The group is called CREW — for “Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington” — and Perry was one of eleven governors to make the worst list. His compatriots, in alphabetical order, were: Haley Barbour (R-MS) Donald Carcieri (R-RI) Jim Gibbons (R-NV) Bobby Jindal (R-LA) David Paterson (D-NY) Sonny Perdue (R-GA) Rick Perry (R-TX) Bill Richardson (D-NM) Mike Rounds (R-SD) Mark Sanford (R-SC) Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA). Sanford, Paterson, and Richardson would be on anybody’s list. CREW’s release includes brief profiles of each governor and his transgressions and a link to the full report. Here is the full report on Perry: Rick Perry (R-TX) assumed the office of governor of Texas in 2000 when George W. Bush became president. He was elected to a full four-year term in 2002, reelected in 2006 and is running again in 2010. Gov. Perry: • Allegedly disregarded campaign finance laws and aided a business that was especially generous to his campaign • Refused to operate transparently, and has blocked access to information related to a death penalty case • Rejected federal stimulus funds in a manner that appeared to put partisan politics ahead of the interests of the citizens of Texas • Has perpetuated the revolving door between government and special interests • Accepted travel and campaign donations from a business that received benefits from his official actions • Used campaign funds for a personal trip with questionable relevance to his campaign for office CHARGE ONE: CAMPAIGN FINANCE PROBLEMS A lawsuit filed by Christopher Bell, Gov. Perry’s opponent in the 2006 campaign for governor, alleged that errors in campaign finance reports obscured the source of $1 million in contributions. Attorneys for Mr. Bell further alleged that the $1 million in question, purportedly from the Republican Governors Association (RGA), was actually a conduit contribution from Texas homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation to the governor), who had cut a check to the RGA for the same amount just days earlier. According to Mr. Bell’s lawyers, the RGA deliberately misclassified the donation on campaign finance reports and “effectively kept anybody from knowing what was going on about these contributions.” Bob and Doylene Perry, owners of Perry Homes of Houston, have donated $840,000 directly to Gov. Perry’s campaign committee—not including the alleged $1 million contribution made through the RGA—and the Perrys’ industry seems to have benefited from the governor’s official actions. In 2003, Gov. Perry helped push through legislation creating the Texas Residential Construction Commission, a state body that is supposed to handle complaints against homebuilders. Within a month of receiving a $100,000 donation from Bob Perry, Gov. Perry appointed Perry Homes executive John R. Krugh—who reportedly helped write the law creating [the TRCC]. [Footnotes indicating sources have been omitted throughout] My comment: The creation of the TRCC ranks as the worst piece of special interest legislation to become law since I have been working at the Capitol. As most readers know, the commission died a deserved death in the Sunset process last session. CHARGE TWO: TRANSPARENCY AND THE DEATH PENALTY In 2009, Gov. Perry refused to release a clemency report prepared to help him to decide the fate of then-death row inmate Cameron Todd Willingham. Gov. Perry also took actions that shielded the public from important knowledge about how certain cases are investigated. Mr. Willingham was executed in 2004 after being convicted in the arson deaths of his three daughters. In October 2009, the Houston Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers filed a lawsuit against Gov. Perry for his refusal to release the clemency report, which was received by his office on the eve the governor denied Mr. Willingham a stay of execution. The governor argued the document was privileged. Soon after the execution forensic scientists raised serious doubts about the evidence used to convict Mr. Willingham—and questioned whether the fire was, in fact, arson. Controversy over the case reignited when Gov. Perry replaced members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which was investigating whether to improve the standards of arson investigators in light of the Willingham case. The governor’s move prompted accusations that he was covering up facts that could prove that Texas executed an innocent man. My comment: There can be no doubt that this was a cover-up. The governor replaced members of the commission (several of whose terms had expired) and named a political ally, Williamson County DA John Bradley, as the new chairman. Bradley has slow-played the commission’s work and has focused on the process rather than the substance of the issue. CHARGE THREE: REJECTING STIMULUS MONEY In March 2009, Gov. Perry announced that he would reject nearly $555 million in federal stimulus funds to expand state unemployment benefits, arguing that the money would increase the tax burden on Texas businesses. He did, however, accept most of the nearly $17 billion in federal aid set aside for his state. Texas currently covers the smallest percentage of unemployed workers of any state, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, with nearly four out of every five unemployed workers not qualifying for benefits. At least one business-backed tax group [I believe it was the Texas Association of Taxpayers] predicted that by rejecting the funds, the state would be forced to increase taxes on businesses to avoid a projected unemployment fund shortfall. The group said accepting the stimulus funds would have reduced the potential tax increase. My comment: The group’s political bias is showing. This charge has nothing to do with ethics. I wrote at the time that I thought Perry should have accepted the stimulus funds, because it would have reduced the tax liability of businesses at a time when businesses were hard-hit by the recession. Other business groups, such as the Texas Association of Business, opposed taking the stimulus funds because federal requirements to qualify for the $555M in stimulus funds would have cost $70M a biennium in the out years. This is a political issue, not an ethics issue. I disagree with Perry’s decision, but I don’t think it represents an ethical breach. CHARGE FOUR: REVOLVING DOOR Gov. Perry’s staff has made use of the revolving door; at least 17 of Gov. Perry’s former aides have entered the lobbying industry. For instance, in June 2009, Gov. Perry named former lobbyist Ray Sullivan as his chief of staff. Mr. Sullivan, employed by Gov. Perry earlier in his career, had left government to pursue a lobbying career, representing companies such as Exelon Power Texas, Banc Pass Inc., Global Options Inc. and HNTB Corp. On February 2, 2007, Gov. Perry issued an executive order mandating that all sixth-grade girls receive the human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil, a move opposed by a number of conservatives and some