During the latest Republican presidential debate, Rick Perry was annoyed by Michele Bachmann’s suggestion that he was a low-rent politician: “I raise about $30 million. And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”
The $5,000 amount apparently came from news stories that Merck gave a campaign contribution of $5,000 on the same day that Perry’s staff had met for a briefing on Gardasil, a vaccine which Merck was then promoting for HPV, a sexually transmitted disease which can cause cervical cancer later in life. Shortly after the campaign contribution was made, Perry used an executive order to mandate that all sixth grade girls in Texas be given this vaccine, at a cost of $360 for a series of three shots.
The proven efficacy of the vaccine is for four years, it immunizes the person receiving the vaccine against 70% of the various strains of the HPV virus, and about 70% of cases of cervical cancer are related to the HPV virus. Since only 3,700 women die each year from cervical cancer in the US, and Texas makes up 8% of the population of the US, at best the vaccine can only save 145 woman a year in Texas¹–and this is assuming that the vaccine’s effectiveness is more than just four years. While any cancer death is regrettable (note that both my parents died of cancer), from a cost-benefit standpoint the mandate could not possibly be a wise investment of funds. Further, at the time of Perry’s mandate, the vaccine had just been approved by the FDA and not been adequately tested for use for children as young as 11 or 12. All in all, there was an appearance of a rush to judgment on Perry’s part. A more responsible public official would have put Gardasil on the list of recommended vaccines, and then let parents and individual decide if the vaccine was right for them.
Perry’s defense for his actions are that he hates cancer (don’t we all), that he went about things the wrong way by bypassing the state legislature (but presumably still thinks the mandate was a good idea), and that money could not have been a factor in his decision because he only received $5,000.
However, Perry did not just receive $5,000 from Merck.
In truth, Merck has contributed $29,500 directly to Perry while he has been governor, and $22,000 of this money came prior to Perry’s 2007 mandate. Further, Perry has received funds indirectly from Merck through the Republican Governors Association. According to Texans for Public Justice,
[Merck] also has kicked in $377,000 to the Republican Governor’s Association since 2006, the year Perry became involved as a driving force behind the organization’s fundraising. The RGA has given Perry $4 million, more than any other source of funds during his decade in office, according to TPJ.
The bit about the Republican Governors Association (RGA) needs some explanation.
Rick Perry first took an interest in the RGA in 2006, becoming its primary fundraiser until he stepped down as the chair of the organization in order to run for president this year, and he has been the biggest beneficiary of RGA campaign contributions. Contributions to the RGA are not set aside for a particular candidate or campaign, and the funds are co-mingled once they get into the RGA’s coffers, so it is impossible to establish the existence of any quid pro quo. However, as someone who was an integral part of the RGA’s finances since 2006, Perry would have known of Merck’s contributions–and may indeed have been the person who steered Merck to the RGA.
While Merck was a big beneficiary of Perry’s largess, the overall pattern of contributions to the RGA which are then funneled to Perry suggests that Perry is very much a part of the play to pay culture of American politics. While Perry claims to be for the people, his real constituency seems to be other politicians, lobbyists, and wealthy businessmen.
For example, one of Rick Perry’s biggest campaign supporters over the years has been Houston home-builder Bob Perry (no relation). Bob Perry began pouring money into the Rick Perry campaign through the RGA in 2006:
The biggest contributor: Houston home builder Bob Perry (no relation), who has shelled out $11.45 million.
The timing of some of Bob Perry’s RGA donations have been questioned. In October 2006, he made three contributions totaling $1.55 million. Around the same time, the RGA directed a last-minute infusion of $1 million into Rick Perry’s re-election campaign, as the Houston Chronicle first reported.
Bob Perry could have given the funds directly to the governor, as there are no contribution limits in Texas. But at the time, Rick Perry was attacking his Democratic challenger, Chris Bell, for accepting $1 million from a trial attorney “sugar daddy.”
Bell subsequently sued both the Perry re-election effort and the RGA, alleging that the donation was cloaked. Last year, the Perry campaign paid Bell $426,000 to settle the suit. A Travis County judge found the RGA guilty of violating campaign finance laws and ordered the organization to pay Bell $2 million. The group is appealing.
