When it was revealed last week that Texas Governor Rick “Good Hair” Perry’s administration had awarded a lucrative contract to an Abramoff-connected firm that refused to meet with Texas Democrats in Congress Perry’s spokesman claimed that Cassidy & Associates had won the contract by submitting the lowest bid.
When the state approved hiring a lobbying firm with close ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 2004, it rejected competing bids that met more of its selection criteria and cost less, according to documents obtained by the Austin American-Statesman.
What the winning firm, Cassidy & Associates, did have was access, all the way to presidential aide Karl Rove, according to memos and e-mails obtained through a Texas open records request.
And despite the lower marks the firm received when state officials reviewed the bids, staff members from state agencies tapped to choose a lobbyist eventually awarded the firm a $15,000-a-month contract to lobby Congress.
The firm is under fire from Texas House Democrats because of the close ties between Cassidy Senior Vice President Todd Boulanger and Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud.
Seven Texas House Democrats sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry on Friday demanding that Cassidy’s contract be canceled because the firm has not reached out to them.
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said Tuesday that even though Cassidy was not the top scorer in the bidding process initially, it rose to the top of the list after in-person interviews with the state’s selection committee and after the firm’s references were checked.
Walt also said Cassidy & Associates was hired not to lobby Texas’ Democrats, but to reach out-of-state Democrats.
Ironically, getting more Democrats involved in the state’s lobbying efforts was a main reason the state hired Cassidy, according to the documents.
In 2004, State-Federal Relations had terminated its contract with lobbying firm Piper Rudnick LLP, according to the documents. Piper Rudnick had brought some prominent Democrats to the state’s lobbying team.
The state also has a standing, $15,000-a-month lobbying contract with the Federalist Group, which employed embattled U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay’s former chief of staff, Drew Maloney.
More political balance was needed, the state’s office in Washington reasoned in a Dec. 10, 2004, memo. “An additional firm can help ensure (Texas) maintains a bipartisan strategy on certain issues.”
“The Federalist Group is seen primarily as a Republican firm,” the memo continued. “Cassidy & Associates is headed by a Democrat founding name partner, and is considered to be a bipartisan firm.”
When Cassidy initially competed for the contract, it was one of 17 firms. All proposals were rated by a panel of two State-Federal Relations staff members and a staffer from the Texas Department of Transportation.
The assessment in 2004, though, did not initially favor Cassidy; it was ranked fourth. Two of the firms ranked ahead of it would have charged Texas $300 to $833 less per month than Cassidy’s initial offer of $15,833 a month. (Once the contract was signed, Cassidy’s fee was down to $15,000, plus expenses.)