In her invitation, Riddle includes several "participation" levels: $1,000, $3,000, $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000.
Each level of payment is awarded a corresponding gift, including the Capitol furniture produced by Texas prisoners. A color brochure with photographs of each gift was thoughtfully folded into the "Leadership Summit" invitation.Remarkable. Asked about his view of the practice, House Administration Committee Chair said understatedly, "I've never heard of that before. I wouldn't do it." Election law attorney Buck Wood couldn't name a specific statute the practice violates, but said that generally, "You can't use the prison system as a manufacturer to attract campaign dollars." Or maybe it's just hat nobody ever thought to do so before, at least quite so explicitly. Concluded Hart:
"Please note the donor gift items are exclusive and cannot be purchased on the open market," Riddle advises.
"The descriptions seem inadequate for most of these items, and you will find an enclosure with photographs to show their beauty."
Besides the desks and chairs from the House chamber, the brochure offers a hand-tooled leather duffle bag, a hand-tooled leather-top coffee table and matching chair set, a Lone Star flag cutting board, a hand-carved Capitol bench and a hand-tooled leather rifle case. Oh, and a really special carved rocking horse with a hand-tooled saddle. (That'll run you three grand.) Riddle isn't exaggerating; they're all stunning.
[Hart] called Riddle to ask if she thought her party swag might be considered just a little over the top, especially since she is allowed to purchase the items by virtue of her elected office. Isn't that a tiny bit like using your office to raise campaign funds?
"It's no different than 'if you donate this or donate that you get a T-shirt and a coffee mug,' " she told me. "We can purchase these items from the prison system as gifts. We can buy them, but we cannot sell them. I am not selling these any more than I am selling a T-shirt (given to a donor.)"
Riddle told me she could have had the items made elsewhere, but "this is my way of helping those guys behind bars earn some money. There are some really fine craftsmen that have made bad decisions."It's true the prisoner-made furniture you see everywhere at the capitol is first-rate work, but you shouldn't have to donate to Debbie Riddle's campaign to purchase it independently. If this isn't already illegal, or potentially even if it is, I'd expect using prisoner-made furniture as campaign swag to be among the raft of new crimes created by the Texas Lege in 2013.
Too bad that Texas legislators have exclusive access to these "really fine craftsmen." That Lone Star flag cutting board really caught my eye.