Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Paper trail (green) out of Texas

    Wacky, bewitching Michele Bachmann, whose candidacy is melting, melting, actually has offered something of substance to voters just before she becomes a vapor.

    She's called the hand that has suddenly doused her campaign with her own tea-steeped brew, the hand of Rick Perry. So doing, she's made a very important point.

     It deals with Perry's controversial directive that all Texas girls be inoculated against cervical cancer. Bachmann's point-worth-making, however, has nothing to do with her irresponsible claim that the widely used vaccine causes mental retardation. For that, she should have her literary license revoked.

     However, Bachmann's citing Perry's relationship with Merck, maker of the vaccine, is very much on the mark. If Team Obama isn't taking notes, it isn't as smart as advertised.

    Back in 2006, Merck was putting on a full-court press to get legislatures to mandate use of the serum. It had no luck until Perry decided to circumvent Texas lawmakers entirely and issue his order. A firestorm ensued, particularly among Perry's core constituents of the religious right. He yanked his order.

    Thanks to Bachmann, the back story: Part of Merck's campaign in Texas was to use its political action committee to funnel $28,500 toward Perry's re-election. For a while, this looked like money extraordinarily well spent.

    Perry feigns indignation at the assertion that his influence could be bought. No, Governor, we know that's not possible. The problem, of course, is the appearance of you being bought. Forgive people for wondering. We all know that anyone who looks so good in a suit and tie is above said reproach.

    One might wonder why this cozy matter with Merck wasn't an issue in Perry's re-election campaigns. The explanation is this: They took place in Texas.

    Now, you probably have a low estimation of campaign ethics as practiced in Washington. Whatever you estimate, understand: Disregarding their respective charms, on campaign ethics, Washington is Plymouth Colony compared to Austin, which is Mogadishu.

     On campaign spending, Texas is the Land that Watergate Forgot. Hence, you have someone like homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation) having donated $2 million to Perry since 2001. (Bob Perry was one of the big guns behind the "Swiftboaters for Truth" campaign against decorated war veteran John Kerry on behalf of Air National Guard no-show George W. Bush.)

    San Antonio religious-right scion James Leininger has spent millions to elect Republicans in Texas, none benefitting as much as Rick Perry. He got a $1 million loan from Leininger at the last minute in his razor-tight win of the lieutenant governor's post in 1998. Three years earlier, Perry bought 2,800 shares of stock in Leininger's medical equipment company — just before an acquisition effort drove up stocks and made Perry $4,487 in one month. Sweet.

    Many have wondered how Perry, a career public servant born of humble origins, reports a net worth of $2.8 million. Smart investing, naturally.

    Anyway, these are the kinds of questions few ask in Texas, where the prevailing questions tend to be about guns, God and gayness, and you'd better not straddle any of these issues.

    Running to be the leader of the free world, his past laid bare before the nation's press, Perry will have a paper trail that would make many Americans blanch — and not just related to policy. That's frightening enough. What will make eyes grow wide will be the paper trail of lucrative sweetheart relationships with big business, and Perry's nonstop back-scratching fiesta with major contributors.

    Those money sources are one reason why, as with Bush, Perry could towel off from a morning coyote-killing run and launch a presidential campaign from a standing start.

    Follow the money, folks. Be amazed. If you thought Washington is corrupt, well, to phrase it in a way Perry would write himself, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com

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