A new report on the financial malfeasance at the University of Texas – released late on Friday afternoon before a long weekend – offers harsh criticism of a payola scandal begun when UT President Bill Powers was head of the law school. Without naming him, the report also serves to vindicate the investigation started by UT Regent Wallace Hall that House Speaker Joe Straus and his cronies have tried to silence.
This new report only investigated the UT Law School’s so-called “deferred compensation” program operated in conjunction with the UT Law School Foundation. An investigation into the clout-abuse scandal is ongoing.
Powers, who was forced to resign at the end of this semester, has seen his term helming the state’s flagship university marked by several financial scandals. Yet it has been revelations of a clout-abuse program, operated apparently through his office, which has resulted in lawmakers connected to Speaker Straus trying to silence whistleblowers.
The new report, which was sent to UT in the final hours of Greg Abbott’s term as attorney general, leaves a great many unanswered questions. The scope leaves some important holes left unexplored – including the question just how many students were admitted to the university because of the political connections despite being academically under-qualified.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Wallace Hall to the UT System Board of Regents in 2011. Taking seriously his responsibilities as a regent, he began investigating financial irregularities that apparently led to uncovering the clout abuse scandal.
Disgraced former State Rep. Jim Pitts, who was in Straus’ inner-circle, all but admitted to National Review that he used his legislative influence to get his “lightly qualified” son admitted to the UT Law School.
Pitts and Straus then tapped a special committee to work to silence Hall, by threatening impeachment. Led by a Straus crony, Republican State Rep. Dan Flynn, the committee attacked Hall on the premise that the regent had been asking too many questions about the operations of UT.
Throughout the Attorney General’s report are references to documents not being provided to investigators by the law school or the associated foundation. When UT officials refuse to fully cooperate with both their constitutionally appointed regents and law enforcement, it is indicative that perhaps there is even more trouble to uncover.
UT is still playing hide-the-ball even with this report. It was sent to them on Dec. 31, but UT did not release the report (you can read it here, as well as the appendices A, B, C and D) until 4:30pm on Friday, in advance of the Martin Luther King Jr. long weekend.
Again, given the role Joe Straus has played in trying to block investigations into the malfeasance, it should be noted that they did not release the report until fours days AFTER he was re-elected as House Speaker.
According to Perry’s chief of staff, Straus’ office had offered to end their character assassination of Hall if he would resign (and end his own investigation). Hall and the governor refused that offer, and shortly after the committee voted to “censure” the regent. A Straus employee was then tasked by Straus to ask the Democrat District Attorney in Travis County – herself famous for a violent drunken-driving arrest – to empanel a grand jury to indict Hall.
(That Austin-based grand jury was recently given an extension on their time to find a reason to indict Hall.)
It’s unlikely that Straus and his cronies cared about the payola scheme Powers hatched at the law school. What’s abundantly clear is that Straus didn’t start attacking Hall and seeking to silence him, until after Hall apparently uncovered evidence demonstrating a pattern of politically motivated acceptances to the law school and other programs.
To protect a program providing a perk to lawmakers’ friends and family, Straus and his cronies attacked a whistleblower. In doing so, they circled their wagons around the bureaucrat who operated their patronage program rather than clean up the operations at UT. Texas deserves better.