Texas Governor Rick Perry received at least $23,500 in campaign contributions from drug-maker Merck & Co., including $5,000 in 2006, the year before he ordered girls throughout the state to take a new Merck vaccine.
The total is greater than the $5,000 that Perry, seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, acknowledged receiving from the company during a debate last night in Florida.
The drug-maker also has donated about $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, a group which Perry chaired twice and has been among his most generous campaign donors.
In addition, Perry’s ties to the company have come under scrutiny because he issued the vaccination mandate at a time when his former chief of staff was working for the Texas Lobby Group, which was retained by Merck.
One of Perry’s rivals for the presidential nomination, Representative Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, suggested during yesterday’s debate that Perry issued the executive order to help a political donor that also employed a former senior aide as a lobbyist.
“The question is, is it about life or was it about millions of dollars, and potentially billions, for a drug company?” Bachmann asked during the debate in Tampa sponsored by CNN and Tea Party activists.
“If you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended,” Perry responded.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine Gardasil in June 2006. The following year, Perry issued an executive order that Texas girls be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) by age 12, and that Gardasil was the only such drug on the market. Perry said his goal was saving lives by reducing cases of cervical cancer and other diseases.
“The governor erred on the side of life,” said Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner. “There are people in this race who are trying to elevate their names and get into the news cycle based on false and misleading facts. The governor was saving and protecting life.”
Perry has proved a successful fundraiser as governor, bringing in more than $100 million during his decade in the office and boosting the influence of the governors’ association while helping lead the group.
Pam Eisele, a Merck spokeswoman, said the firm “is strongly committed to decreasing the number of males and females impacted by HPV related diseases.”
In 2007, Eisele said, the Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based company’s lobbying became a distraction in several states, including Texas. “So, in an effort to get the focus back to this important issue, Merck suspended its lobbying efforts on state school requirements,” she said.
Perry’s donations from Merck date back to 2004, according to campaign finance disclosures compiled by the Helena, Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The company donated about $500,000 to the RGA since 2003, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, including annual checks for $50,000 from 2005 through this year. Perry served as RGA vice chairman in 2007 and chairman in 2008 and for several months of this year.
Mike Toomey, a former Texas state House member who served as Perry’s chief of staff, became a lobbyist for the firm after leaving the governor’s office.
Toomey also is a founder of the pro-Perry Super PAC, Make Us Great Again, which is raising money to help get the Texas governor elected to the White House. Toomey didn’t respond to a telephone message today seeking comment.
“This is just another shameful example showing Rick Perry putting his special interest friends ahead of the people of Texas. He has built a pay to play network during his tenure that represents everything the American people believe is wrong with politics,” said Ty Matsdorf, a spokesman for American Bridge 21st Century, a pro-Democrat opposition research group.