MICROSOFT LOBBYIST THOMAS RATLIFF’S REBUTTAL TO MY ARTICL

Jan 24, 2013 by

donna_garnerBelow, Thomas Ratliff has decided to respond to my article published on 1.16.13 entitled “Thomas Ratliff, Ineligible for SBOE” and posted on:  http://www.imakenews.com/hapc/e_article002607964.cfm?x=b11,0,w

No matter how Thomas Ratliff tries to twist the truth, the Texas Attorney General has said there is nothing that Ratliff can do to “cure” his situation.  He is a registered lobbyist with clients who are tied directly to business decisions that involve the SBOE, the Texas Education Agency, the Permanent School Fund, and/or the Legislature. That is called a direct conflict of interest.   I stand by my comment:

Thomas Ratliff’s lobbying is directly related to the operation of the SBOE.  If he had been lobbying companies that sell pig manure to Nowhere Land, USA, that might not have anything to do with the education market; but Thomas has been lobbying for Microsoft, AIG, T-Mobile Communications (and possibly others) that deal directly with the education market and with the PSF.  SB 6 for which Ratliff glowingly testified before the Legislature, identifying himself only as an SBOE member and not as a registered lobbyist, has made millions of dollars for his leading client, Microsoft.

I have posted at the bottom of this page an insightful article about Thomas Ratliff written by an unknown author.

==========================

Rebuttal to Donna Garner’s article from Thomas Ratliff:

In light of a misinformation campaign being conducted in support of my colleague, Ken Mercer, I have been asked by some of my colleagues to respond to some specific allegations being put forth by Donna Garner.  Normally I ignore this type of smear campaign because there are so many falsehoods contained in these emails.  However, out of respect for the SBOE, my colleagues and the upcoming election of SBOE officers, I offer the following response:

Donna Garner wrote:  The Texas State Board of Education meets this coming Wednesday.  At that time, two crucial people will be chosen for the three-member Executive Committee. Those three people determine the agendas and which members become committee chairs.  

FALSE.  The Executive Committee makes committee assignments after receiving preferences from the SBOE members.  The committees elect their own committee chairs.  The committee chairs, with the input of their committee members set their own agendas.  The Executive Committee does not pick chairs or set agendas.

Donna Garner wrote:  If Thomas Ratliff, who has demonstrated that he has no integrity and is on the Board illegally, is chosen as the Vice Chair and one more left leaner is chosen as the Secretary, then all will be lost. 

FALSE.  Mrs. Garner has continued to maintain that I am on the board illegally.  I was first elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2012 after receiving over 431,000 votes in my re-election.  I received 23,000 more votes than the next highest SBOE member.  If Mrs. Garner is convinced that I am serving illegally, she simply needs to take me to court and have me declared ineligible.  The problem is a court has rules of evidence that are higher than the rules for political blogs or whisper campaigns.  My service on the board is not a secret and I am in full compliance with the letter and spirit of the Constitution and Laws of the State of Texas.

Donna Garner wrote:  Remember that last term, the Executive Committee had a 2 to 1 favoring the left-leaners whereby Thomas Ratliff, a registered lobbyist, was seated on the very committee that he should NEVER have been put on – the one that has authority over protecting the Permanent School Fund – the one that Ratliff’s big Microsoft client impacts the most.  This was not an accidental placement; Thomas Ratliff deliberately made sure that he was put on that committee. 

 FALSE.  Because I was new to the board, I turned in a committee preference card that simply said I would be happy to serve on the committee where the Executive Committee felt I could add the most value.  I did not request any committee.  To be clear, Microsoft has no impact over ANY committee or over the board at all.  Furthermore, the PSF committee has no impact on Microsoft.  It is true that the PSF owns shares of Microsoft stock, along with stock in hundreds of other companies.  The PSF staff makes these decisions, not the SBOE.

Donna Garner wrote:  The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has a member, Thomas Ratliff, who is not eligible to be there.  The people of Texas knew what they were doing many years ago when they set up the Texas Education Code to keep the SBOE fiercely independent of lobbyists and outside vested interests.  SBOE members receive no remuneration of any kind, have no paid staffs, and have no paid office equipment or cell phones.   

