In recent years, Texans have become more knowledgeable about how the connections between elected officials and the political consulting and lobby class can help explain those officials’ stances and actions. In a well-known case of the tail wagging the dog, many primary voters have been made aware that clients of liberal Republican political consultant Bryan Eppstein tend to have voting records which are not friendly to taxpayers but that are friendly to the interests of Eppstein’s lobby client, the Texas Medical Association.

There exists a similar connection explaining why House Speaker Joe Straus and his team are going to such lengths, including abusing their offices, to protect embattled UT President Bill Powers.

According to campaign finance reports, since July of 2009, following the 81st legislative session, Straus has paid $391,686.94 to the firm of Burson Marsteller for “communications consulting.”

The firm’s Austin office is managed by Jenifer Sarver, who also serves as Chief of Staff to the firm’s worldwide Vice Chair Karen Hughes. Hughes is widely viewed as the ring leader in the creation of the “Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education,” an on-paper coalition of business leaders associated with The University of Texas at Austin that was created to fight pro-student reforms at the University and to protect Bill Powers’ job.

Sarver has served as the spokesman for the coalition and the contact point on the organization’s press releases. Interestingly, following Powers’ decision to resign earlier this month in face of rampant controversy, the coalition’s website has appeared to have gone off-line.

Burson Marsteller has also represented Accenture on a number of contracts. Accenture was the beneficiary of a more than $1,000,000 contract that resulted in a 16 page report recommending higher student fees at UT. The contract drew scrutiny because it was doled out by Powers without regent approval, as is typically required for a contract of that magnitude.

On Sarver’s bio page for her position on the advisory council of the Moody College of Communication at UT, Sarver boasts that she provides “strategic communications counsel” to Straus. A closer inspection of Sarver’s background reveals that she also has a direct connection to former Senator and newly-minted President of the Texas Exes, Kay Bailey Hutchison. When Hutchison was still the senior US Senator from Texas, Sarver served on her DC Staff as a “Senior Advisor.”

Of course Sarver’s first commitment is to her alma mater. On Twitter, the self-proclaimed “spin doctress” goes by the handle @UTSarver.

These connections help explain the arrival of Hutchison to Texas Exes, as well as why Straus would sacrifice so much political capital defending corruption at UT. All of the players simply have the same coach.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.


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