White’s fund-raising effort heads to Austin

Houston Chronicle, TX
March 25 2004

White’s fund-raising effort heads to Austin
Out-of-town money won’t exceed self-imposed 5 percent cap, campaign


During his campaign for mayor, Bill White made an issue of his
opponents collecting money from outside Houston.

He challenged them to sign his pledge to limit out-of-town influences
by taking no more than 5 percent of their campaign contributions from

But four months after winning, White traveled to Austin on Wednesday
expecting to raise $25,000 at a fund-raiser there, the second time
this year he has left the city to raise money. He went to Washington,
D.C., in January for the same reason.

The out-of-town events are not expected to bust the 5 percent cap,
White fund-raiser Herb Butrum said Tuesday.

In winning, White spent a record $9.7 million, including $2.5 million
of his own money. Fund-raising efforts since then, including the ones
out of town, may add as much as $900,000 to White’s war chest by
April 4, the city-imposed deadline for raising campaign money until
the next campaign cycle begins in spring of 2005, Butrum said.

Houston political consultant Craig Varoga said the post-election
fund-raising is a good way to prevent a candidate from running
against White next year.

“Money like that is called the invisible primary because it kills
opponents before they can even get out of the cradle,” Varoga said.

If White can avoid major opposition in 2005, Varoga said, “he can
concentrate on city issues for four years rather than worry about
political ones after two years.”

White was as blunt. “I’m hoping not to have an opponent next year,”
he said.

During the campaign, White made three ethics pledges. In addition to
limiting his contributions from outside Houston to 5 percent of the
total, he promised not to take more than 10 percent from those who do
a majority of their business with the city and not to hire campaign
staffers who lobby City Hall or other local governments.

White said this week that he placed the cap on contributions from
those outside Houston to create “a balance so we don’t have to rely
disproportionately on any particular interest groups.”

The campaign pledge to limit money from outside of Houston was partly
a dig at mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner, a state representative
who transferred his legislator’s campaign account to his mayoral
race. Much of that money came from interests outside of Houston that
do business in the Texas Capitol.

Turner said this week he had no problem with White soliciting money
in Austin and Washington.

“A lot of things are said during campaigns,” Turner said. “The race
is over. He can raise money where he needs to.”

Wednesday’s fund-raiser in Austin was at the home of investor Bo
Baskin, an investment banker who helped establish a private equity
firm last year called Blue Sage Capital LP.

Limited partners in the firm include state pension funds, financial
institutions and the federal government.

Baskin said the company has no investment with the city of Houston or
any of the city employee pension funds.

Also hosting the event at Baskin’s home were Austin Mayor Will Wynn
and former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, both Democrats.

Baskin, a Republican and former Houston resident who is related to
White through marriage, said he is hosting the fund-raiser partly
because he believes White “de-partisanized politics in Houston.”

In January, White was beneficiary of a Washington fund-raiser hosted
by energy consultant Kyle Simpson, a former Coastal Corp. official
who served as staff director for White when he was deputy secretary
in the Department of Energy under President Clinton.

In 1992, White and Simpson coordinated fund-raising efforts in the
Houston area for Clinton’s first presidential campaign.

In 1997, Simpson was called to testify before a Senate investigating
committee that was looking into international businessman Roger

Tamraz had testified that he gave $300,000 to the Democratic Party in
1996 to “open the doors to the White House” so he could promote his
overseas oil pipeline venture from the Caspian Sea to Turkey through
Azerbaijan and Armenia.

During the investigation, Simpson was questioned about his role in
helping Tamraz gain access in the White House because of his
contributions to the Democratic Party. Simpson repeatedly denied
introducing campaign donations into policy discussions.

Tuesday, White said the investigation “vindicated Mr. Simpson, who is
very well regarded.”

He said that Tamraz had no connection with the company he created
after leaving the Department of Energy in 1995 to develop oil fields
in the Caspian Sea region. Investors in that company, Frontera
Resources, included former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Houston
businessman J. Livingston Kosberg.