FALSE:  The language dealing with lobbyists serving on the SBOE was added by the Texas Legislature in 1984, when the SBOE was transitioning from an appointed board to an elected board.  The language doesn’t prohibit ALL lobbyists from serving on the board, just those lobbyists who are paid to lobby on issues related to the “operation of the board.”  I support this prohibition.  We don’t need outside vested interests creating conflicts of interest for SBOE members.  It is important to note that I have never represented any client before the Texas Education Agency or the SBOE since I became a lobbyist in 1997, long before I was on the SBOE.

TRUE/FALSE:  SBOE members are eligible to receive reimbursement for expenses related to travel to Austin for meetings and travel around our district.  All 15 of us share 3-5 staff members at the Texas Education Agency, we do not have paid office equipment or cell phones provided.  It costs us money to serve on the SBOE and we are glad to do it.

Donna Garner said:  This fierce independence from lobbyists and outside interests was maintained by the SBOE until Thomas Ratliff came along as a candidate in 2010. 

FALSE:  Will Davis was on the SBOE for many, many years.  He was also a registered lobbyist.  In fact, he was on the board when the language was added to the law in 1984.  Mr. Davis then made the transition from the appointed board to the elected board.  He was re-elected several times, while continuing to be a registered lobbyist.

Donna Garner said:  Ratliff ignored the Texas Education Code, blatantly raised money for his campaign from other wealthy lobbyists and special interest groups, and beat out conservative Don McLeroy for the position.

FALSE:  I have always fully complied with the Texas Education Code and the Texas Ethics Laws and have raised money, just like every other candidate for the State Board of Education, from people all across Texas.  My campaign with Dr. McLeroy was factual and honorable and I respect his integrity for how he conducted his campaign and his service on the board.

Donna Garner said:  Thomas Ratliff has been a registered lobbyist for at least 12 years along with his various family members. Thomas Ratliff has long-standing business dealings with Microsoft and at least two other firms that do business with the Texas State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency.    

FALSE:  While it is true that I have represented Microsoft since 1997, I have never represented them before the TEA or the SBOE, or on any issue related to the operation of the board.  Mrs. Garner has repeatedly said I have business dealings with at least two other firms that do business with the SBOE and the TEA.  I have no idea what she is talking about.  If she has names of these businesses, I would like to see them.   Again, I have NEVER represented ANY client before the TEA or the SBOE, period.

Donna Garner said:  Microsoft is Thomas Ratliff’s biggest client, is the largest software vendor, and is one of the largest Permanent School Fund (PSF) stock holders. The SBOE has authority over the Permanent School Fund, and many decisions are made by the SBOE and the Texas Education Agency over technology-related expenditures involving Microsoft products. The funds for these expenditures come largely from the PSF.  Guess which SBOE committee Thomas Ratliff managed to get himself put on during his first term? …The committee that has the authority over the Permanent School Fund.  

 FALSE:  First, Microsoft has never been my biggest client.  Second, Microsoft does not hold any stock in the PSF.   The PSF owns some Microsoft stock, just like it does in hundreds of other companies.  The SBOE has absolutely nothing to do with technology purchases involving Microsoft products.  The board approves textbooks and any other content that covers the SBOE-adopted TEKS.  School districts decide what to purchase.  The funds from the PSF are controlled by the Legislature, not the SBOE.  Again, I didn’t ask to be on the PSF committee.  The previous executive committee placed me there.

Donna Garner said:  When Ratliff testified glowingly before the Senate Education Committee on 3.29.11 about SB 6 – HB 6, which he stated he just “loves,” he did not bother to mention the fact that he has been a registered lobbyist for Microsoft for 12 years.  SB 6/HB 6 contained language that transformed the payout of the Permanent School Fund, and Microsoft has derived millions of dollars from these changes.   

FALSE:  I did not mention that I represented Microsoft when I testified in support of SB6/HB6 because I was not legally authorized to represent them on that bill, nor did Microsoft ask me to do anything on that bill.  I appeared before the Legislature in support of that bill as an SBOE member and the father of two children in public schools who wish they could get electronic textbooks instead of lugging 50+ pounds of textbooks home every night.  I would like to know Mrs. Garner’s source for the “millions of dollars” Microsoft has made because of this legislation.  I have never seen or heard any public or confidential reports that show that.  This is a pure fabrication.  It is important to note that SB6 passed the legislature with only 1 Democrat House member voting against it.  EVERY OTHER MEMBER OF THE TEXAS LEGISLATURE SUPPORTED THIS BILL.  I’m sorry Mrs. Garner doesn’t.

