PAC's use of UT name questioned Group's leader denies wrongdoing, says letterhead had misprint

By KAREN BROOKS, Austin Bureau
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
October 7, 2004

AUSTIN - Current and former University of Texas System officials held a fund-raiser Wednesday for a powerful state representative in a hotly contested race, sparking debate over whether the system's political action committee inappropriately used the UT name to help his campaign.

UT Board of Regents Chairman James Huffines was one of five men who signed an invitation to a $250-a-person fund-raiser at his Austin house on "Friends of the University of Texas System PAC" letterhead. He is not on the PAC board.

The proceeds are intended for the campaign of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston. He is in a tight battle against Houston Democrat Hubert Vo.

The PAC's chairman, former UT Chancellor Bill Cunningham, said that the name on the letterhead was a misprint and that it was dropped when the mistake was discovered a few days ago. The name of the PAC is "Friends of the University."

No UT resources were used, and no paid UT administrators were involved in the event, said Dr. Cunningham, a UT-Austin marketing professor.

But Mr. Vo and Common Cause Texas, a political watchdog group, said Mr. Huffines' involvement and the name on the letterhead were tantamount to using the UT name for political gain.

"The issue here is that they [the system officials] are using their influence on behalf of Talmadge Heflin," said Suzy Wofford, executive director of the watchdog group, "and making sure he remembers that they were able to generate a lot of money for his campaign and help him be victorious."

Through a spokesman, Mr. Huffines, who was appointed chairman by Gov. Rick Perry, said he has held similar fund-raisers for other politicians in the last 20 years.

Mr. Cunningham said Mr. Huffines' actions on behalf of Mr. Heflin are not surprising.

"We all know that chairmen of the Board of Regents have been involved in politics for many years, so this is not exactly a news flash," he said. "Being on the board of regents doesn't imply that they've given up their rights to be involved in the political process."

E-mail kmbrooks@dallasnews.com