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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

Miller, the Austin super lobbyist, explained that Perry's close ties to lobbyists are simply a product of the governor's longevity; he has held state-wide office for more than two decades. Staffs turn over. Many former staffers inevitably get into the political consulting business or join a lobbying firm. "He's given birth on both sides of the deal -- on the government side and the political side," Miller said of Perry. "He's fertile. He's very fertile."

"Maybe they did have an advantage," Miller said. "I always felt like we got a fair shake in the deals we worked on."

Reggie Bashur, a Perry campaign adviser and lobbyist, told HuffPost there is no pay-to-play scheme. "It's just utter nonsense," he said. "The advantage is to know a very fine person with a tremendous sense of humor who is dedicated to the public good."

In describing Perry, Bashur was short and sweet. "He likes people," he said. "He likes the grassroots."

When HuffPost called Cliff Johnson, a lobbyist and former senior Perry adviser who is known to be a member of Perry's inner circle, we were told that Johnson wasn't giving interviews. His receptionist said that Johnson was referring press calls to Bashur.

Perry has appointed six secretaries of state during his tenure. Half have gone on to work as lobbyists. The majority of Perry's most trusted cabinet officials have lobbying backgrounds. Five out of eight Perry chiefs of staff have either left and immediately joined the lobby or come into the COS role from the lobby. Along with Toomey, these include Barry McBee, Michael McKinney, Brian Newby and Ray Sullivan.

Sullivan is now the communications director for the Perry campaign. The campaign did not return calls for comment.

Robert Black, a former Perry director of communications, also worked as a lobbyist before recently becoming a spokesman for the campaign. When asked about his relationship to Perry and the potential benefit to his own lobbying work, Black hung up on a HuffPost reporter.

Chris Cronn, another former staffer turned lobbyist, also refused to comment. When asked about his lobbying work and whether his Perry ties are an advantage, Cronn replied: "I'd much rather have you talk to the campaign."

* * * * *

The main concern among the public about the revolving door, as evidenced by the HPV vaccine mandate outcry, is that companies can afford well-connected lobbyists to set policy, to the detriment of the public interest.

These polices were often privatization efforts, brought to the governor's attention by connected companies, that became controversial when those lobbying connections became public.

"When you look at the privatization schemes that come along, I don't think Perry and his office are sitting around and dreaming up these schemes," Texans for Public Justice's Wheat explained. "It tends to work the other way around: The lobbyists come to Perry with these schemes."

In 2002, Perry announced a plan to build a 4,000-mile stretch of toll roads, rail lines and utility lines. The Trans-Texas Corridor, as it came to be known, was an attempt by Perry to raise revenue through fees the toll roads would collect. The Spanish company Cintra, then seeking to run the toll roads, employed Dan Shelley, a Perry insider, as a consultant. Shelley did not register to lobby at the time.

"Here was Dan Shelley, he was working for Cintra, the major Trans-Texas Corridor contractor, but he didn't bother to register as a lobbyist. What kind of consulting was Shelley doing for a Spanish highway company?" Wheat said. "Was he consulting on the proper asphalt and concrete to lay in Texas?"

In 2004, the Texas Transportation Commission awarded Cintra the contract to run the toll roads and Perry hired Shelley as his new legislative director. By 2006, Shelley was back out the revolving door and raking in money with a lobbying contract from Cintra that totaled between $275,000 and $470,000 from 2006 through 2011.

Shelley denied that there was any undue influence in his work for Cintra. "I lobbied for them. They were from Spain. They had no contracts. No business in the United States," Shelley told HuffPost. "Texas seemed to be further advanced before they arrived on trying to promote public-private partnerships. I introduced them to the policymakers to explain what it is you're trying to do in Texas."

Shelley said he set up meetings for Cintra with various Perry officials -- including Ric Williamson, an old college buddy of Perry's who headed the state transportation department at the time. Shelley said he knew Williamson. "I know people in Austin," he said.

By 2006, the Trans-Texas Corridor had attracted serious opposition from all corners of Texas politics. The Texas Farm Bureau was calling the project a disaster and residents in areas that could have faced eminent domain seizure were packing forums held by the Transportation Commission.

Cintra did win contracts for three toll roads -- one in Forth Worth, one in Dallas and one currently being built in central Texas, Shelley explained. After the first contract was awarded, Shelley said the company was introduced to Perry for the first time. "He might have come by to say 'thank you,'" he recalled.

Shelley currently operates two Super PACs -- Veterans for Perry and Jobs for Vets -- to support Perry's bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

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