WASHINGTON -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent much of his struggling presidential campaign running against one particular place -- Washington, D.C. He has branded himself as a political outsider who wants to implement a part-time Congress and who would dismantle three entire federal agencies if elected president. "I dislike Washington. I think it's a seedy place," Perry said, shortly after announcing his candidacy.
As his poll numbers crashed this fall, Perry only amped up his anti-Washington rhetoric. In a mid-November speech in Iowa, he told an audience of the state's Republicans, “I do not believe Washington needs a new coat of paint, it needs a complete overhaul. We need to uproot, tear down and rebuild Washington, D.C." And in late December, Perry began running a campaign ad tarring both former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as "political insiders."
But as outsiders go, Perry doesn't act like much of a fish out of water when he travels to D.C. on business. In fact, once inside the District, records show Perry becomes a straight-up Washington cliche. As the one-time head of the Republican Governors Association and the longest serving governor in Texas history, Perry has had reason to travel to D.C. more than a dozen times, and he's had time to figure out where to go and what to do while he's here. Expenditure tallies from the Back to Basics PAC, a Perry watchdog group, reveal that the governor has spent roughly $200,000 on food and lodging in Washington since he took office in 2000.
Not surprisingly, Perry didn't spend that much by eating Subway and drinking Pabst. His expense records show he's more of a white tablecloth restaurant and luxury hotel kind of guy. "Perry's lavish spending at D.C.'s power restaurants and luxury hotels directly contradict the image of the tough Washington outsider that he wants voters to believe," said Analiese Kornely, the director of Back to Basics. After seeing his expenses, "people are right to question who Rick Perry really is," she said.
The Perry campaign refused requests for comment on the money he has spent in D.C.
During his visits, Perry's camp regularly stayed at the city's finest hotels -- the Willard InterContinental, the Four Seasons and the Omni Shoreham. They also ran up tabs at the city's most notorious, lobbyist-friendly dining rooms, ranging from the Old Ebbitt Grill ($91 for a meal in 2006) to I Ricchi ($726 in 2008) to Poste ($242 in 2004). Perry or his staff appear to have a penchant for steakhouses, too, having held meetings at the Occidental Grill ($634 in 2010), the Capital Grill ($613 in 2007) and Ruth's Chris ($231 in 2004).
Just days before voters reelected him in 2006, Perry appears to have headed to D.C. to avoid the rigors of the campaign trail. "He brought some border sheriffs to D.C. to complain about border patrols," said Jason Stanford, campaign manager for Chris Bell, Perry's Democratic rival that year. "It got him away from the Texas press. He was able to sit on a lead and make news on the big issue of the day ... I thought it was brilliant." During the trip, Texans for Rick Perry paid for rooms at Washington's Capital Hilton, situated just a short walk from the White House. The total cost was more than $3,600.
The Capital Hilton is small potatoes, however, when compared with one of Perry's favorite spots in D.C., Cafe Milano, a Georgetown establishment populated by the city's political and financial A-listers. Diners at Milano eat there for one reason, and one reason alone: to see and be seen. In February 2007, Perry's camp charged up three meals at Milano over just two days, February 24 and 25. The total bills? More than $460.
It's unclear what Perry and his guests ordered for dinner, but at Milano, triple-digit checks are the norm. In late December, the restaurant's menu included an air-dried Kobe beef appetizer for $26, a seafood risotto for $31, and a $46 veal chop.
Sally Quinn, a journalist and reigning doyenne of Washington society, tells The Huffington Post that Perry's preferred locales represent the ultimate cliche: the self-hating "Washington insider."
"Where's Cafe Milano?" she rhetorically asked HuffPost. "Right in the heart of Georgetown -- Sin City. It's not where a God-fearing, Washington-hating person would go to eat." For that, she said, "there are plenty of restaurants and hotels in Virginia."
The Perry camp has only stayed in Virginia twice in the past decade. In both instances, they stayed at a Ritz Carlton.
"None of them hate D.C.," Quinn said. "This is nirvana. This is where they want to come. You don't run for president if you hate D.C. You run for president because this is where you want to be. This is where the power is. But you have to pretend to hate Washington in order to get elected."
Just up from Cafe Milano, at the lavish, red-carpeted Omni Shoreham Hotel, a bellman recalled seeing the Texas governor twice. The first time was during President George W. Bush's second inauguration festivities, in January 2005. During that trip, Perry stayed in a room that cost more than $1,400 a night, and the campaign picked up a tab for $7,548. The following year, in 2006, Perry only spent $824 on a few nights' lodging -- a bargain by the Omni Shoreham's standards.
The bellman described Perry as just like any other high roller. The only time he saw the governor, he said, was when Perry swept through the lobby with his notoriously expensive security detail. "He was never alone, and I didn't talk to him," he said. "It's not easy to talk to them."
Perry, the bellman added, "seemed to be in a good mood."