parents’ rights groups. The executive order also directed the state to provide the vaccine at no cost to girls between the ages of 9 and 18 who were uninsured or whose insurance did not cover the vaccine. Leading up to the order, Merck & Co., the distributor of Gardasil, doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and gave money to Women in Government, a group established to advocate for the vaccine. Gov. Perry’s former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, was one of three Merck lobbyists in Texas at the time. Merck’s political action committee also donated at least $6,000 to Gov. Perry’s reelection campaign. My comment: The Toomey connection was pretty blatant. The talk at the time was that Merck hoped that Perry’s executive order would enable the company to lobby other states to use Gardasil, which was developed to prevent cervical cancer. Perry’s decision to issue the order while the Legislature was in session was a tactical error. Lawmakers swiftly acted to nullify the order; had Perry acted during the interim, the order might have stood. Later, it became apparent that the order was premature: Gardasil was not ready for release at the time of Perry’s order, and the risks involved were not fully known or understood by the medical community. Another prominent lobbyist connection from Perry’s shop was Dan Shelley for CINTRA. Senator Hutchison ran ads featuring Perry’s cronyism, but they didn’t have any noticeable impact on the race. I don’t condone cronyism, and Perry practices it more enthusiastically than most governors have, but at some point one has to recognize that cronyism is part of politics, and it will always be with us. CHARGE FIVE: IMPROPER TIES TO THE POULTRY INDUSTRY In April 2008, Gov. Perry, apparently acting in the interests of poultry producer Lonnie Pilgrim, requested a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for certain ethanol mandates. Gov. Perry had met with Mr. Pilgrim one month earlier. Six days after the meeting, Mr. Pilgrim made a $100,000 contribution to the RGA, then chaired by Gov. Perry. About a month after Gov. Perry requested the waiver, Mr. Pilgrim donated $25,000 to the governor’s political action committee. Mr. Pilgrim even footed the bill for Gov. Perry and three aides to attend a June 24, 2008, news conference in Washington, D.C., to promote the waiver request. My comments: I don’t see anything wrong with Perry trying to get an EPA waiver for Bo Pilgrim. Pilgrim is a major employer in this state whose business has been adversely impacted by ethanol mandates that have driven up the cost of feed production. I do see a lot wrong in what appears to be a pay-to-play scheme. The Houston Chronicle reported that Pilgrim gave the Republican Governors Association — which was chaired by Perry at the time – $100,000 just weeks before Perry took the action with the EPA. CHARGE SIX: ETHICS INVESTIGATION In spring 2004, the Texas Ethics Commission opened an investigation of Gov. Perry to determine if he illegally spent political contributions on personal expenses. Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group that filed the complaint, accused Gov. Perry of using campaign funds to take a trip to the Bahamas with his wife and several staffers, a voyage unrelated to any campaign or official event. The Ethics Commission found, however, that Gov. Perry’s conversations on the trip — covering taxes, education and politics — were “clearly related” to his official duties and did not constitute a violation. My comment: This was pretty clearly a vacation, not a working retreat. However, Perry appoints half of the members of the Ethics Commission. He wasn’t going to get an adverse ruling. * * * * Perry’s ethics record is hardly a monument to transparency and good government. That said, however, he comes off pretty well when compared against the transgressions of his fellow governors on CREW’s list. For example: Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) * Allegedly laundered campaign contributions * Used his position to enrich himself and his family members Gov. Donald Carcieri (R-RI) * Hired his niece in violation of Rhode Island’s anti-nepotism laws * Violated campaign finance laws by soliciting subordinates, accepting luxury gifts, and missing a filing deadline * Impeded the public’s access to information and blocked pro-transparency legislation Gov. Jim Gibbons (R-NV) * Violated campaign finance law by accepting illegal corporate donations * Allegedly assaulted a waitress * Misused state resources in pursuit of an extra-marital affair Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) * Prevented the public release of government records and has fought legislation to make government more transparent * Weakened the authority of the state ethics board * Rewarded campaign donors with government jobs and contracts * Has been fined for ethics violations Gov. David Paterson (D-NY) * Accepted improper gifts * Testified falsely under oath * Acted with willful opacity in consequential state matters * Shielded a top aide from assault allegations Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-GA) * Accepted gifts and travel from lobbyists * Violated campaign finance laws * Failed to file complete personal financial disclosure information and supported a tax loophole that benefitted him personally * Allegedly thwarted an investigation by the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs * Appointed a business associate to a state position [Perry omitted] Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) * Used state investments to benefit political allies * Allowed pay-to-play scandals to plague his administration * Rewarded close associates with state positions or benefits, including providing a longtime friend and political supporter with a costly state contract * Failed to make state government more transparent Gov. Mike Rounds (R-SD) * Used his office for personal benefit * Abused state authority for the benefit of friends and family * Used a state plane to travel to his son’s basketball games Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) * Abused his office for his personal benefit and the benefit of his friends * Violated campaign finance laws by failing to report in-kind contributions and improperly converting campaign funds for personal use * Subordinated his responsibilities to his pursuit of an extramarital affair Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) * Used non-profit and campaign funds for personal benefit * Built cozy relationships with special interests * Created conflicts of interest by accepting a consulting position and doing state business with a company staffed by his former campaign aides * Provided state jobs to friends with dubious qualifications * Forced air pollution employees who were trying to protect the environment out of office * Vetoed bills to improve transparency in hospitals at the behest of powerful special interests Compared to some of these guys, Perry doesn’t look so bad.
Politics & Policy