Perry’s ability to raise $102 million in his gubernatorial campaigns from this network of wealthy Texans has helped him position himself as a leader in the Republican presidential field. Veteran campaign hands say that in national fundraising, Perry must lean heavily on this old network while expanding it beyond Texas.
He also will have to deal with mounting criticism that his administration has rewarded large donors with favors that have enhanced their personal and business interests. Public interest groups contend that the linkage is too strong to be explained by the business-friendly climate that Perry has worked hard to create.
“Perry has taken it to a whole new level,” said Public Citizen’s director in Texas, Tom Smith. “Time after time, there’s often a direct link between Perry’s decisions and payments to his campaign coffers.”
Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the governor alone does not make the decisions that helped certain businesses. Independent state officials and commissions are often involved, he said.
“These issues have been looked into before, and there’s never been any wrongdoing substantiated,” Miner said. “These are political accusations.”
The Washington Post looked at Perry’s top 50 donors, who collectively gave more than $21 million, and found that 34 received some benefit from Perry’s administration or the state, including grants, contracts and appointments. The donor list was compiled by the nonprofit Texans for Public Justice.
Twenty-three donors won Perry’s appointment to state boards, often the boards of regents at the University of Texas or Texas A&M.
Roughly one in three of the top Perry donors had business interests that secured grants, tax subsidies or project approvals under his administration, the Post review found. Five donors gained both an appointment and a state boost to their specific company or interests.
Holt, who owns the nation’s largest Caterpillar dealership, urged Perry to lure a Caterpillar manufacturing plant to Texas, and a company official told reporters in an interview last year that such a plant would help the dealership get equipment. Perry’s office agreed in 2008 to award an $8.5 million incentive grant for a proposed new Caterpillar factory promising 1,714 jobs.
Holt said in an e-mail that the plant’s move to Texas would not directly benefit his dealership.