An article published Tuesday night by the Austin American-Statesman alleges that much of Texas first lady Anita Perry’s $60k-a-year salary at a nonprofit comes indirectly from Gov. Perry’s political donors, large state contractors, and companies with business before the state legislature. An investigation by the paper found that of the 37 major donors to the Texas Association Against Sexual Abuse during the first lady’s tenure as a fundraiser for the organization “only three have no ties to the governor or state business.”
As an employee of the TAASA, Mrs. Perry is paid of out the same pool of money that she was responsible for raising. In addition to private funding, the group also receives state grants from state agencies, including the governor’s office.
The American-Statesman writes that “donating to the [TAASA] has become just one more legal way for those with an interest in state government to get close to Texas’ first family.”
The fundraising for the TAASA increased dramatically after Mrs. Perry was hired. In 2003, before the first lady began working, the group reported to the IRS that it had received no donations of $5,000 or more, which is the minimum amount required to be disclosed in public IRS filings. In 2004, major donations jumped to $100,000; all of which came from donors connected to the governor. In all, more than 70% of the large donations given to the group between 2004 and 2009 came from businesses or individuals with ties to the governor.
This is not the first time that Mrs. Perry has held a job that has raised questions about the potential for conflicts of interest. Before her husband was elected to statewide office, she was a registered nurse and an administrator. Yet after the pair moved to Austin, she began working on health care issues for a P.R. firm owned by lobbyist Bill Miller, earning $50,000 in annual salary. She later earned $66,000 a year working for the Perryman Group. The firm’s namesake, Ray Perryman, is an economist who produced reports designed to influence the Legislature while working for the tobacco industry, Dell, and the Texas Farm Bureau.
A spokeswoman for the Perrys argued yesterday that there is no conflict of interest in Anita Perry working for the nonprofit.
Mrs. Perry herself has said that she took the job in November 2003 because her children no longer needed her at home and the family needed the extra income.