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Rick Perry understated drug company campaign cash

September 13, 2011|By Melanie Mason
(REUTERS/Scott Audette )

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s new line of attack against GOP frontrunner Gov. Rick Perry -- launched Monday night at the CNN/Tea Party Express debate and continued on Tuesday’s morning talk shows -- pins the Texas governor’s ties to a pharmaceutical giant as the reason for his controversial decision to require the HPV vaccine for Texas schoolgirls.

“The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong,” Bachmann asserted in Monday night’s debate.

In response, Perry said Merck, the company in question, had given him a $5,000 contribution. “And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended,” he added.

In fact, Merck PAC — the company’s Washington, D.C.-based political action committee — has given Perry $28,500 since 2001, according to Texas Ethics Commission filings.

The bulk of that money came before 2007, when the governor signed an executive order mandating all sixth-grade girls in the state to receive the Gardasil vaccine against HPV. The move rankled social conservatives and the mandate was ultimately overturned by the Legislature.

Of course, in Texas -- the land of lax campaign contribution limits -- Merck’s contribution total falls far short of Perry’s top donors -- more than 200 have given six-figures to the governor’s campaign since 2001, according to watchdog group Texans for Public Justice.

But dollars aside, Perry has another key tie to Merck, one also alluded to by Bachmann in the debate: his former top aide Mike Toomey.

For three decades, Toomey has been an Austin fixture, serving as a political operative of all stripes: a three-term state representative, chief of staff to Gov. Bill Clements and later Perry, and a deeply connected Republican lobbyist.

When Perry signed the Gardasil executive order in 2007, Toomey, who was no longer working in the governor’s office, was a lobbyist for Merck, the vaccine’s manufacturer. Opponents to the order cried foul; the governor’s office has maintained that Toomey exercised no clout in the decision.

Toomey’s client roster counts some of the largest industries in Texas, including healthcare (United Health), telecommunications (AT&T) and wind power (Green Mountain Energy).

And although he has no official role in the governor’s presidential campaign, Toomey is a co-founder of the pro-Perry super PAC Make Us Great Again, which can solicit unlimited funds from individuals and corporations to advocate for his old boss.

melanie.mason@latimes.com

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