CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Collin County was a client of Kelley. In fact, his client is Collin County’s Municipal District # 1, an independent entity separate from the county.
According to Transparency USA, Russell T. Kelley is the fifth highest-paid lobbyist in Texas, raking in up to $6,384,999 in the past two years. Commonly known in Texas political circles as “Rusty,” Kelley is a business partner to Carol McGarah at Blackridge.
Kelley has been accused of possible legislative ethics issues while owning stock in and sitting on the board of Heritage Bank of Pearland. The bank was founded by former Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen and led by former State Reps. Craig Eiland (D–Galveston) and Dan Flynn (R–Canton).
Kelley also served as chief of staff to former Democrat House Speaker Billy Clayton and as a chief sergeant at arms in the Texas House.
His clients include major corporations, such as AT&T and the Calpine Corporation, as well as interest groups, such as the Texas Beverage Association and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
Seventeen percent of Kelley’s clients, however, are taxpayer-funded, with clients including Waco, Amarillo, Lubbock, Pecos City, and Reeves County. Ending the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying is a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas.
Kelley is a lobbyist for the firm Blackridge, where he touts a record of working for numerous Fortune 500 companies.
Praised by legacy media for being “highly influential,” The Dallas Morning News called him “instrumental” in the passage of Texas’ mandatory seat belt law, as well as initial tort reforms.
Like many lobbyists, Kelley has donated to candidates from both the Republican and Democrat parties. On the GOP side, he’s donated to the Republican Party of Texas, as well as U.S. Reps. Lance Gooden, Van Taylor, and Will Hurd, to name a few.
Regarding Democrats, Kelley has donated to U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Bob Casey, and former Congressman and failed presidential hopeful Robert “Beto” O’Rourke.
More information on Kelley’s clients, as well as political contributions, can be found at Transparency USA.
This article is part of a series of profiles on Texas’ highest-paid lobbyists by Texas Scorecard.