Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Prisoner made furniture as campaign swag?

Somehow I'd missed the report from Patti Hart that State Rep. Debbie Riddle used prisoner-made furniture as campaign swag in a recent fundraiser. Reported Hart in the Houston Chronicle August 22
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.

"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.)"
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:
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."

Too bad that Texas legislators have exclusive access to these "really fine craftsmen." That Lone Star flag cutting board really caught my eye.
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.


sunray's wench said...

I'm a bit confused about this. Inmates who work in the craft shops can make items like cedar wood chests, that can then be picked up by friends and family at visitation and then sold on the open market. Anyone can buy them.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't these lovely items be publicly available, with the proceeds going in part to the inmate, and in part to pay restitution or support educational programs? I'd be willing to buy one of these attractive sounding objects, not least because it would be a way of demonstrating to people that prisoners can learn a useful skill and make things of beauty. I already have a little cork noticeboard that I bought up at Ellis I many years ago when visiting a client - it is decorated with a panorama of miniature buildings and trees, is quite charming, and has given me a lot of pleasure over the years.

Anonymous said...

"... helping these guys earn some money." Not true. Prisoners don't get a penny for their labor, according to the director for TDCJ industries. He spoke recently at our Lions Club.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

Well 6:13 thats a different kind of labor. The items that inmates make in their "Piddlin" time are usually made of materials that the inmate or someone on the outside has paid for. For instance in 1772, I was an inmate and I wanted to have something made for my mother, I had my dad send the money to an old man who did piddlin, he in turn bought material and made my mother a purse which dad picked up at his next visit and sent the fellow some money for his work. That was the way it worked then I dont know about now.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

sorry that was 1972

Anonymous said...

Wasn't a former local Sheriff charged with the crime of using inmate labor to make BBQ pits to sell? The only difference I see is that she is using state inmates to make her goods to sell. For her to say she is giving the items away for donations is like peeing on my leg and telling me it is raining. This seems to be an open and shut ethics violation.

Sheldon tyc#47333 said...

Homeless Cowboy, it was a different world back in the game. I would like to be able to purchase that gritty lie soap to wash my hands with after piddlin with my old truck and nothing cleans a toilet, or anything else for that matter, better than Bippy. If Debbie Riddle is not violating any ethics laws, that’s pretty cool that she is taking advantage of her position to hook her contributors up with some nice exclusive gifts. Being exclusive is what makes them cool and people like cool stuff. Isn’t there a motto that applies to campaign contributions, "A fool and their money will soon be parted"? I could be that fool. This is ingenious. The only way her peers would make it illegal is their jealously that they didn’t think of it first. Knowing they would just be Debbie posing when they do it to.
Nice post Scott, very entertaining. Someone should do a reality TV show about our Texas legislators. How about it Bobby Goldstein?

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Steve Sprague said...

Actually, the public can buy things from prisoners that make or craft items in the TDCJ. Police officers have bought leather goods like belts, handcuff cases and other items for years. The work is excellent.

sakset.s said...

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PAPA said...

My understanding is that many legislators have free gifts of Stainless Steel BBQue grills that were built at the Stainless Steel Plant at the Boyd Unit and not years ago.

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