$700,000 donated to fix up politician’s digs

/ Source: The Associated Press

Businessmen, a lobbyist and a major corporate foundation have donated almost $700,000 in the past eight days to pay for the renovation of Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick's apartment inside the Capitol, according to documents obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

Watchdog groups are aghast at the fundraising effort, saying people and businesses that could benefit from future legislation shouldn't be allowed to spruce up the taxpayer-provided home of the man who controls the destiny of proposed state laws.

"Special interests shouldn't be lined up to give the Craddicks a personal gift of a new apartment," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice. "If it's in need of repair or if it's in need of renovation, then it should be paid for by the people of Texas."

Craddick spokeswoman Alexis DeLee said the speaker and his wife don't think it would be appropriate to use public money for the renovation project, which is expected to include redoing the apartment's kitchen and two bathrooms and tearing down a loft over the living room.

The donations so far include $250,000 from the AT&T Foundation and $250,000 from billionaire investor Harold Simmons and his companies, according to records the AP obtained from the State Preservation Board under the Texas Public Information Act. Another $25,000 came from Tom Loeffler, a former congressman who founded and chairs the lobbying firm The Loeffler Group.

Because the donations are considered a gift to the state and the checks are being sent to the State Preservation Board, which maintains the Capitol, they are not subject to campaign finance laws.

Asked if donors could expect any favors in exchange for their contribution, DeLee said: "Absolutely not ... That's just not the way it's going to happen."

The nearly 2,000-square-foot apartment is the only residence inside a state capitol anywhere in the country. Speakers and their families have access to the two-bedroom home while presiding over the Texas House.

Through DeLee, the Craddicks declined to speak with the AP about the project or allow a tour of the home. Renovations are expected to begin within the next two weeks.