The Influence Industry: Donors to Perry, close ally overlap by $5.5 million

September 21, 2011

The recent flap over Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s attempt to require a new vaccine for schoolgirls highlighted his relationship with a former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, who lobbied on behalf of the company that makes the drug.

But the ties between Toomey’s lobbying business and the Republican governor go far deeper than the vaccine case, according to new data compiled by a Texas watchdog group.

Toomey’s lobbying clients have given more than $5.5 million to Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns over the past decade, either through their political action committees or as donations from executives, according to data from Texans for Public Justice.

During that same period, Toomey earned as much as $17.4 million from his lobbying practice, which is focused on influencing the policies of the state government in Austin, records show.

The political careers of the two men have been closely entwined since they first roomed together as young state legislators in the mid-1980s. Toomey helped arrange a lucrative land deal for Perry in the 1990s that has frequently come under scrutiny, and he later worked as Perry’s chief of staff at the governor’s mansion.

Toomey is a co-founder of Make Us Great Again, a super PAC that plans to raise $55 million or more in support of Perry’s bid for the White House. He is also co-owner of a luxury resort island on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee with Dave Carney, one of Perry’s top strategists. (GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has a home on the same lake.)

Neither the Perry campaign nor Toomey responded to requests for comment.

Texans for Public Justice compiled a list of Toomey’s clients over the past decade and compared it with donors to Perry’s campaigns. The group found that 42 out of 105 Toomey clients donated a total of $5.53 million to Perry from 2001 to 2011, including the two years that Toomey worked as the governor’s chief of staff between lobbying stints.

Top contributors on the list include billionaire Harold C. Simmons of Waste Control Specialists ($1.1 million); George Brint and Amanda Ryan of Ryan & Co., a tax services firm ($563,000); and AT&T ($437,000).

“These people understand that this is a very efficient way to raise money,” said Andrew Wheat, research director at Texans for Public Justice. “It gets money to the governor; it gets influence to the clients. It works out well for all of those around the table.”

Many of the overlapping donors have benefited from Perry’s support. Simmons’s company, for example, secured permission to build a radioactive waste dump in 2008 with the help of Perry appointees. The governor also backs Dallas-based AT&T’s plans to merge with T-Mobile, a deal that the Justice Department is trying to block on antitrust grounds.

A PAC with a different goal

Speaking of Perry, the GOP front-runner already has several super PACs backing his candidacy. Now comes the first anti-Perry super PAC.

Texans for America’s Future, which filed papers with the Federal Election Commission this week, may be the first super PAC explicitly working against a particular GOP candidate.

“We believe he’s been bad for our state and would be worse for our country,” said founder Jeff Rotkoff, a Democratic consultant in Austin.

Big names join poker group

A new casino coalition pushing for the legalization of online poker has brought two big names in law enforcement on board: former FBI director Louis Freeh and former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge.

Fair Play USA was formed this summer with start-up money from Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International to build support for legalizing online poker.

Several overseas Internet gaming firms have been blocked from operating in the United States in recent months by the Justice Department, which said this week that one of them, Full Tilt Poker, amounted to “a global Ponzi scheme” that bilked players out of millions of dollars.

Pro-poker groups such as Fair Play USA argue that the crackdown underscores the need for a regulated system of legalized poker that would create jobs and tax revenue. Freeh and Ridge, who have joined the group’s advisory board, took part in a Capitol Hill news conference on the topic last week.

“The answer is to regulate aspects of online gaming and make clear what’s legal and what’s not legal,” Freeh said in an interview. “We need to give law enforcement clear authority so they can use scarce resources to target really serious gambling enterprises instead.”

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