might be carted off the jail for exposing the whole mess. One legislator has been forced to resign. The Speaker of the House of Representatives in Texas is implicated along with a power State Senator. And the media is silent. It is defending its precious, which is its bottom line.
With the absence of a Texas media willing to raise the red flag, the national media is oblivious to scandal that could rightfully bring down multiple political dynasties in bipartisan fashion.