State Representative Dan Branch, who formerly worked as a labor union lobbyist in Washington, DC, has come under fire recently in his campaign for Attorney General for false statements he made on the campaign trail. Breitbart Texas recently released a letter sent by Branch to UT President Bill Powers that contradicted statements made by Branch to the Texas Tribune denying that he ever used his office as Chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education to get applicants into UT or UT Law School.
Later, a study by Watchdog.org found that Branch, along with House allies Speaker Joe Straus and Representative Jim Pitts, was one of the most prolific authors of letters to Powers on behalf of students. As Chairman of Higher Ed, Branch would have been well aware that sending such letters to the President’s office, outside the ordinary channels for letters of recommendation, was unethical.
But new evidence reveals that Branch did not limit his influence-peddling to UT alone. Emails obtained from the Texas A&M admissions office show that Branch was making inquiries about student admissions through Texas A&M Vice President for Governmental Relations Michael O’Quinn during the most recent legislative session in 2013.
In the emails, O’Quinn’s executive assistant Rita Presley inquires with the Director of Admissions about the application status of several students on behalf of Branch and College Station Representative John Raney. Surrounding emails reveal that the admissions office would “track” the status of certain applicants on behalf of O’Quinn and various State Representatives and Senators.
However, special treatment for Branch was not limited to just his inquiries regarding applicants. In one set of emails, Texas A&M staff make arrangements for a visit to campus by Branch and his daughter Sarah, a prospective student. The staff made arrangements for “face time” with former President R. Bowen Loftin, the student body president, the Corps Commander, Aggie yell leaders, and Reveille in an effort to “wow” Representative Branch and his daughter.
During his time as Chairman of Higher Education, Rep. Branch’s law firm represented Texas A&M on legal and lobbying matters.
Many have criticized Branch for his failure to investigate the corruption at UT Austin uncovered by UT Regent Wallace Hall. However, this new evidence suggests that Branch may not have just been asleep at the wheel. It appears Dan Branch was intimately involved in the scandals.