Perry's dollar dash prompts concern

Aug. 16, 2011 at 11:21 AM
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AUSTIN, Texas, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry's work to build a funding network before entering the Republican presidential race has backers worried about some donors, observers say.

Perry's allies accepted help from a lobbyist Perry criticized last year in the GOP gubernatorial primary for apparently suggesting on film he could get meetings for a deposed Asian politician with key members of President George W. Bush's administration for a $200,000 donation to the Bush library, Politico reported Tuesday.

The lobbyist, Stephen Payne, attended one of the first Austin gathering of Perry backers committed to raising -- or "bundling" -- up to $500,000 each for Perry's presidential bid. He apparently boasted he helped arrange meetings with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis to enhance the governor's foreign policy bones, the Washington publication said.

Perry fundraisers and backers said Payne's involvement could become fodder for attacks, saying they worry Payne's role exposes a potentially bigger problem. Perry backers felt pressure to catch up financially to GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, leading to sloppiness and a lack of concern about perception that could leave the Texas governor vulnerable to anything ranging from criticism to possible legal complaints.

"They haven't paid attention to appearances here because the appearances don't hurt him here [in Texas]. We're the wild west of campaign money," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group.

McDonald said if there's a whiff that Perry's allies "are playing fast and loose with the rules at the national level, I don't think it will play with a broader audience beyond the borders of the Lone Star State."

Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner downplayed Payne's involvement even as he credited the lobbyist with helping to schedule Perry's recent meetings with foreign dignitaries. Miner also said he was confident the Perry campaign was fully compliant with federal election rules.

"While we are starting our fundraising efforts behind other candidates who have been raising money much longer than we have, our goal is to raise enough money to run a credible campaign," he told Politico.

However, a national operative involved in Perry's fundraising said early efforts raise questions.

Payne's involvement provides "fodder for … primary opponents and others," the source told Politico. "No one can dispute the appearance problem on this one."

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