Romney's Failure To Capitalize On Rick Perry's Ethics Record May Be For His Own Good

September 21, 2011 4:59 pm ET — Alan Pyke

After Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) invited questions about his spotty ethics record with a bad joke about his asking price at last week's GOP debate, it was odd that Mitt Romney didn't jump on the opportunity to call attention to Perry's history of doing favors for his campaign boosters. A story from The Daily Beast offers an explanation for Romney's decision to sit this one out: At least one of these stories could blow back on Romney himself.

It might be hard to imagine after last week's GOP presidential slugfest, but there was a time not too long ago when a group headed by Mitt Romney quietly-and a judge says illegally-helped Rick Perry's political career in Texas and set the stage for his new nemesis to rise on the national stage. [...]

[C]ourt files reviewed by The Daily Beast stat[e] that Romney was personally aware of the origins of the $1 million donation from a Texas homebuilder at the heart of the controversy, and that he discussed it with Perry's campaign aides.

In the fall of 2006, Perry was engaged in an unexpectedly tight reelection race for Texas governor. Romney, a fellow governor from Massachusetts, was running the Republican Governors Association, helping GOP incumbents try to keep their jobs in a tough election swayed by discontent over Iraq, Bush fatigue, and economic uncertainty in an unstable mortgage market.

Perry was in need of fresh funds for advertising in the final weeks, and he had the perfect source: millionaire Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, the man who just two years earlier had helped underwrite the Swift Boat attack ads that damaged John Kerry's standing among veterans in the 2004 presidential race that tipped to George W. Bush. (The Perrys are not related.) [...]

According to court records, the money from Bob Perry sent to the RGA was routed to the governor's campaign in two $500,000 chunks. The last check for $500,000 was personally delivered to Rick Perry in Washington by Romney's executive director at the RGA, Phil Musser, the court records say.

Bob Perry's deep pockets are a favorite source of funding for bare-knuckle GOP operations. In addition to bankrolling the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, he's one of the biggest single backers of Karl Rove's "Crossroads" groups today. Bob Perry's spokesman told The Daily Beast that the million-dollar RGA donation that Mitt Romney apparently laundered into Rick Perry's 2006 campaign account fit "Bob Perry's normal donation behavior with the RGA," and that his boss "had supported the RGA long before Governor Perry's 2006 campaign." But neither claim appears to be true, according to local watchdogs Texans for Public Justice, who provided the inset graphic.

Bob Perry's single $10,000 donation in 2003 was followed by two years of no RGA donations, and then in 2006 he suddenly began throwing cash at the organization. The donation in question was the first time he'd given a cool million to the group in a single contribution. While Gov. Perry's collaboration with Bob Perry on an industry-friendly home construction oversight panel is some of the most fertile territory in the Perry/ethics universe, Romney's involvement in this episode makes it less likely the former Massachusetts governor will press this particular line of attack.