In a Facebook post Wednesday, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White suggests Gov. Rick Perry wasted government dollars flying to Texas cities to give out money.
“In three days last week, Perry flew to five cities at taxpayers’ expense, holding press conferences, delivering $2,325,000 in checks,” White’s 8:43 p.m. post states.
Did Perry burn tax dollars to hand out checks?
Katy Bacon, White’s spokeswoman, pointed out news releases issued by the governor’s office reflecting Perry’s stops May 11-13 in Corpus Christi, Dallas, San Antonio, Palacios and San Juan. The releases state that Perry announced spending awards of $150,000, $175,000 and $2 million, respectively, in Dallas, Palacios and San Juan. Perry did not ballyhoo funding awards in the other cities, according to the releases.
That’s close to what White said on Facebook: Three days, five cities, $2,325,000 in checks handed over by Perry.
We wondered, though, at White’s description of Perry’s flights as costing taxpayers. For years, Perry has funded considerable out-of-town travel, for state business or campaign purposes, from non-state sources including his campaign kitty — an approach often mentioned in news articles, including a July 26 report in White’s hometown newspaper, the Houston Chronicle.
The Chronicle article quotes Perry’s gubernatorial spokeswoman, Allison Castle, noting that “Perry's travel is not paid by taxpayers.” It continues: “Texas One, a corporate-finance foundation, pays for much of Perry's business development travel. Other travel is paid for by his political committee or campaign donors. And some is financed as in-kind contributions from specific wealthy donors or interest groups.”
As for the flights Facebooked by White, Bacon told us in an e-mail: “These were all ‘official’ trips and events under the Office of the Governor, and this type of travel is typically paid for by taxpayers.”
Not so, said Castle, who informed us the flights under fire, on private planes, were funded by Perry’s campaign. “The majority of the governor’s travel is paid for by his campaign,” she said. For each of the five stops referenced by White, she said, one state-paid travel aide and a press aide accompanied Perry.
There is another cost the public pays for every Perry trip — his security detail. In a follow-up interview, Bacon took no issue with gubernatorial security expenses.
Bacon also stood by White's characterization of the travel as taxpayer-funded, saying it would take time to confirm, with documents, that Perry's flights were not paid for by the state. Then again, Bacon said, spending campaign funds on the flights also doesn't pass muster.
"Either way, this is wrong," she said. "He’s running around handing out taxpayer dollars to get headlines for his political career. He’s using campaign dollars to hand out state checks." She showed us that Perry's campaign excerpted two press releases from the latest trips in a campaign e-mail blast.
Bacon's charge shifts the focus from who paid for Perry's trips to the purpose of his stops. That's not what White critiqued on Facebook.
All in all, White got several things right — five cities visited, press events, money awards. And it's true the state pays some costs any time the governor goes anywhere.
But White's crucial assumption — that Perry's flights were at taxpayers' expense — is wrong. It's a misstep the candidate might have avoided by reading his local newspaper.
Pants on Fire!