Donna Garner said:  At a 2011 SBOE meeting, the chair of the SBOE was asked by a Texas citizen to send a request for a ruling to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asking him to clarify the conflict of interest problem as a registered lobbyist that Thomas Ratliff has. 

TRUE:  What Mrs. Garner doesn’t tell you is two months before I was even sworn in, I had requested Chairwoman Gail Lowe to work with me to send a request to Attorney General Abbott.  This is something I asked for and supported.

Donna Garner said:  On 8.12.11, the Texas Attorney General’s Office ruled that Thomas Ratliff’s presence on the SBOE is not legal because of his being a registered lobbyist. The TAG said that it is not sufficient for Ratliff to try to recuse himself from votes involving his clients because there is nothing that he can do “to cure” his situation.  In other words, the Texas Attorney General ruled that as a registered lobbyist, Ratliff is not even eligible to be on the SBOE. (Please see TAG’s opinion posted at the bottom of this page.)

FALSE:  This is NOT what the AG opinion said.  In fact, the opinion says, “Subsection 7.103(c), however, does not preclude all persons who are required to register under chapter 305 from being eligible to serve on the BoardMrs. Garner is simply mis-representing what the AG Opinion says.  Mrs. Garner is correct that if a lobbyist were on the board in violation of the law, there is nothing that person could do to “cure” the situation.  Since I am not violating the law, there is nothing I need to cure.

Donna Garner said:  The very real problem for us in Texas is that the legislature has set no legal process by which Thomas Ratliff can be removed from the SBOE, and Ratliff has not had enough integrity and respect for the Rule of Law to leave of his own volition.

FALSE:  The court system in this state does have a legal process by which ANYONE can be removed from office if that person is ineligible or is in violation of the law.  It is Mrs. Garner who has not had enough integrity to follow the law and respect the wishes of the voters in my district who have elected me twice.

Donna Garner said:  Because of his family’s great wealth and political power, Thomas Ratliff managed to influence the Texas Legislature to approve an SBOE redistricting map for the 2012 elections that was shaped almost exactly like the district that his father, Senator Bill Ratliff, represented.  This map gave Thomas high name recognition on the ballot.  Coincidentally (?), the one person who was positioning himself to run against Thomas in the 2012 election (former SBOE member Don McLeroy from College Station) was redistricted out of Ratliff’s new SBOE district.

FALSE:  My family had nothing to do with the redistricting map.  I, along with several of my SBOE colleagues, testified before the Redistricting committees and worked with legislative staff and legislative leadership on the SBOE map.  One thing to note.  If the members of the legislature felt I was on the SBOE illegally, why would they cooperate with me on a redistricting map?  Remember, there were 101 Republicans in the Texas House and 19 Republicans in the Senate that passed that map and the SBOE map was the ONLY map not challenged in court.

Donna Garner said:  The chair of the SBOE, Barbara Cargill, has been appointed by Gov. Perry; and Cargill will be up for confirmation by the Senate Nominating Committee (and then the Senate) at any time during this 83rd Legislative Session.  Barbara Cargill has been a capable, fair, and respected SBOE chair; and all of us need to let our Texas Senators know that we expect them to support her confirmation.  The chair of the Senate Nominating Committee is Senator Glenn Hegar

TRUE:  I support Chairwoman Cargill’s confirmation and I have publicly and privately met with Democrat and Republican senators to help ensure her confirmation.  In fact, I took Chairwoman Cargill to a dinner, as my guest, where all Senators were in attendance.  The purpose of this dinner was to speak to Senators and the Lt. Governor directly in support of her confirmation.

I am glad Mrs. Garner includes links to the AG opinion.   Please read it for yourself and decide if it says what Mrs. Garner tells you it says.

