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Perry Indictment: Why It Has Legs

 

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The Perry Indictment:

Why the Story Will Grow Legs

 

August 19, 2014 – We’re going to have to be the skunk at the party, the rain on the parade – again. Our mission necessitates – absolutely requires – that we raise issues certain politicians and some of their supporters don’t want raised. This will no doubt make some people angry, but we invite then to review the facts, which are a matter of public record. This is a time for clear-headed thinking – not lemming-like “over the cliff” emotion and reaction.

While many have rushed to defend Governor Rick Perry on the surface matter of the indictment alone, we are compelled to talk about disturbing underlying facts that Republicans should deal with soon – issues that have everything to do with the dramatic need for improved transparency in state government. When the dust settles on the indictment and the subsequent legal proceedings, many of the wounds from this ordeal will be self-inflicted

While we agree partisan politics are at play in this indictment, we also strongly believe the GOP, its leadership, and the loyal base must put an end to the tired and wrong-headed narrative that whatever Republicans do in office is off limits for criticism. You know, the old simplistic “Democrats always bad – Republicans always good” story line? That is simply not good enough in a world screaming out for principled leadership. We need leaders that bleed integrity, not just talk about it.

The indictment – First, there is no question that Perry had the line-item veto power as granted by the Texas Constitution. Gov. Perry indeed had the authority and the grounds to eliminate the $7.5 million two-year state funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit. (Frankly, we had hoped Gov. Perry would use his line-item veto power more often to curb wasteful spending in Austin, but that’s a subject best saved for another day.)

Second, officials do not check their First Amendment rights to free speech at the door when they are elected to office. Gov. Perry had the right to speak out about the Travis County DA’s very public and scandalously drunken behavior and the shame she brought to her office. He had every right to call for her resignation.

The criminal justice process will now proceed to determine whether Gov. Perry’s public calls for DA Rosemary Lehmberg to resign and his subsequent threats to cut funding to the office if she didn’t constituted a quid pro quo condition that perhaps crossed the line into abuse of office. That is for the legal process to grind out. 

Background for the Legal Process – It is important to note that DA Lehmberg and other Democrat Travis County officials recused themselves from the case (they are not prosecuting it). Heading up the legal process is Judge Bert Richardson, a conservative Republican appointed to the 379th District bench by Gov. George W. Bush. (Richardson is also the GOP nominee for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – Nov. 2014 ballot.) After examining the evidence, Judge Richardson found sufficiency for the two charges against Perry had been met. A year ago, he appointed a special prosecutor, Mike McCrum, a former federal prosecutor and Dallas police officer who began his career as a federal prosecutor during the George H. W. Bush administration. In 2009, McCrum was recommended to become US Attorney for the Western District by US Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison. As is Judge Richardson, McCrum is from San Antonio /Bexar County and not from the Austin/Travis County area.

The Messy, Self-inflicted Part – isthe side of this saga that could become politically (and legally) problematic for Gov. Perry. Questions about motive are now being raised – questions about why Perry may have wanted a chance to appoint the Travis County DA’s replacement.

While we make no judgment here about Gov. Perry’s motives, we can say there is a basis for raising the questions, and it centers on the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). CPRIT was authorized by voters in 2007 in a state constitutional amendment election. The amendment authorized the state to issue up to $3 billion in bonds to fund cancer research, prevention programs and services in Texas. Since then, allegations of conflicts of interest and cronyism have surrounded CPRIT and its less than transparent process of doling out millions of dollars in grant funds.

The CPRIT Investigation – The Travis County DA’s Public Integrity Unit has been investigating CPRIT due to its jurisdiction over alleged state government corruption. In fact, just a few months ago, DA Lehmberg’s office indicted CPRIT’s former director over his allegedly improper disbursement of an $11 million grant to Peloton Therapeutics. The trial is expected to commence after the November 2014 General Election.

Hardhatters.com investigative reporter Daniel Sylvia explained:  “Essentially, the group who has the final authority on who receives these (CPRIT) grants is composed of a couple of politicians and people appointed by politicians. A situation such as this could be a breeding ground for conflicts of interest, corruption, and/or cronyism – all charges CPRIT has faced since its inception.” Proper oversight was missing from CPRIT from the very beginning. With Republicans in charge of all statewide offices and both the House and Senate, this lack of oversight can hardly be laid at the feet of Democrats. 

Why This Matters: A scathing January 2013 CPRIT audit report released by State Auditor John Keel cited a weak evaluation process for grant applications, poor verification of compliance with funding agreements, and lack of controls on spending. Three troubling grants cited by the audit:

1)     $20 million grant to a Houston area incubator in 2012 without a science review;

2)     $11 million award in 2010 to a Dallas-based biotechnology firm, Peloton Therapeutics, without both scientific and business reviews;

3)     $25.2 million grant in 2010 to a nonprofit group that did not exist at the time. The grant was later transferred from the University of Texas-M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to a newly-formed non-profit group, CTNeT. The audit says CPRIT did not have documentation supporting the recommendation to award the original grant, nor had authority to transfer the grant after the original award.

CPRIT reforms were passed in the 83rd legislative session, but many loopholes remain. The 2013 reforms don’t wipe clean the messy record, nor do the reforms diminish the shocking public records showing the grants and the political contributions from the grant winners. It simply looks and smells like a “pay to play” scheme. It’s this “appearance of evil” Gov. Perry and others should have cleaned up long, long ago. If they had, the Democrats would have no grounds to raise the CPRIT investigation as a motive, thus the indictment story would have no legs. 

To read Mr. Sylvia’s well-sourced and revealing “follow the money” article, click here.  Titled “Cash, Cancer and CPRIT,” Sylvia includes charts (compiled from public records) that identify those who received grant funding, the amounts awarded, and the state officials who received campaign donations from some of those same grant recipients.

After you read the article and review the charts, you will no doubt understand why the Perry indictment story will grow legs – especially as he prepares to run for President in 2016. If not for the genuine, ethical issues with CPRIT, we believe the indictment of Gov. Perry would simply end with a thud, but now the entirely predictable and preventable fall-out from CPRIT will have to run its course. Only time will tell the “who” and the “what” of collateral damage.

Grassroots America has been very vocal about the need to end corporate welfare and cronyism in Austin and to pass state government ethics and transparency reforms. The marriage between government policy-makers and political favoritism should be severed in Austin, and it is the Republicans who should initiate the divorce proceedings. The time spent excusing the sins of the past would be better spent ripping the “for sale” sign off the Capitol with a strong, meaningful ethics reform compact with the people of Texas. 

To repeat, we need leaders who bleed integrity, not just talk about it.     JASF