Gov. Perry Is Right: $5,000 Is Way Below Market Price For His Political Favor

September 14, 2011 6:07 pm ET — Alan Pyke

When Gov. Rick Perry's (R-TX) attempt to curtail cervical cancer by vaccinating Texas schoolgirls against HPV came up at the Reagan Library debate early this month, Perry looked straight into the camera and deadpanned, "I hate cancer." That line drowned out the vaccine story, but only for a week.

At Monday's CNN/Tea Party debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) got applause when she attacked Perry for forcing "innocent little 12-year-old girls ... to have a government injection" after the vaccine's manufacturer had given "thousands of dollars" to Perry's campaign. Looking for another TV-friendly line to neutralize the story, Perry responded by saying, "If you're saying that I can be bought for five thousand, I'm offended."

The line not only failed to blunt the attack — Bachmann's sharp rejoinder and Rick Santorum's pile-on were the story the next day — but it invited an obvious, uncomfortable question: How much does it cost to buy Rick Perry? The Gardasil story may be just about dead, as Dave Weigel argues, but the pay-to-play stories out of Texas that led CREW to rank Perry among the nation's most unethical governors haven't had a cable news close-up yet. Here's a taste:

  • Perry's Price To Import Nuclear Waste To Texas: $1.1 Million. A board comprised of Perry appointees voted this year to allow the importation of low-level radioactive waste to Texas from other states. As the Austin American-Statesman reported at the time, that decision is a windfall for a company controlled by Harold Simmons, who has "given at least $1.12 million to [Perry's] campaigns since 2001, making him the second-highest individual donor during that period."
  • Perry's Political Appointees Are Also Bankrolling Him To The Tune Of $17 Million. According to state ethics watchdog Texans for Public Justice, Perry received $17,115,865 from political appointees or their spouses between 2001 and mid-2010. Roughly one in every four Perry appointees is a campaign donor, and his appointees donated $1 of every $5 his gubernatorial campaign raised in that time.
  • Perry "Helped Push Through" A "Controversial Body Handling Complaints Against Homebuilders" And Took Millions From Texas Construction Magnate. That description of the Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC) comes from the Houston Chronicle's guide to the 2006 gubernatorial election. The money comes from Texas construction magnate Bob Perry (no relation), who has given millions to Rick Perry's various fundraising enterprises over the subsequent years, according to Texans for Public Justice. They add that the TRCC legislation was drafted by Bob Perry's general counsel, who Gov. Perry later appointed to serve on the commission, and that the TRCC was abolished in 2009 after the state determined the panel was protecting builders from complaints.
  • Perry's Friends And Campaign Donors Helped Sweeten His Horseshoe Bay Land Deal By $500,000. An investigation by the Dallas Morning News used a real estate expert to independently appraise a property in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, that Perry sold for nearly a million dollars in profit. According to the DMN investigation, Perry bought the land for $150,000 below market value from "a friend and political ally," and then sold it for $350,000 above market value to a third man with similar political ties.

Even if his Horseshoe Bay profits were sheer luck — and from reading the feature-length Dallas Morning News investigation, that seems incredibly unlikely — Perry will still have to explain how his experience appointing campaign donors to public office and greasing the skids for their nuclear waste deals qualifies him to run the country. And it won't just be the Bachmanns and Santorums of the world who want answers this time.