Texas Ethics Commission

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, speaks to supporters at a rally celebrating the one-year anniversary of her filibuster of SB 5 on June 25.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Wendy Davis, state senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, started a promotional tour Tuesday for her new memoir, “Forgetting to be Afraid.” The release and publicity tour prompted questions from the campaign of Greg Abbott, attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate.

Abbott’s campaign manager Wayne Hamilton filed a request Monday with the Texas Ethics Commission for an advisory opinion on the legality of her promotional tour for the memoir. Since corporate contributions to a campaign are illegal in Texas elections, Hamilton questioned whether Davis’ tour could count as an in-kind contribution. 

While Davis’ camp dismissed the questions, law adjunct professor Ross Fischer said the Abbott campaign has legitimate concerns.

“The timing raises some interesting and significant legal questions,” Fischer said. “It may be appropriate in a political sense, but it raises legal issues that haven’t been looked at fully before.”

In the book, Davis reveals she received two abortions for medical reasons in the 1990s. Fischer said he had no problem with the contents of Davis’ memoir, although he thought the timing of the promotional tour is a potential issue.

Alexander Parker, communications director for the University’s College Republicans chapter and finance and Plan II sophomore, said he understood why the questions were raised but thought they were not that important.

“I think there are some merits to raising some issue to the timing of it,” Parker said. “It is convenient timing but, to some extent, is about raising publicity, and that’s what these races are about.”

Parker said he thought voters would already have their minds made up, regardless of Davis’ book.

“I would hope what’s going to influence people are the issues on the table,” Parker said. “This background is good, but, at the end of the day, it’s what the candidates have to offer.”

Katie Adams, University Democrats communication director and mechanical engineering senior, said she was sure the ethics commission would come to a decision eventually, but, for now, the story was more important.

“I’m so proud of her for sharing stories — how she struggled as a young mother to her overcoming her family tragedies. She really is a role model for Texans,” Adams said. “One in three women have had an abortion, so, statistically speaking, we all know someone who has had one. So many women hesitate to share. At her filibuster, she was a voice for people who couldn’t share.”

Adams said the timing of the book’s release should have no effect on the election.

“I think it’s important for people to reveal important decisions when they feel it’s right for them to share it,” Adams said. “Who am I to judge that?”

Davis will sign copies of her memoir at BookPeople on Thursday at 12:30 p.m.

Correction: Due to an editing error, a quote was mistakenly attributed to Fischer, it should have been attributed to Parker.

UT System regent R. Steven Hicks donated $1,000 to Keep Austin Healthy, a political action committee supporting the establishment of a proposed UT-Austin medical school.

The Keep Austin Healthy PAC supports Proposition 1, an initiative on Tuesday’s ballot that would increase the county property tax rate from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value to help fund the proposed UT medical school. The Harden Healthcare Texas PAC, a committee for senior health care services provider Harden Healthcare, which Hicks’ private investment firm Capstar Partners, LLC oversees, also donated $5,000 to Keep Austin Healthy. Hicks is the top contributor to the Harden Healthcare Texas PAC, contributing $25,000 in 2009.

Filings with the Texas Ethics Commission show Hicks and Harden Healthcare Texas PAC donated to the Keep Austin Healthy PAC in August.

“My involvement in the election is as an individual member of the community supporting the proposition,” Hicks wrote in an email to The Daily Texan. “I see no conflict of interest. Regents are also members of their communities and all are deeply involved in them.”

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Hicks to a six-year term as a UT regent in February 2011. He currently serves as vice chairman of the board. The System does not have a policy against political contributions, but a rule on political activities states staff are only allowed to participate in political activities that do not involve the UT System in partisan politics.

The proposed tax increase is expected to raise an estimated $54 million annually to be used to fund various health services, including $35 million annually toward the proposed UT medical school.

In May, the UT regents voted unanimously in favor of committing $25 million annually to operate the medical school and an additional $5 million per year for eight years to cover laboratory equipment. The Seton Family of Hospitals pledged $250 million in April to fund a teaching hospital to accompany the medical school.

Hicks said a UT-Austin medical school would benefit the community but not provide financial benefits to Harden Healthcare.

Harden Healthcare CEO Lew Little is the chair-elect of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, which also supports the proposition.

The Travis County Taxpayers Union, which opposes Proposition 1, formed its own political action committee.

Don Zimmerman, Travis County Taxpayers Union founder and treasurer, said Hicks’ contribution underscored what an individual in a position of power can do.

“[Hicks] is part of a very large group of very powerful corporate insiders and wealthy individuals who are behind Prop 1, and he is in very good company,” Zimmerman said. “When people with these positions of power exert their power through government, it can be kind of frightening.”

Dr. Guadalupe Zamora, treasurer of the Keep Austin Healthy PAC, said he was unaware Hicks had donated to the committee.

“I can tell you the regents believe in the dream of a medical school, and that is why he contributed,” Zamora said. “The idea behind [the campaign] is not so much the school, but expanding services.”

The Keep Austin Healthy PAC had raised $619,343.55 as of Oct. 29, and the Travis County Taxpayers Union PAC had raised $19,640.28, according to Texas Ethics Commission filings.

Printed on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 as: Regent joins PAC in support of Prop 1