Rick Perry Can't Be Bought Off for Just $5,000

“If you’re saying I can be bought off for $5,000, I’m offended,” Gov. Rick Perry said at the CNN/Tea Party debate last night when confronted by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) about getting campaign cash from Merck while signing an executive order requiring girls to get vaccines made by the company.

First off, let’s set the record straight on Merck. Perry said it was a $5,000 donation that Rep. Michele Bachmann was referring to. As Michael Isikoff reported last week, Merck “donated $16,000 to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns in the two and a half years prior to the executive order.” In addition, Perry’s former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, became a lobbyist for Merck and he’s now running the main “super PAC” backing Perry’s presidential bid.

Secondly, that we’re having a debate about what price tag to place on a politician’s head should be a wakeup call. The question isn’t whether it takes $5,000 or $500,000 to buy off Gov. Perry. It’s why do we have a campaign finance system that places our politicians on an auction block?

With that said, only in political circles would $5,000 be considered chump change. When looking at Perry’s big campaign contributors in a state that doesn’t have any contribution limits, that’s when you see how much money these corporate special interests are pouring in. Our analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics shows that:

  • At least 91 individuals, corporations, or other groups made donations in excess of $100,000 to Rick Perry’s 2010 re-election. Twenty-one of those totaled $200,000 or more.
  • Well-known Texas builder Bob Perry and his wife gave $1.5 million total from 2007 to 2010 (and even more to the Republican Governors Association). Texas billionaire Harold Simmons and his wife gave $655,000.
  • Donations of $5,000 or more made up 79 percent of Rick Perry’s fundraising for his last governor’s race.

A four-figure check might be just a drop in Rick Perry’s very large campaign bucket, but as any number of stories over the past few months have shown, wealthy campaign donors have gotten plenty of perks during his time as governor. Will that continue if he’s vaulted to higher office? And when will we have the other, more important debate: At what price, democracy?