Rick Perry, Merck, Gardasil, and How Lobbying Works

One of the funniest moments in last night’s debate was when Rick Perry denied that he’d been bribed into issuing an executive order mandating the use of HPV vaccines by arguing “If you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.” Everyone knows that it takes at least $50,000 to bribe the governor of Texas.

Still, I think Kevin Drum is perhaps a bit too quick to dismiss the cash nexus here when he says “It’s vanishingly unlikely that Merck’s five grand played any real role in Perry’s decision.” It’s almost certainly true that you can’t bribe Perry for $5,000 but I think it’s vanishingly unlikely that Perry’s decision wasn’t seriously influenced by the fact that Perry was lobbied on the issue by his former chief of staff who just so happens to have gone to work for Merck. The $5,000 in question came several months before the decision was made, but on the exact same day that Perry got a visit from Mike Toomey.

I’d say there are two main factors behind Perry’s decision. One is that the call is very defensible on the merits, so when the aide-turned-lobbyist shows up with $5,000 and an argument on behalf of his client he actually has a strong argument. The other is that the argument is being made by a former chief of staff! After all, there are lots of perfectly good ideas that Perry rejects either due to small government principles or social conservative principles. It takes a well-connected guy to get Perry to put that kind of thing aside, but the connection, rather than the money is what’s doing the work. If Merck sent me and a $5,000 check it wouldn’t accomplish anything. The relevance of the money most likely goes in the other direction. Merck has a professional relationship with a guy who has a professional relationship with Rick Perry. It is thus in the interests of both Merck and of Toomey to see that Rick Perry has a successful political career. The contribution of $5,000 is exactly what Merck would say it is—a sincere effort to promote the career of a politician who they want to see succeed. It’s not a bribe. Paying Perry $5,000 would be neither necessary nor sufficient to get him to do what they want.