Rick Perry criticised for fund-raising gifts


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The Independent US

Rick Perry, suddenly the front-runner in the Republican nomination stakes, last month described Washington as a "seedy place" he didn't care for.

Yet something similar, critics are beginning to cry, might apply to the manner in which he has raised chests of cash for his successive gubernatorial campaigns in Texas.

As he embarks on the task of expanding his fund-raising machine nationally, Mr Perry said this to reassure a group of potential evangelical donors at a private dinner near Austin last weekend: "I can assure you that there is nothing in my life that will embarrass you if you decide to support me for President."

But it is precisely allegations of a barely disguised pay-for-play climate in Texas since Governor Perry took office in late 2000 that some analysts see as his biggest vulnerability as he reaches for the White House, even if, thanks to lax fund-raising laws in the state, there has been no suggestion of campaign criminality.

New details of Perry donors also benefiting from favours such as positions on state bodies, tax breaks, grants or state contracts emerge almost daily, many uncovered by national news organisations. According to The Washington Post, drawing on research by Texans for Public Justice, 34 of his top 50 Texan donors, who have collectively given him $21m (£14m), have taken with the other hand from state government. "Perry has taken it to a whole new level," commented Tom Smith, Texas director of another watchdog group, Public Citizen. "There's often a direct link between Perry's decisions and payments to his campaign coffers."

One figure under the microscope is his No 1 donor, Bob Perry, no relation. The owner of Perry Homes is on the record donating $100,000 to the governor at a time when he was lobbying for the creation of a new commission charged in part with limiting the ability of home-buyers to sue builders for faulty construction. (The house builder has written $2m in cheques in total for the Governor.) When the commission was born, a top Perry Homes executive was appointed to its board.

More troubling may be an exclusive report by Reuters suggesting that Governor Perry attempted to subvert a commission charged with authorising a west Texas dump run by the Texas billionaire and big donor Harold Simmons to accept low-grade nuclear waste from 36 US states. Previously, only waste from Vermont was allowed. As a decision loomed, a key opponent on the commission, Bobby Gregory, owner of another landfill company, was offered a prestigious post as a state university regent.

Accepting would have taken him off the commission, but he declined. A lawyer for Mr Gregory confirmed to the news agency that the approach happened. The nuclear transfer project went ahead anyway.

"Governor Perry makes appointments based on the qualifications of an individual and his or her ability to serve in Texans' best interests, nothing more," Catherine Frazier, a Perry spokeswoman, responded. "The project was approved overwhelmingly by the Texas legislature, and has the support of the local community."