Friday, November 23, 2007

Bob Perry's Money, Two Governors, and the Republican Governors Association

For a man determined to remain behind the scenes, Texas homebuilder and mega-GOP donor Bob Perry apparently just can't help himself.

The Austin American Statesman (a Cox Newspaper) had an editorial in its Thanksgiving Day edition that examined questions raised by Bob Perry's $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association and that association's subsequent contribution to Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry's re-election campaign last year.

Let's let the paper tell the tale:

Even by Texas standards, the Republican Governors Association’s argument that it isn’t a political committee is absurd. Not only absurd, it’s obscene.

Just before last year’s election, the association gave Gov. Rick Perry $1 million in his hard-fought bid for re-election. But the group didn’t report the donation to the Texas Ethics Commission as required under Texas law. And Perry didn’t list the individual donors behind the large gift.

Turns out that most of that money came from controversial Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who has had his fingers in a lot of GOP fundraising pies in recent years. Bob Perry’s money was behind the scurrilous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth political ads that undercut Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

Now the governor is saying that concealing Bob Perry’s name was an oversight, a clerical error. And the Republican Governors Association is saying it isn’t a political committee, so it didn’t have to disclose the donors. Sorry, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

This year-old episode not only quacks, it stinks. And Travis County Attorney David Escamilla is reviewing the circumstances of the two $500,000 contributions dumped into Perry’s treasury in the final two weeks of the campaign.

Perry won re-election against three major challengers in a close contest. He attracted only 39 percent of the vote, but there’s no runoff in the general election. That eleventh-hour money surely helped in a tight race.

These revelations come at a bad time for Rick Perry and the governors association. Perry is climbing onto the national stage as the 2008 presidential primaries approach, and he could possibly lead the group next year.

There can be heavy civil penalties for violating the campaign finance law. One of Perry’s 2006 opponents, Democrat Chris Bell, has filed suit alleging that the contribution was in violation of Texas law. If Bell prevails and the donation is found to be illegal, Perry’s campaign could be forced to pay double the gift amount.

In addition to a possible $2 million penalty, the candidate accepting the money also could be guilty of a criminal misdemeanor. That is a heavy weight hanging over Perry’s head.

More bizarre still is the Republican Governors Association’s argument that, although it raises and donates money to GOP candidates, it isn’t a political committee. The law isn’t precise in its definition, says Ben Ginsberg, the association’s attorney.

The relevance of this episode to Louisiana are numerous. Let's start with Bob Perry's $100,000 contribution to the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority (LCRM) in 2006. Then, there is the matter of the $10,000 Perry and his wife ($5,000 each) gave to the Bobby Jindal campaign on August 29 of this year. And, the governor-elect benefited from the help of the Republican Governors Association in his campaign.

Wonder if Bob Perry pushed some cash into the Republican Governors Association to help the Jindal campaign? Or, is that the kind of help he only reserves for Texans?

For an ethical guy, the governor-elect sure runs with a crowd where the aroma of ethical impropriety is stronger than that mere hint he says he wants to eliminate.

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