Rick Perry’s aide gave a beautifully roundabout answer to a recent question about the blatant quid pro quo that marked his reign as Governor. The spokesman explained, “There’s never been any wrongdoing substantiated.”
Nor will there be. Remarkably, Perry’s probably done nothing illegal in his tenure. One of the benefits of living in a state with hardly any rules is…well, it’s hard to break the rules.
The unique system of payola that makes Austin run is not only legal, it is startlingly public. A politician in Texas can, and for all practical purposes really must, franchise himself to a set of well-financed individuals or interests, and become their representative in Austin. It is how the system is designed to work.
There’s never been any wrongdoing substantiated.
Home-building tycoon Bob Perry (no relation to the Guv) is the poster-child for this system. He is arguably the most successful legislator of the past fifteen years, and he has never held public office. Bob Perry’s tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign contributions have somehow coincided with remarkable success at getting complex, controversial, and significant legislation passed. This legislation benefits no one other than himself and his allies. The one Perry sheds light on the other.
One of Bob Perry’s boldest achievements was to have an entire regulatory scheme created and implemented to serve his needs. In the late ’90′s, many Texas municipalities started trying to tighten construction regulations. They were responding to waves of complaints regarding the poor quality of the sprawling new construction being hastily stamped onto the Texas landscape.
Governor Rick Perry, the enemy of “job-killing regulation,” decided entirely on his own–not inspired at all by the millions in contributions to himself and nearly everyone in the Lege from Bob Perry and the builders –to take the remarkable step of creating a state agency regulating housing construction.
The law creating the agency was drafted by Bob Perry’s attorney, whom Governor Perry then appointed as the first head of the commission. The new agency’s rules would pre-empt any new local regulations, and block new local professional competence requirements. Along the way, it would severely limit the ability of home-buyers to sue their construction companies. The “regulations” the new law implemented were an obscene joke that shielded builders from common-law liabilities. The law further allowed the industry to literally appoint its own “regulators” and arbitrators.
This was one of the most unapologetically corrupt political arrangements I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime, and I’ve spent seven grueling years in Chicago. It happened entirely out in the open for everyone to see.
Again, the millions of dollars handed to Gov. Perry had absolutely nothing to do with his decision to let home-builders write their own legislation. Likewise, the money used by Bob Perry and the industry PAC’s to grease the legislature (almost every legislator in both parties – let’s be clear) had no influence at all.
There’s never been any wrongdoing substantiated.
Governor Perry and the Legislature just happened to recognize, entirely on their own, that the people of Texas needed a new fake regulatory body, completely controlled by the construction industry, to “protect” said citizens from poor quality home-building.
Texas, you’re welcome.
The Sunset Commission eventually recommended that the agency be dismantled, explaining, “No other regulatory agency has a program with such a potentially devastating effect on consumers’ ability to seek their own remedies.” But it took two more Legislative sessions to get that accomplished.
The same serendipitous political process explains why in the hell payday lending is legal, and why Texas always needs more tort reform. It helps you understand who gets grants from the state’s Emerging Technology Fund (The Prominent Donors’ Kickback Fund). And it’s the same purely coincidental process by which Rick Perry became a multi-millionaire during a career as a state employee.
Texas is not the only place where political officials are sometimes…influenced…by money from donors. It’s the blatant crassness of Texas’ system that might cause complications for Rick Perry as he tries to take his very local show to a larger audience. No one will accuse Perry of being the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he’s used to hiding his pay-for-play in plain sight. He probably has no clue what his deals are going to look like when exposed to national scrutiny.
I live in a state where the exit to the Governor’s mansion leads straight to federal prison. It saves some much-needed money on pensions. But even here, the free hand a guy like Perry enjoys is, at a minimum, going to inspire some envy.
As the campaign winds on, Perry will need to schedule a lot more prayer meetings if he wants to distract people from what really happened on his watch back in God’s Country.