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Rick Perry's Former Staffers Made Millions As Lobbyists

First Posted: 09/16/2011 1:54 pm Updated: 11/16/2011 4:12 am

WASHINGTON -- Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has been good for the Austin lobbying business. Forty Perry aides have either left the governor's administration to become registered state lobbyists or gone from the lobby into Perry's inner circle, some of them making multiple trips through the revolving door, according to state lobbying disclosure filings and a review of staff records obtained by The Huffington Post through public records requests.

Among Perry's closest campaign aides, at least five have been registered lobbyists, including his communications director, his spokesperson and his political director. Two other ex-staffers who are current lobbyists head Super PACs organized to elect Perry.

These lobbyists have done good work for their clients, winning lucrative state contracts for everything from private toll roads to a nuclear waste dump to the now infamous HPV vaccine mandate. A review of financial disclosures filed with the Texas Ethics Commission shows that during the past 10 years, former Perry staffers have raked in tens of millions of dollars in lobbying contracts.

Perry, vying for the support of the Tea Party base, has been slammed by rivals Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) for "crony capitalism." If crony capitalism describes a situation where contracts are won by private companies who've hired close associates of the governor, then Texas records show the charge could stick. The pay-to-play allegations against Perry have become an Austin cliche.

"The revolving door turns at torrential speeds in Texas," explained Andrew Wheat, research director for the non-partisan watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. "It's like it's driven by a hurricane and Perry's office has been part and parcel of it."

Perhaps no one has benefited more from his Perry connection than Mike Toomey. He had been a Perry confidant during their time in the state legislature in the '80s before becoming a successful lobbyist. In 2002, Toomey became Perry's chief of staff, a job he held until 2004 when he returned to the lobby. Texas financial disclosure records show Toomey secured lobbying contracts from government supplicants worth between $9 million and $17.5 million during the Perry years.

Toomey's lobbying success has not been free from controversy. In the race to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, it has become a lightening rod.

During Monday's Republican primary debate, Bachmann attacked Perry for issuing an executive order mandating sixth-grade girls receive a vaccination against the sexually-transmitted disease HPV, which, studies show, can lead to cervical cancer. That vaccination is manufactured by pharmaceutical company Merck, which employed Toomey as one of only three lobbyists during the mandate controversy.

Bachmann excoriated Toomey's role in the issuance of the executive order: "What I'm saying is that it's wrong for a drug company -- because the governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars, and potentially billions, for a drug company?"

Merck began a state-by-state push to get governments to adopt HPV vaccine mandates after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine for use in 2006. The company stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars if its mandate drive succeeded. They hired top lobbyists in a number of states. In Texas, Merck naturally came to Toomey.

"Absolutely Mike [Toomey] convinced [Perry] on that," Bill Miller, a founding partner of the Austin lobbying powerhouse HillCo Partners told HuffPost. The firm has done work on behalf of top-tier conservative donors, such as Houston construction mogul and swift-boat funder Bob Perry (no relation) and Koch Industries. "Maybe he personally believes in that ... Mike played an influential role. It's just the way I read it, the nature of the deal."

Amid widespread outrage over Toomey's lobbying -- and fervent opposition from religious conservatives who opposed the order on the belief that it encouraged promiscuity among young teens -- the Texas legislature repealed Perry's order in a near unanimous vote. Despite the ultimate failure to enact the vaccine mandate, Merck still retains Toomey as a lobbyist and has paid him contracts worth between $250,000 and $560,000 from 2004 through 2011.

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It's not difficult to see the allure of joining the lobbyist ranks for those coming out of the Perry administration. The governor's influence has been vast; he has roughly 4,000 appointments to various boards, commissions and task forces. Real or perceived closeness to the governor -- not to mention being on a first-name basis with his scheduler -- is an asset for any lobbying firm or corporation seeking influence.

"If you are going to be a top-tiered lobbyist, you almost have to have worked for him," explained one veteran Austin-based lobbyist, "because that means you're part of the team."

Perry, the lobbyist added, places a premium on the inner circle -- especially his former chiefs of staff. "I'd say he only listens to those guys," he said.

The 26 ex-Perry staffers currently registered as lobbyists will take in a combined total of between $6.37 and $11.6 million this year, government disclosure records show. (The disclosure forms only list the ranges of the contracts, making a precise calculation impossible.)

Former Perry insiders admit a tour of duty in the administration can be a plus. There are practical advantages: "I understand what the internal office processes are," explained Victoria Ford, a lobbyist who worked as a health care policy director and deputy legislative director under Perry early in his administration. "If I have a problem, I already know how to work through it. It's been helpful."

But, Ford told HuffPost, it's no easy gravy train. "It's been neutral to favorable to me, although I'm not as aggressive about it as some of the other folks who left the office," she said.

Records show Ford has 25 clients on her current roster, including eBay, a car manufacturer alliance, GlaxoSmithKline, Methodist Healthcare Ministries, a transportation authority and Boeing. This year, Ford's contracts pay out between $235,000 and $650,000.

Ford said she doesn't walk into a prospective client's office and play up her Perry cred. But there are other lobbyists that do. "There are others that take a different approach -- that walk in with their resume first," she said.

If there were behind-the-scenes deals made, Ford added, she didn't see them when she worked for Perry. "I never felt like when I worked in his office, I was told by anyone to favor anyone else," she said. "I never experienced the things that they talked about. That's all I know. I was never involved in those kinds of things. To me it seems like it's all overblown speculation."

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