UPDATE — I recently discovered that a lot of people reading the original Katrina Daniel article somehow missed clicking on the link that takes you to the page that lists all of the detail of the lobbyist-connected contributions: lobbyist names, contribution amounts, dates, employer, job title, the lobbyist ID#, and a link to the lobbyist’s profile on the Tribune site. Note that you can click the lobbyist ID# and you will get detailed data for that lobbyist, including all his clients (the corporations that hired him), and the value of each contract, for the last 5 years. I’ll put the link to that page next, just above the article content, so that everyone see it from now on:
http://www.electionaustin.com/txethics/kdaniel.html < click link
On paper, Katrina Daniel appears to be a qualified candidate, running a competitive, no-nonsense campaign for Austin City Council, District 4. Daniel’s campaign finance paperwork, however, reveals a campaign that has raised most of its contributions from lobbyists – a fact likely to raise ethical concerns from Austin voters who have been living with more restrictive rules on lobbyist campaign contributions and bundling since changes enacted by the City Council in 2012.
Approximately 53% of contributions ($16,875 of $31,480) to the Katrina Daniel campaign are from current or recent lobbyists registered with the Texas Ethics Commission, or from immediate family members of registered lobbyists.
Because many of the lobbyists contributing to the Daniel campaign are state-registered, rather than city-registered, they may contribute up to the $350 individual limit and are not subject to Austin’s $25 contribution limit for lobbyists.
The lobbyist connections are detailed in an analysis of Daniel’s contributions, clients, and contracts.
The analysis is based on her corrected 7/23/2014 campaign finance report.
Included among Daniel’s approximately 70 lobbyist contributors are some of the top names in Texas lobbying, according to Capitol Inside’s “2013 Texas Lobby Power Rankings”: Jamie Capelo, Craig Chick, Deirdre Delisi, Lara Keel, Richard McBride, Nancy Fisher, Randall Erben, Marsha Jones, Neal “Buddy” Jones, Jay Propes, Eddie Solis, Bill Pewitt, Gil Turrieta, Patrick Haggerty, Mark Vane, Thomas Suehs, Kathy Hutto, Louis Bacarisse, Chris Britton, and Jay Howard, as well as the lobbyist spouses of Jenny Aghamalian and Martha McCartt.
Lobbyists making the “Power Rankings” lists typically represent thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars in lobbying contracts from special interests. Many have extensive connections to powerful interests and officials in Texas. For example, Thomas Suehs served as Executive Commissioner at Health and Human Services; Patrick Haggerty is a former Republican State Representative; Deirdre Delisi served as Governor Rick Perry’s campaign manager and her husband, Ted Delisi, who purchased Karl Rove’s fundraising and consulting operation, is a top Republican strategist and campaign consultant.
It is unusual for so many high-powered Texas lobbyists to contribute to Austin council and mayoral campaigns. That group of top-tier lobbyists totaled 22 contributions to Daniel’s campaign, yet they total only 40 contributions to all other Austin council and mayoral campaigns, combined, over the past 6 years (2009-2014).
Katrina Daniel currently serves as the Sr. Associate Commissioner for the Life, Health, and Licensing division of the Texas Department of Insurance. Daniel is responsible for performing regulatory oversight of life, annuity, and health insurance products. Other responsibilities include licensing insurance agents, development and oversight of workers compensation health networks, and implementation and monitoring of state and federal regulations related to life insurance, health coverage, and insurance agents.
Daniel also currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Board of Managers for Central Health. Central Health, also known as the Travis County Healthcare District, has a budget of approximately $170 million to spend on healthcare delivery and related services in Travis County. Central Health is governed by its Board of Managers, which meets regularly to address issues related to personnel, operations, disposition of real property, expenditures, vendor contracts, healthcare delivery, and budgetary planning, among others.
Lobbyists contributing to the Daniel campaign reported lobbying contracts worth approximately $11 million to $25 million a year, in total. Many of those contracts are with organizations in the health, insurance, and medical industries. Some of those organizations fall within Daniel’s regulatory oversight responsibilities as an Associate Commissioner in the Life, Health, and Licensing division at the Texas Dept. of Insurance (TDI).
To put it another way, part of Daniel’s job at TDI is to make sure products from companies such as United Health Group, Superior Healthplan, and Blue Cross Blue Shield follow regulatory rules. Those same companies have hired lobbyists that have contributed money to Daniel’s campaign – an obvious conflict of interest.
As Vice Chair of Central Health’s Board of Managers, Daniel has significant input on how Central Health spends money and with whom it does business. Because so many of the lobbyists contributing to Daniel’s campaign are in health, medical, insurance, and related industries, conflicts of interest seem inevitable. One of those lobbyists, Marsha Jones, who contributed $350 to Daniel’s campaign, even has a lobbying contract with Central Health itself, creating a very direct conflict of interest between Daniel, Central Health, and Jones.
10-1 and Me
One of the great things about Austin’s new 10-1 council format is that it gives representation to areas of Austin ignored in years past. It also opens up opportunities for new ideas and candidates and makes the campaign season more interesting.
Since I live in an Austin extraterritorial jurisdiction, I cannot vote in the election, but I can write about the candidates. There are plenty of interesting candidates out there, such as conservative no-tax types like Jay Wiley in District 6. Wiley, who still thinks that the City funds the bike-sharing program, believes he can solve Austin’s traffic issues by building roads, lots of them, and pay for them without raising taxes, simply by getting rid of “wasteful spending.” Despite a lack of any detailed plan to accomplish this, he seems confident. It would be an amazing feat, perhaps even superhuman.
Katrina Daniel was not on my list of candidates to write about; she seemed too normal. Writing programs to parse campaign finance data and pull lobbyist reports from the Ethics Commission website never crossed my mind. If not for the large number of contributors with a job title of “Government Affairs Consultant,” Daniel’s campaign finance report would have received only a cursory scroll-through as I compared Wiley’s report to it.
Thanks to weak Texas campaign ethics laws, the Daniel campaign’s actions, including the apparent conflicts of interest, appear to be legal. Campaign contributions are exempt from state conflict of interest laws.
Regardless, the influence of lobbyists, particularly those connected to the medical and insurance industries, raises serious concerns. Daniel’s decision to retain her positions with TDI and Central Health, despite the lobbyist contributions to her campaign and apparent conflicts of interest, magnifies those concerns. The unusual interest from high-powered state lobbyists, who would ostensibly have no business before the Austin City Council, adds suspicion.
Ultimately, it is not my opinion that matters; in November, Austin voters will decide if Daniel’s campaign is viable or if undue lobbyist influence has compromised it.