It’s a sad story because if there was ever an agency that deserves to be abolished – the reason why the Sunset Advisory commission was created – the Texas Residential Construction Commission is it. Here’s an excellent bit of reporting from the Star-Telegram that explains it very well, When it comes to the Texas Residential Construction Commission, follow the money.
As always, you can follow the money behind efforts to promote the builder-friendly Texas Residential Construction Commission. As always, most of the money leads back to the largest individual donor in recent state history.
But that’s the way it’s always been with the state’s tepid answer to solving home builder-buyer disputes. Bob Perry, owner of Perry Homes in Houston, is still spreading contributions to big players in the Legislature, the same lawmakers now working to decide whether a commission that Perry champions stays open past September, as law currently allows.
In December, Bob Perry donated $25,000 to the campaign committee of state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, campaign records show. The donation was to help pay her legal costs from lawsuits she fought to ensure her 19-vote victory in her recent re-election race, a spokesman for Bob Perry told me.
That election sealed Republican control of the state House by a 76-74 majority, the narrowest margin in history.
Harper-Brown, a commission supporter, has a strong voice in the argument over the commission’s future. Brown serves on the Sunset Advisory Commission, which evaluates state agencies for their efficiency and recommends whether an agency can operate as usual, change or disappear into the sunset.
Sunset commission staff members — not elected officials — spent six months examining the construction commission last year. Then in a scathing report, the staff called the TRCC “a source of frustration for homeowners” with “no real power.” They recommended its closing.
Lawmakers on the sunset commission and the Business & Industry Committee have accepted donations from Perry, records show.
Usually, such a big elephant would remain unmentioned in a legislative hearing, but on Monday,Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-El Paso, brought it up — obliquely. He berated the construction commission: “It never became consumer-friendly.” Then, after asking why, he mentioned “some builder who should not be named” and a “report about donations.”
Referring to the lawmakers’ overturning of the sunset staff report, he said: “All of a sudden, it changed overnight. Was the tail wagging the dog? Were they able to control what the commission was supposed to do?”
Nobody answered him then. But I got answers later from spokesmen for Harper-Brown and Perry.
Harper-Brown’s aide Ashley Hodgini said the Irving lawmaker’s work to fix the construction commission “was completely independent of the contribution.”
McClendon asked her to join in authorship of the bill. “Having served on the Sunset Advisory Commission, she graciously accepted, and it had nothing to do with campaign contributions whatsoever,” Hodgini said.
Bob Perry’s spokesman Anthony Holm told me, “No, he is not donating money to save the TRCC at all. No, absolutely not. That’s very clear. Mr. Perry supports legislators who are fixing schools here in Texas and creating jobs.
“Our opinion is the same — that the consumers and home buyers of Texas need some type of protection from the very few bad apples in the industry — whether that’s with the TRCC or any other entity.”
Testimony by Joey Longley, executive director of the Sunset Advisory Commission, was particularly awkward at this week’s hearing.
Longley told lawmakers that his staff recommended the closing because “y’all had twice tried to make it work” — referring to the original 2003 law and a 2007 attempted fix.
Asked whether Rep. McClendon’s bill was a proper solution, he didn’t say yes or no (he works for McClendon on the sunset panel). He answered, “Other options that I’m sure you’re thinking about can get you there.”
What? He wouldn’t say.
It’s the age old story, money buys influence. And in this case the donor gets the kind of “shadow regulation” any big money donor would love.