My colleague Marc Thiessen doesn’t like the source of much of the data on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s system of patronage. He claims that Texans for Public Justice is a “secretive, left-wing, Soros-funded organization,”and their reports should be ignored.

There are three problems with this. A great deal of the data has been reported elsewhere. The Post and Texas papers, as well as other publications, have confirmed the system of pay-to-play that keeps Perry’s big donors very happy. The facts are the facts, no matter what the motives of those compiling them. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchnson (R-Tex.) also raised the issue in the 2010 campaign. In Texas Perry’s activities may have passed muster, but now he’s got to justify this conduct to a national electorate.

Second, Perry’s handlers have only said that he appoints people on the basis of merit. That’s it. Voters will have to judge, given the huge number of appointees and the correlation with big donations, if this is believable.

And finally, arguing that the same group investigated President George W. Bush is a non sequitor. A I noted in the report, TPJ says that both Govs. Ann Richards and George W. Bush engaged in some of this, but Perry’s is on a grander scale. Moreover, Perry is running as a Tea Party candidate. He can’t simply get by by saying “this is how it’s done in Texas.”

I understand all too well the inclination among conservatives to shelter Perry from criticism. But only Perry can put these and many other issues to bed. A savvy Republican operative (who previously was enthusiastic about Perry and is now undecided) said it best to me this afternoon. “If he gets better and explains all this he’ll be the nominee. And if not, he won’t be.”Yup.