Pay to Play On Texas Inauguration Day

If you live in Texas, or if your professional life is in some way impacted by Texas public policy, you might like a meeting with Texas Governor Rick Perry. And he’s happy to meet with you if you help throw him a lavish party:

The Republican governor and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst were the featured attraction Monday night at an invitation-only soiree for donors giving as much as $100,000. Oil executives, beer distributors, lobbyists and big-dollar campaign donors — many with interests before the state — are providing the nearly $2 million for the swearing-in. In exchange, they are offered various levels of access. In addition to dinner Monday at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, where there were photographs with Perry, underwriters got VIP tickets to today’s inauguration on the Capitol grounds.

As I wrote on Sunday, I think the corruption involved in this sort of thing is considerably clearer and more objectionable than with campaign contributions. Energy policy is a subject on which people have substantial good faith disagreements, and you would expect oil companies to back the election bids of candidates who hold views that are favorable to their interests. This creates a deplorable structural imbalance in politics, but it’s not the same as bribing the politicians.

By contrast, picking up the tab for Rick Perry to throw himself a big party seems fundamentally similar to buying Rick Perry a nice car, paying for Rick Perry’s daughter’s sweet sixteen party, or passing him a garbage bag full of cash. Life in the state of Texas would proceed just fine if Perry’s “inaugural gala” was him and a few close friends and allies going out to a nice dinner to and splitting the tab. The existence of a lavish party is fundamentally a private benefit, and having outside interests pay for it seems a lot like bribery. Perry is obviously not unique in this regard so I don’t want to make it out like this is a particular slam on him. But I think the norms around this practice are screwed up and I happened to see this article this morning.