Perry in D.C.: chats, checks
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
By TODD J. GILLMAN / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON – Texas Gov. Rick Perry helped raise $10.4 million Monday night for the Republican Governors Association – a tenfold payback for two big checks the group sent in the final days of last fall's re-election fight.
"We like setting records in Texas," Mr. Perry boasted to hundreds of guests at the gala, explaining that he'd had a little help smashing the group's record by $2 million. "It's called the Democrat Congress. Their strategy is to tax and to spend and to regulate and to litigate. And I happen to think that's the wrong vision for America."
Two hours earlier, Mr. Perry had wrapped up a meeting with a half-dozen members of the Texas congressional delegation, three from each party. He told reporters he'd found much common ground with members of both parties on issues of energy, federal funding for health care programs, and immigration and border security. Even the Democrats agreed.
But this is Washington, where partisans shift from collaboration to confrontation in a heartbeat.
President Bush, the keynoter for the fundraising dinner, lauded his successor's efforts.
"This is a record-setting evening, and it took an extraordinary leader from a great state to convince you to contribute," Mr. Bush told hundreds of guests at the National Building Museum. "I've set a big agenda here in Washington, D.C. ... But my political agenda is this: more Republican governors, take back control of the House and the Senate, and make sure we keep the White House in 2008."
Mr. Perry said he'd do his part, by raising money to elect more GOP governors.
"I'm not spending a lot of energy on it. I'm just very efficient," he told Texas reporters before the dinner, adding that donors have been very receptive. "I call, and they think it's a good association."
The three-day weekend in Washington gave Mr. Perry a small respite from controversies raging back home. He outraged fellow Texas conservatives, for instance, by trying to require vaccinations against the virus that causes cervical cancer for all Texas school girls. Vaccine-maker Merck & Co., whose Austin lobbyist is a former Perry chief of staff, donated $50,000 to Monday's dinner.
Mr. Perry was a top governors association beneficiary last year, receiving $1 million weeks before winning another term with 39 percent of the vote.
The timing of the donations raised eyebrows, because they coincided closely with donations to the GOP governors group from Mr. Perry's biggest patron, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, no relation.
Texas law allows unlimited contributions, and Bob Perry gave the governor $275,000 last year.
On Oct. 6, he sent the group $1 million; 20 days later the group sent the governor $500,000. He sent another $550,000 on Oct. 31; one day later the Republican Governors Association sent the governor $500,000. In all, Bob Perry gave the association $2.05 million, federal records show, making him the group's top donor. All parties call the timing coincidental.
Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, said he thinks the money was to raise Rick Perry's national profile. "It all fits into the bigger picture of pay-to-play politics in Texas," he said.
After the election, GOP governors tapped Mr. Perry to chair their annual dinner – a top honor for a colleague who hadn't been especially active in the group.
The dinner program listed Bob Perry as a $100,000 sponsor.
Earlier Monday, the governor joined governors from both parties at the White House for a meeting with the president. And he attended a White House dinner for the governors the night before.
The 45-minute meeting with House members from Texas touched on funding for health coverage, and Mr. Perry reiterated his opposition to the 700-mile border fence approved last fall when Republicans controlled Congress.
"It was very productive," said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas.