Perry donors might be hazardous to healthGroup says he got $1M from tobacco, alcohol concerns and polluters
Nov. 3, 2007
By SUE GOETINCK AMBROSE / The Dallas Morning News
Despite his dream to accelerate cures for cancer, Gov. Rick Perry accepted more than $1 million in the last two years from company officials and lobby groups connected to substances that increase the risk of cancer.
The author and sponsors of Proposition 15, the legislation that would approve $3 billion in state funds for cancer prevention and research, also accepted contributions from similar donors.
Texans for Public Justice, a nonpartisan, nonprofit policy and research organization that tracks contributions, said that in 2005 and 2006, Mr. Perry accepted:
• $490,000 from alcohol distributors.
• $14,500 from tobacco interests.
• $731,000 from individuals with ties to coal or oil, electric power plants and the chemical industry.
According to the American Cancer Society, as alcohol intake rises, so does a woman's risk of breast cancer. Alcohol is also known to increase the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and liver.
Smoking accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths and almost 90 percent of lung cancer deaths. Smoking is also associated with increases in at least 15 types of cancer, including pancreatic, bladder and kidney cancer.
A 2006 study correlated Texas air levels of metals released during burning of fossil fuels in power plants, incinerators and automobiles with lung cancer. Mr. Perry has endorsed increases in coal-fired power plants in Texas, which emit soot that increases the risk of lung cancer.
"The obvious issue here ... is there are a couple of ways you could wage war on cancer," said TPJ research director Andrew Wheat. "And one way is prevention, which might be more of a sure thing and might be cheaper."
The political necessity of returning favors to campaign contributors constrains what politicians can realistically accomplish, Mr. Wheat said. Rather than emphasizing curing cancer, he said, "we could regulate in a much more rigorous fashion the peddling of carcinogens in Texas."
A spokeswoman for Mr. Perry said she saw no conflict.
"Cancer is not a disease that discriminates based on any life choices that individuals make," said Krista Moody. "I think that it's a far reach that some contributors work for a company that has ties to possibly any disease."
The governor is supporting Proposition 15 because it provides Texas a chance to be at the forefront of cancer research, she said.
In addition, Texans for Public Justice said that groups affiliated with Texas medical research institutions have contributed campaign funds to Mr. Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick.
Together Mr. Perry, Mr. Dewhurst and Mr. Craddick will appoint nine of the 11 people who will oversee expenditures and operations for the cancer initiative. They will also appoint all voting members of the committee that will review research grant proposals and hand out funds.
In 2006, Southwestern Medical and Research PAC, which is affiliated with UT Southwestern Medical Center, contributed $16,000 to Mr. Perry, $5,000 to Mr. Dewhurst, and $11,000 to Mr. Craddick. Friends of Baylor Medicine PAC, affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, gave $12,500 to Mr. Perry, $10,000 to Mr. Dewhurst, and $7,500 to Mr. Craddick.
"Obviously, the medical research community in Texas has a massive interest in this," said Mr. Wheat. Research institutions within Texas will be competing for the money, and political appointees will decide who gets it. "I'm just not convinced that this political system is the best allocator of research dollars. It's not really their area of expertise."
Mr. Perry's spokeswoman said the contributions would not affect the choice of committee members.
"Campaign contributions are separate from public service," Ms. Moody said. The governor and the lieutenant governor and speaker will make choices of the most qualified candidates for the roles."