Climate

In ‘Water-Testing Campaign’ Rick Perry Flexes Financial Muscle, Flouts Indictment

CREDIT: AP/Eric Gay

In this Jan. 15, 2015 photo, Gov. Rick Perry addresses a joint session of the Texas Legislature, in Austin, Texas.

Rick Perry, 2012: embarrassing flame-out in Republican presidential primary.

Rick Perry, 2015: rejuvenated and indicted, wants to try again.

Former three-term Texas governor Rick Perry hasn’t been out of office but a month and he’s already gearing up to run again. Stating last week that the American people want someone with a “substantial track record” Perry clearly thinks his credentials can help carry him through what looks to be a crowded Republican presidential primary: even in his own backyard of Texas, he needs to distinguish himself in a field that will likely include fellow Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jeb Bush, brother of George W. Bush, former president and governor of Texas.

As he reboots his presidential ambitions, several key road blocks stand in his way, including two grand jury indictments — abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony punishable by five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant. Perry is being accused threatening to veto money from the Travis County Public Integrity Unit unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned after her arrest and jail sentence for driving while intoxicated.

“Here in Texas, we’ve been concerned about Rick Perry’s cronyism for so long,” Sara E. Smith, state director for the Texas Public Interest Research Group, told ThinkProgress. “This is the first time there have been charges of corruption that may be discovered at the national level.”

Smith said that this idea of the “Texas economic miracle” stems a lot from the state’s oil and gas money, but now the public can see that “in addition to being a state with lots of oil and gas, we have a history with cronyism.”

For example, a recent independent audit of Perry’s pet project, the Texas Enterprise Fund, found it “riddled with problems,” according to the Dallas Morning News. “It gave out money — in some cases to political contributors — while failing basic record-keeping and project evaluation.”

By joining the corporate board of Energy Transfer Partners last week, a pipeline company headed by a major Republican donor, Perry did little to cast off this impression of valuing insider access over public interest. As the Texas Tribune reported, Kelcy Warren of Dallas, chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, donated $250,000 to Perry’s 2012 presidential super PAC, and Texas Ethics Commission records show Warren gave Perry at least $20,000 for Perry’s 2010 re-election race.

“Is this part of the crony picture, sure it is,” Dr. Bruce Buchanan, a presidential scholar and professor at UT Austin, told ThinkProgress. “I don’t think he sees it that way though. This was his brand as governor and any serious presidential candidate has to build a stable of funders.”

Energy Transfer Partners, based in Dallas, is planning to build a Bakken oil pipeline across 18 Iowa counties that would transport up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day. According to the Des Moines Register, twenty groups of concerned Iowans, including the Sierra Club and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, recently announced a coordinated effort to block state approval of the proposed pipeline. The Iowa caucus is a pivotal early event on the path to winning a party’s presidential primary. Those familiar with Perry’s campaign said this conflict wouldn’t necessarily have a negative impact; it depends on how the electorate splits on the issue of energy independence and fossil fuel extraction versus Perry’s other socially and fiscally conservative ideals.

Perry is visiting the other major early primary battleground, New Hampshire, this week for two days. In a recent Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm New Hampshire poll, Perry only got one percent of potential Republican voters first place votes and five percent of their second place votes. Jeb Bush held a slight lead over other potential Republican presidential candidates.

Perry has “made a big fuss” to project a different image than he did in 2012, according to Buchanan, including changing his demeanor to “look more professorial.”

“He does not seem dissuaded by mockery or criticism of any form as far as I can tell,” said Buchanan. “Modesty and humility are not strong features here, nor should they be for any presidential candidate.”

Buchanan said that while the indictment does not appear to have dissuaded Perry from his “water-testing campaign” it’s a tough goal “to run a presidential campaign where at every news conference they’re going to bring that up.”

While Perry tries to push aside the indictment charges as quickly as possible, he is also flexing his financial muscle. Last week he announced the major donors to RickPAC, his political action committee, including Kelcy Warren, chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer Partners. As the San Antonio Express-News reports, “the list of board members appears to confirm what Perry advisers and allies have been maintaining for months: His indictment on abuse-of-power charges has not significantly hurt his ability to maintain and grow a robust fundraising base.”

Tom DeLay, former Republican congressman from Texas who saw his career aspirations plummet after he was convicted of money laundering charges related to political fundraising, expressed a more subdued assessment of Perry’s predicament.

“I’m sure Rick Perry has a lot of friends and donors to keep him going, but I also know — little or big — it’s having an effect on his presidential race,” said DeLay. “You’re running for office while this is hanging over your head. They can hold this cloud over his head.”

Perry has said he will announce his candidacy in May or June. If the indictment charges prevail long after that, he may see his presidential aspirations sizzle for a second time.