Opinion No.  GA-0876

Go to: http://www.oag.state.tx.us/opinions/opinions/50abbott/op/2011/htm/ga-0876.htm

Re: Construction of section 7.103(c), Education Code, regarding the eligibility of a registered lobbyist for membership on the State Board of Education (RQ-0948-GA)

https://www.oag.state.tx.us/opinions/opinions/50abbott/rq/2011/pdf/rq0948ga.pdf

================================================

8.9.11

 

Why a lobbyist is ill-suited for elective office

(Author Unknown)

 

Because education is important to many in our state, Texas citizens often visit with their elected officials to offer input about proposed legislation. This informal lobbying is an important and necessary part of the process of representative government.

 

 

Paid lobbyists – individuals who often are highly compensated by a business firm or professional association – differ from these grassroots citizen efforts, however. Lobbyists are engaged specifically to influence governmental decisions on behalf of special-interest groups, and they are able to exert much more pressure than ordinary citizens on the legislative process. Because a lobbyist is not making independent judgments but is paid to promote someone else’s agenda instead, those who earn their living as compensated lobbyists may not serve the best interest of the public. Lobbyists, therefore are ill-suited for elective office.

 

 

The Texas Education Code states clearly in Section 7.103(c) that a person who is required to register as a lobbyist by virtue of his compensation on behalf of a business related to the State Board of Education may not serve as an elected member of that board. State Board of Education members are elected – and serve without compensation – to represent the interests of their constituents in developing education policy. That duty easily could set up a conflict of interest if an SBOE member also were a lobbyist paid to represent a special-interest group rather than Texas public schoolchildren.

 

 

Yet this is the scenario for newly elected SBOE member Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant. He was elected to represent the interests of the constituents of his East Texas district, but he is a lawyer-lobbyist for computer giant Microsoft. When he testifies before the Texas Legislature, is it as an independent-minded elected official who keeps the needs of schoolchildren foremost, or is it as a well-compensated professional lobbyist who promotes what is best for his computer software client? The public can never really be sure.

 

 

For example, when Ratliff testified during the recent legislative session on Senate Bill 6 that sets up an instructional materials allotment system for textbook purchases, was it because the bill would help school districts secure the materials they need for students, or because the bill allows the allotment to be used to purchase computer hardware and software, thereby greatly expanding the market for Microsoft products, paid for by state dollars? The public can never really be sure.

 

 

When Ratliff voted recently to approve curriculum standards for various technology applications courses, was it because the standards would help promote student learning, or was it because the computer science courses promote the types of software applications that are the hallmark of his lobby client? The public can never really be sure.

 

 

When recent decisions were made by the State Board of Education to approve online science materials, did Ratliff favor adoption of the electronic materials because they would help students in the classroom, or because the online delivery of instruction pushes – and in some cases requires – upgraded technology purchases and Microsoft add-ons, thereby benefiting his lobbying client? The public can never be really sure.

 

 

When the State Board of Education establishes investment policies for the Permanent School Fund endowment, does member Ratliff keep foremost his fiduciary obligations for the fund and its beneficiaries – the schoolchildren of Texas? Or does lobbyist Ratliff consider the effect potential investment changes by the large endowment fund might have on Microsoft stock and its position in the S&P 500? The public can never really be sure.

 

 

When political pressure is exerted on SBOE members to spend more Permanent School Fund monies than its investment professionals determine is prudent, will Ratliff work to protect the long-term viability of the endowment, or will he approve paying out more than is wise in an effort to curry favor with legislators who support his lobbying client? The public can never really be sure.

 

 

Our elected officials should be beholden only to those voters who elected them. When a fulltime lobbyist also serves as an elected state official, conflicts of interest and divided loyalties are bound to arise. Texas voters deserve to know their elected representatives are putting the interests of the public ahead of any money-making perks or special-interest agendas that benefit the lobbyist and/or his client.

 

 

The Texas Attorney General has been asked to weigh in on the constitutionality of a paid lobbyist serving as an elected State Board of Education member. His decision should be rendered within the next few weeks. Anyone who would like to offer input on the Texas Education Code’s prohibition against lobbyists serving as elected officials may write to Attorney General Greg Abbott at …

 

 

Donna Garner

Wgarner1@hot.rr.com

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