Governor Greg Abbott has opened the Texas governor's mansion to thousands of people for tours and official events since taking office last year, but the people who have received a more exclusive invite to dinner at the mansion have often been some of Abbott's top political donors.
The San Antonio Express-News reports that donors were at 13 of the 16 mansion dinners detailed in records provided by the governor's office. Those donors have given about $15 million to Abbott since 2000.
They include Fort Worth businessman Robert Allbritton and several key players in the energy industry: Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren, Chief Oil and Gas founder Trevor Rees-Jones, and Hilcorp Energy Company CEO Jeffery Hildebrand.
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The dinners ranged in size from one couple to 13 people.
"The records show that the overwhelming majority of the thousands of guests that the governor and first lady have welcomed to the mansion have not contributed a penny to his campaign," Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement.
Craig McDonald, director of the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, called the dinners another way for donors to get access.
"Lobbying and getting favors is about access and personal relationships, and this helps strengthen a personal relationship," McDonald said.
But former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Democrat, said he invited donors over to the mansion during his tenure as well.
"I didn't check the donor list before we invited anybody. I'm sure I had a lot of donors over there, too," White said. "They were friends, or there was some business reason for them to come over there.