By Christy Hoppe
The Dallas Morning News
Originally published Jan. 7, 2015
AUSTIN — From preparations for their inauguration, it’s clear that Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick intend to dance with the ones who brung them.
But it’s not that clear who will be paying for it.
In a break from previous Texas inaugurations, officials said they will not release the identities of corporate and individual contributors who are bankrolling the $4 million festivities until after the Jan. 20 event.
During his campaign, Abbott made increasing government transparency one of his top issues.
“Abbott ran on a platform of campaign reform and open government, and if this is his first step, he’s discarded his agenda already,” said Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, a campaign disclosure watchdog.
John Wittman, a spokesman for the inaugural committee, initially said sponsors would be listed on the event program, without specific amounts they contributed.
All modern-day Texas governors have disclosed contributors to their inaugural festivities.
After inquiries from The Dallas Morning News, the committee decided contributors and amounts would be released, but only after the inauguration, Wittman said.
“We will be raising money up to the inauguration, so we will disclose the donor information all at once,” Wittman said.
The swearing-in of newly elected state leaders is twice the cost of the 2011 celebration, when Rick Perry and David Dewhurst returned to office.
McDonald pointed out that it should not be that difficult to disclose donors “in real time,” as the funds are raised. “It’s ridiculous to claim they need to hold on to them until the last one comes in the door,” he said.
And the festivity funders are likely to be “the usual suspects,” he said.
“They’ll be the big donors, the big special interests that are at the Capitol day in and day out that fund statewide campaigns. We won’t be surprised probably when we see the list, but we ought to see the list,” McDonald said.
The finance co-chairmen of the 2015 Texas Inaugural Committee are large backers of Abbott: Dallas oilman Trevor Rees-Jones and Houston beer distributor John Nau. They gave a combined $625,000 to Abbott’s campaign last year.
Of Abbott’s 35 appointees to the committee, 25 of the individuals and couples were major contributors to his campaign — giving a combined $8.3 million. The vast majority of his appointees gave $200,000 or more to his campaign.
“These are folks who have been supportive of the values that Greg Abbott has represented throughout his career,” Wittman said.
Patrick’s 30 appointees to the committee include some big campaign givers, but they also reflect a more eclectic style and his radio talk show host roots. Among those he selected for the committee are tea party leader JoAnn Fleming and fiscal hawk Tim Dunn, the main financer of conservative activist group Empower Texans.
Patrick also tapped Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Buc-ee’s founder Beaver Aplin.
While all other state officeholders assumed their new posts Jan. 1, the state’s constitution dictates that the governor and lieutenant governor don’t take office until Jan. 20. The Legislature convenes next week.
As is traditional, Abbott and Patrick will take their oaths on the south steps of the state Capitol, before an anticipated crowd of about 25,000.
The ceremony, which will include a 21-gun salute and an F-16 flyover, will be followed by barbecue for 17,000, catered by Eddie Deen’s, on the Capitol lawn. A parade will follow that afternoon, as well as a formal ball and a celebration for younger supporters that evening.