Rick Perry’s new A&M regents include major campaign donor
Earlier this month, Perry selected three new Regents to oversee the A&M System. Perry’s never been shy about placing prominent campaign supporters in positions of power (A&M Regent Richard Box is Perry’s campaign treasurer), and the latest round of appointments does not defy expectations.
New Regent Cliff Thomas Jr. and his wife have donated $326,000 to Perry since 2000, including $100,000 in 2009 and 2010. Thomas’ donations make him the biggest Perry campaign contributor on the A&M Board of Regents, who together have given Perry more than $1 million, according to the Texas Tribune’s database of Regent donors to Perry.
Thomas, of Victoria, is owner and CEO of Thomas Petroleum, Speedy Stop Food Stores and C.L. Thomas Inc. — which together comprise a fuel lubricant and chemical distributorship and chain of convenience stores.
Perry previously appointed Thomas to serve on the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority board in 2004, reappointing him in 2009. According to his company’s website, Thomas was a high school and (briefly) college football coach before taking a job with an Exxon distributorship — purchasing his own distributorship in 1980 and expanding it into a company with more than 100 locations.
Altogether, Thomas has given more than $500,000 to state and federal candidates and committees since 1997, according to data from the Texas Ethics Commission and Federal Election Commission. That total includes $17,500 to former state Sen. Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria), who is currently Perry’s legislative director.
Thomas has also given more than $36,700 to former Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn; $21,000 to current Comptroller Susan Combs; $9,000 to state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), who, as Thomas’ hometown senator, introduced him to the Senate Committee on Nominations; and $10,000 to state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), a member of the Nominations committee who recused himself from voting on Thomas’ confirmation due to prior business relationships, according to committee minutes.
The Office of the Governor announced Thomas’ appointment as an A&M Regent — along with Judy Morgan and Elaine Mendoza — on Feb. 7. All three were confirmed by the Senate Nominations committee Feb. 14.
The three new Regents replace Lupe Fraga, Gene Stallings and Ida Steen — who, incidentally, were the A&M Regents who had given the least amounts of money to Perry ($16,750; $2,500; and $7,000, respectively), according to the Tribune database.
Texarkana’s Morgan is owner and president of Jack B. Kelley Enterprises Inc., a commercial transportation company based in Amarillo. Morgan’s husband Jim has contributed more than $18,300 to Perry’s campaign, including expenses for campaign events in 2002, 2006 and 2009.
Together, the Morgans have made nearly $68,000 in state and federal campaign donations since 1997, including $6,000 to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, $6,000 to George W. Bush, $5,000 to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and $4,000 to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison ($2,500 of that to Hutchison’s gubernatorial bid against Perry).
Morgan told a Bryan-College Station Eagle reporter that she had known Perry since he was agriculture commissioner, and that A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney told Perry she’d be a good pick for regent, stemming from her work at Texas A&M University at Texarkana, where she is president of the Women for TAMU-T Board.
Mendoza is a former vice chair of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, former vice chair of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and president/CEO of Conceptual MindWorks Inc., a company focused on electronic medical records that does business in the military and private sectors. Perry appointed Mendoza to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2006, naming her vice chair of THECB in 2010.
Mendoza has made no contributions to Perry, though husband Larry Gay gave $250 to Perry’s campaign in 2006. Mendoza has given $2,000 to federal candidates since 1998, including $1,250 to Hutchison and $500 to former Democratic U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez.
All three new regents are A&M System graduates. Thomas and Mendoza both have a bachelor’s degree from A&M-College Station, and Morgan has an MBA from A&M-Texarkana.
A&M Regents oversee a system of 11 universities, seven state agencies and a health science center.
(Image by Matt Mahurin)