Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been criticized for his most recent budget, which is heavy on gimmicks and postponed dealing with a real structural deficit. His aim was to make his books look as clean as possible going into a presidential run. Now it appears he’s doing the same thing on his presidential campaign.
Perry reported that he brought in $17 million but spent only $2 million. That frankly raised some eyebrows both in opposition campaigns and among outside political operatives who have viewed Perry’s operation, rather constant jet travel and large security entourage. In looking over his Federal Election Commission filings, I noticed that some staffers weren’t listed on payroll, including Ray Sullivan, the campaign’s communications director. I asked Sullivan if he was getting paid. He responded via e-mail: “Yes, but I just received a first payment a few days ago.” That would be after the close of the quarter. Well, what about other staff? He answered, “The campaign payroll started Sept. 1, and we’re paying for work performed — not paying in advance — so in most cases the first payroll checks went out in October. As you know, the cutoff for the report was the end of Sept.”
After reviewing the figures, an experienced Republican insider who is supporting another candidate told me, “He is punting payments to make it appear that they have more cash on hand.”
There is nothing illegal here, but it’s the sort of sleight-of-hand budgeting that values the appearance of thrift over transparency.
I also asked Sullivan if all of the travel was listed. Perry has been frequently traveling in a private jet, but his FEC filings don’t seem to capture all his trips. Sullivan answered, “Our campaign travel is paid in a timely manner, but I suspect some bills and invoices were not received or due prior to cutoff.” I’d suspect that, too.
I had previously asked about the governor’s very large and visible security detail. That, it turns out, is paid for entirely by Texas taxpayers. Sullivan told me that the campaign is treating “security the same as previous governors, George W. Bush being the most recent example. The state security detail is funded by the state.” What is extraordinary about Perry, however, is the eye-popping size of his security detail.
Perry has never been shy about asking Texas taxpayers to pick up the tab or letting them know how much of their money he’s spending. He’s denied Texas taxpayers and the entire media a look at past travel expenses as governor, citing “security” concerns.
The Post reported in August, “The security forces scout and secure locations days in advance. Well before the governor’s visit to Tommy’s Country Ham House in Greenville, S.C., the weekend of Aug. 20, more than a half-dozen suited and armed agents were giving orders to the crowd of more than 400.” Perry used his sway with the Republican-dominated legislature to seal off his records from view:
How much is this ever-present phalanx of state policemen costing the taxpayers of Texas? They won’t know at least until after next year’s presidential election, thanks to a provision, tucked into a school finance bill in July, that will keep the governor’s travel records sealed for 18 months.
Although security around public officials has been tightened considerably since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the secrecy that surrounds Perry’s travels is unique, according to Ken Bunting, executive director of the Missouri-based National Freedom of Information Coalition.
And the governor’s critics contend that it has as much to do with politics as safety — especially after the embarrassment for Perry when taxpayers learned that they had been paying for scuba gear and golf cart rentals for officers who accompanied Perry and his wife to the Bahamas
So the bottom line is that Perry has shifted costs from his third quarter forward and to the Texas taxpayers. While it’s made his books look better and him more frugal, the reality is that the actual amount he has to spend before the first round of caucuses and primaries is less than $15 million. How much less? Well, we don’t know. Moreover, he’s gotten a benefit that no other candidate enjoys — a taxpayer-funding security phalanx. Given his single-digit showing in some national and state polls, Perry and his superPAC may find it increasingly hard to raise more funds. Like the Texas budget, Perry’s campaign finances aren’t really as good as they appear.