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Right Turn
Posted at 08:15 AM ET, 09/19/2011

Perry: Tea Partyer in name only?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry doesn’t live here. He doesn’t live here either. But he does live here:

Perry digs cost Texas big bucks: kxan.com

Now columnist Tom Friedman and former vice president Al Gore (the owners of the first two homes) may be global-warming hypocrites, but at least they paid for their homes themselves. Perry, who is running as a Tea Party darling, has charged his digs to the taxpayers, despite millions earned in well-timed real estate deals.

Jay Root, a Texas reporter, wrote for the Associated Press in May 2010:

With the state facing a budget shortfall of at least $11 billion, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent almost $600,000 in public money during the past two years to live in a sprawling rental home in the hills above the capital, according to records obtained by the Associated Press.
It costs more than $10,000 a month in rent, utilities and upkeep to house Perry in a five-bedroom, seven-bath mansion that has pecan-wood floors, a gourmet kitchen and three dining rooms. Perry has also spent $130,000 in campaign donations to throw parties, buy food and drink, and pay for cable TV and a host of other services since he moved in, the records show.
The public spending on Perry’s rental comes as the state grapples with a budget shortfall. The governor has asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 5 percent, and the Republican House speaker has begun to consider furloughs and shortened workweeks for state employees.
Ethics watchdogs say Perry’s campaign may have violated state disclosure laws because of the vague way he’s reported what his staff calls “incidental” spending at the mansion. . . .
Perry dismissed such criticism with a laugh when asked by the AP about the costs of living in the exclusive Estates of Barton Creek neighborhood in west Austin: “If that’s the best cut anybody’s got of leadership in the state of Texas, then bring it on.”
Texas’ longest-serving governor moved into his temporary home in the fall of 2007, leaving the governor’s mansion so it could undergo repairs. A still-unsolved arson wrecked the 1856 residence less than a year later, and officials say it will take two more years to finish its reconstruction.
His 6,386-square-foot rental sits on more than 3 acres and was advertised in 2007 for sale at $1.85 million.
All told, taxpayers have spent at least $592,000 for rent, utilities, repairs, furnishings and supplies. . . .
The governor’s staff said Perry, who earns $150,000 a year as governor, has cut back on some luxuries in response to the state’s tight finances.
Spokeswoman Allison Castle said he has just one housekeeper, one full-time chef — although a second chef works part time — and a mansion administrator who left and was not replaced.
Along with a steward, the salaries for the five mansion employees cost taxpayers $195,770 a year, records show.
The governor’s security detail occupies the guesthouse.
Castle also said Perry and his wife lessen the burden on taxpayers by using campaign funds to pay for their expenses and reimburse the fund for their food.

Those donors, who are allowed to give unlimited amounts under Texas law, are treated very well by the governor.

Perry’s living expenses and his travel records (sealed in a last-minute measure attached to a critical school spending measure) wouldn’t be so much of an issue if he didn’t attempt to represent a movement that rails at politicians’ abuse of the taxpayers’ wallets.

In fact, very little about Perry conforms to the Tea Party ethos. Since he was elected to the state legislature in 1984, he’s worked for the state of Texas. He extols the free market, but as Rich Lowry wrote: “Republicans will have to quickly drop the phrase ‘crony capitalism’ from their vocabulary if he’s the nominee.” That is because he has forged a relationship with donor-owned businesses that are the beneficiaries of large chunks of taxpayer cash, in a set-up that conjures up the image of the Solyndra-style politics for which President Obama is now under attack.

Charles Dameron, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explained:

Among the companies that the Emerging Technology Fund has invested in is Convergen LifeSciences Inc. It received a $4.5 million grant last year — the second-largest grant in the history of the fund. The founder and executive chairman of Convergen is David G. Nance.
In 2009, when Mr. Nance submitted his application for a $4.5 million Emerging Technology Fund grant for Convergen, he and his partners had invested only $1,000 of their own money into their new company, according to documentation prepared by the governor’s office in February 2010. But over the years, Mr. Nance managed to invest a lot more than $1,000 in Mr. Perry. Texas Ethics Commission records show that Mr. Nance donated $75,000 to Mr. Perry’s campaigns between 2001 and 2006.
The regional panel that reviewed Convergen’s application turned down the company’s $4.5 million request when it presented its proposal on Oct. 7, 2009. But Mr. Nance appealed that decision directly to a statewide advisory committee (of which Mr. Nance was once a member) appointed by Mr. Perry. Just eight days later, on Oct. 15, a subcommittee unanimously recommended approval by the full statewide committee.

In Texas none of this has inhibited the governor’s political success. But, then, Texas has always been a place where a rural boy could become a politician and get rich.

The most famous example in Texas history, of course was LBJ, whose climb to power and substantial wealth has been documented at length by historian Robert A. Caro. As Jack Shafer (recently laid off from Slate) wrote in 2007:

In 1943, the year Lady Bird Johnson purchased KTBC, the Federal Communications Commission, which reviewed all broadcast-license transfers, was close to being abolished, Caro writes. Lyndon Johnson used his political influence in both Congress and the White House to prevent that from happening. The FCC was among the most politicized agencies in the government, Caro asserts, and it knew who its friends were.

Lyndon Johnson made his fortune on radio and later TV stations. By contrast, Perry has made a mint while in public office by land deals aided by his political affiliations. Jay Root, again, explained: “Perry was not born into wealth and while he has drawn relatively modest pay as an elected official since 1985, he has made a small fortune on land transactions, some with the help of rich and politically connected friends.” And in this, some familiar names pop up :

In 1995, Perry sold a 9.3-acre tract in Austin to Dell, with Mike Toomey, an influential Texas lobbyist and longtime confidante, representing him at the sale. Dell bought the property for $465,000 and got access to important municipal sewage infrastructure. Perry had bought the property for a reported $122,000 in 1993, giving him a $343,000 profit.
A little more than a year later, acting on a tip from Gary Bradley, the flashy Austin developer, Perry bought 60 acres of land southwest of Austin. He sold the tract less than three years later for a profit of $239,000. Bradley’s real estate empire went into bankruptcy in 2002.

Yes, that’s the same Mike Toomey who once served as his chief of staff, was later a lobbyist for Merck (which stood to make big money on an HPV mandatory vaccine program), jointly owns an island with Perry campaign impresario David Carney and now runs Perry’s super-PAC.

Perry and his close-knit group of advisers have never had much problem deflecting criticism over these matters. (In Texas no one has ever shown Perry’s conduct to be illegal.) But then Perry has never run for president. What is legal in Texas may not pass the smell test outside Texas.

By  |  08:15 AM ET, 09/19/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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