Mr. Perry, Meet Mr. DiMasi
"And if you're saying I can be bought for five thousand dollars, I'm offended."
- James R. "Rick" Perry, Texas Governor and GOP presidential candidate
"This was an intent crime, and I know I did not have the requisite intent to commit this crime."
- Sal DiMasi, June 2011, after conviction on state contract kickback scheme
"You became Speaker . . . and you quickly devised a scheme to sell your office."
-U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf, sentencing DiMasi
Sal DiMasi, Democrat and former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, was recently sentenced to eight years in federal prison for, inter alia, taking cash kickbacks from Cognos, a Canadian company, in return for using his influence to give Cognos a $17.5 million state contract for a statewide software program. DiMasi got an under the table kickback of about $65,000 for his efforts.
Meanwhile, Rick Perry, Republican Governor of Texas and leading GOP presidential candidate, was recently rebuked by fellow Republican Michelle Bachmann for awarding a lucrative state contract to Merck, by executive order, to supply Gardasil for a state program to innoculate all high school girls in Texas against the HTV virus. Perry, referring to Merck's contribution to his most recent gubernatorial run, harrumphed in reply that he could not be bought for a measly $5,000 donation -inviting the question just what is his price.
Yes, the details surrounding Perry's relationship with Merck and DiMasi's Cognos deal are significantly different as to legality, but otherwise no different in terms of ethics or morality. Merck has been an important cash contributor to Perry's political campaigns over the years, having actually donated more than $28,000 since 2001, and, yes, other drug companies have also donated significantly to Perry's political campaigns over the years as well.
This is the one area where Perry differs from DiMasi, since the way he got cash from Merck, through campaign contributions, was "all perfectly legal." As this case illustrates, however, that's one of the sleaziest expressions in the English Language -the second refuge of right-wing scoundrels, second only to their smug, ostentatious "patriotism."
Perry's former chief of staff Mike Toomey is a lobbyist for Merck, a fact which even standing alone emits a distinct odor of political cronyism. More to the point, though, Toomey this past summer co-founded a PAC called Make Us Great Again to support Perry's presidential run. As recently reported by NBC News, Toomey anticipates that this PAC will spend about $55 million in the attempt to buy Perry a ticket into the Oval Offfice.
In light of that fact, that $55 million connection to Merck, Perry's reply to Ms. Bachmann that he wouldn't let himself be bought for a mere $5,000 -or perhaps even the actual $28,000 he got from Merck, is both evasive and disingenuous. Again, this is "all perfectly legal" but, in light of Toomey's lobbying for Merck, Perry's executive order for the Gardasil contract stinks just as much as Sal DiMasi taking cash under the table for the Cognos contract.
DiMasi sold his office for chump change, 65 grand on a $17 million contract which bought him a cell in federal prison, while Perry's getting $55 million for a shot at the White House in return for selling his office in the Merck deal. That deal stunk so much even in Texas, by the way, that it was subsequently overtuned by the legislature.
All this wouldn't smell so bad if Perry were an advocate of "big government" and social programs generally, supporting initiatives to help individuals in need or at risk through taxpayer funded programs like Medicare or Bush's prescription drug program for the elderly. But Perry has famously trashed all such federal welfare programs, programs where government actually helps ordinary people, as opposed to the kind of corporate welfare he practices for companies like Merck.
Perry, as governor of Texas, has in fact supported one other politically significant public health initiative when he signed a bill in 2009 mandating meningitis vaccinations for all Texas college students. That taxpayer funded deal rewarded Novartis, maker of the Manveo vaccine, for its $700,000 donation to the Republican Governors' Association of which Perry was chairman until just recently. The RGA, in turn. has been one of the largest supporters of Perry's political campaigns over the years.
Thus, for Perry, social welfare and medical benefit programs are fine and dandy whenever they just happen to be huge corporate welfare programs as well, paying gobs of taxpayer dollars to corporations that pay gobs of campaign dollars to him, both directly and indirectly. Again, though, let's remember that it's "all perfectly legal," unlike DiMasi's kickback from Cognos, as we cover our noses from the stink wafting all the way up here from Texas.
Now, being a "big government" liberal myself, I have no problem with the programs per se which required that young Texans be innoculated against dangerous pathogens -which was the main thrust of Ms. Bachmann's attack on Perry, the governmental intrusion into personal "liberty." That attack was, however, right on target for today's purportedly small government Tea Party GOP.
Perry's support for those two "big government" programs was on its face hypocritical for someone like him who attacks social welfare programs in general, which was Ms. Bachmann's point, and the way Perry steered the contracts to big money corporate supporters therefore raises a serious question about his ethics and basic honesty. Legality aside, it was in principle no different from DiMasi steering the Massachusetts software contract to Cognos for cash under the table.
So, no offense, Mr. Perry. We all know you wouldn't sell your office for a measly five grand -probably not even the twenty-eight thousand you actually got from Merck so far -or the sixty-five thousand that DiMasi got from Cognos. No, Mr. Perry, you're from Texas where everything is real big -including your selling price of $55 million or so.