Last night at the CNN Republican debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) was forced to defend his executive order to administer the vaccine Gardasil to young women in his state. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) in particular said the effort was an example of “crony capitalism,” and that Perry was too cosy with the drug company poised to benefit from the decision. Perry dismissed the comment, stating: “The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raised about $30 million. And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”
Regardless of the debate over administering the vaccine, there is no doubt that Perry grossly misrepresented the influence of Merck in his administration. For one thing, Perry has actually accepted $29,500 from the company’s PAC, and the Republican Governor Association, under Perry’s watch, took in $350,000 from Merck since 2006. Moreover, Mike Toomey, an Austin lobbyist that represented Merck during the Gardasil decision, has promised to raise $55 million to back Perry’s presidential bid using an independent so-called SuperPAC.
The Merck connections don’t end there. A review of fundraising documents by ThinkProgress reveals that Perry’s big “Washington Kickoff” fundraiser, scheduled for later this month and already billed as his first significant event with K Street lobbyists and Beltway power brokers, is hosted by a longtime Merck lobbyist. Event host Jeff MacKinnon’s firm served as a registered lobbying agent for Merck from 2005 to 2010, and has pulled in approximately $860,000 from Merck in exchange for lobbying Congress on “drug safety” issues. MacKinnon’s firm stopped lobbying for Merck starting this year.
View an invitation to Perry’s K Street fundraiser here.
MacKinnon is among several top lobbyists hosting the event, which takes place on September 27 at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC. Perry strategists told the National Journal that events like the one with MacKinnon will raise $2 million to $4 million for the campaign by the end of the year.
Another interesting note about Merck’s ties with Perry and his administration relates to third party allies. Merck is a major contributor to powerful Washington third party groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (providing $725,000 in donations last year) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group (providing $7,046,747 in 2010 and $12,767,272 in 2009). Perry has appeared at multiple Chamber events over the years, and it is likely these groups will again play an important role in the 2012 election.
Women in Government (WIG), a nonprofit with close ties to Merck that has pushed the Gardasil vaccine in multiple states, has enjoyed a friendly relationship with the Perry administration. Not only did WIG consult with the Perry administration on the Gardasil decision, but Perry’s wife Anita has addressed the group in the past. According to Merck’s disclosures, the company continues to provide funds to WIG.