Bob Perry had been lobbying for tort reform legislation and reform of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. According to Texans for Public Justice (TPJ), Bob Perry’s association with Rick Perry has had other dividends as well:
Bob Perry … sought and received his own regulatory agency. Texas lawmakers created the Texas Residential Construction Commission in 2003. The agency ostensibly was supposed to mediate disputes between the buyers and builders of new homes. But construction defects made a lemon of this lemon-home agency. John Krugh, Bob Perry’s general counsel, helped draft legislation to create the agency. Governor Perry then skewed the agency’s foundation by only appointing housing-industry representatives—including Krugh—to the new commission. “In Texas you can buy your own state agency, then regulate yourself,” Houston Democratic Rep. Garnet Coleman quipped at the time. The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews bureaucracies to see if they should be eliminated, issued a scathing 2008 review, finding that the Construction Commission tied up lemon-home buyers in red tape. In a rare move, the legislature abolished the agency in 2009.
Another high-roller has been Dallas businessman Harold Simmons. According to the Houston Chronicle,
Simmons owns a radioactive waste facility fast-tracked by legislation approved by Texas lawmakers and signed by Perry this year. His company, Contran, contributed $250,000 to the RGA on June 27.
TPJ notes that Simmons has contributed $3 million to Perry/RGA over the years, and gives more information about the radioactive waste facility:
Simmons’ Waste Control Specialists successfully lobbied the legislature in 2003 to create a private monopoly franchise for a low-level nuclear waste dump. Governor Perry’s Texas Commission on Environmental Quality appointees awarded Waste Control that license in 2009. Overruling their staff (including three who quit in protest), Perry appointees expanded Waste Control’s license in recent years to take a broad spectrum of civilian and military radioactive junk. Waste Control’s original license just covered waste from Texas and Vermont, Texas’ waste-compact partner. A Perry-appointed majority of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact Commission voted in 2011 to open Waste Control’s dump to 36 other states. Worried about the outcome of that vote, Reuters reported that Perry’s office offered to appoint Commissioner Bob Gregory to be a university regent to prevent him from voting against that plan. Gregory turned down the appointment and cast one of two votes against expanding Simmons’ waste stream. Simmons now owns what has become the nation’s default low-level nuclear waste dump. “It took us six years to get legislation on this passed,” Simmons told the Dallas Business Journal. “We first had to change the law to where a private company can own a license [to handle radioactive waste], and we did that. Then we got another law passed that said they can only issue one license. Of course, we were the only ones that applied.”
There are also questions about campaign contributions and Perry’s misbegotten Trans-Texas Corridor plan, a $145 billion program that would have turned Texas freeways into toll-roads controlled by Cintra-Zachry, a joint venture of Cintra, which is a Spanish toll-road operator, and Zachry, which is a Texas construction company. According to TPJ,
Before public outcry forced Perry’s Texas Department of Transportation to officially pronounce the TTC to be road kill in 2009, the agency awarded contracts to finance and build two TTC segments. The companies that got those financing and construction contracts included crossover donors Williams Brothers Construction ($621,000 to Perry/RGA), Parsons Corp. ($410,000 to Perry/RGA) and JPMorgan Chase ($191,500).
Not even Perry’s beloved Texas Enterprise Fund has escaped scrutiny, and questions about it were raised during his 2010 campaign for governor by his opponents, including Tea Party candidate Debra Medina:
For the past six years, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has lorded over a controversial stash of taxpayer money known as the Texas Enterprise Fund, dispensing huge sums—$345 million and counting—to large corporations, ostensibly to spur job growth. Critics call it the governor’s slush fund. “He takes from us so that he can play with his corporate slush fund and award his friends’ businesses,” said Debra Medina, one of Perry’s two challengers for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, at a recent candidate’s debate.
As pointed out by the Texas Observer:
20 of the 55 Enterprise Fund companies have either given money directly to Perry’s campaign (through their political action committees or executives) or donated to the Republican Governors Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group that Perry presided over in 2008.
The 20 companies have received a combined $174.2 million from the Enterprise Fund. During the same time period, those 20 corporations have donated $2.2 million to Perry and the governors association. Several companies made donations around the time they received grants from the Enterprise Fund. It’s even possible that taxpayer money from the fund came full circle into Perry’s own campaign.
So, going back to the premise of this article, Rick Perry cannot be bought for $5,000. However, if you are a businessman and are willing to donate $190,000 or more to the RGA, he is your man.
(Note: The attempt to exploit the tragedy of Heather Burcham to divert attention away from Merck’s campaign contributions to Perry will be addressed in the following post.)
¹ 3,700 deaths X 70% of the various HPV viruses X 70% of cases of cervical cancer related to the HPV virus X 8% of the population of the US.
- Rick Perry’s bad, Obama-style medicine (michellemalkin.com)
- Gardasil (blogs.dailymail.com)
- Yes, cancer sucks. But… (michellemalkin.com)
- Rick Perry’s misleading statements about his HPV vaccine support (crooksandliars.com)