Cash for Wankers: Rick Perry's latest pyramid scheme
By GROMER JEFFERS JR.
The Dallas Morning News
Gov. Rick Perry woos campaign volunteers by talking about fiscal restraint, limited government and states' rights.
And if all that fails, he offers them cash.
The Republican governor's re-election campaign is paying volunteers to sign up other volunteers, and it promises more cash for those turning out voters in the March primary. The campaign hopes for big dividends from the Amway-style program, known as Perry Home Headquarters.
"These are people that want to be involved," said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. "It's an incentive to work hard for the governor."
It's not unusual for a campaign to offer incentives for volunteers, but they usually consist of campaign souvenirs or special opportunities, such as meeting the candidate. Cash is a rare reward but perfectly legal.
Critics say it's no different from shadowy operatives using "street money" to maximize turnout at the polls.
"It's ripe for abuse," said Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford, who managed former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell's losing campaign against Perry in 2006. "It's the Anglo ACORN. A dishonest Perry supporter could create a huge scam."
Any shenanigans, however, would probably be perpetrated on the campaign itself, with volunteers eager for as money possible turning in names that won't support Perry in March.
Perry himself has touted the program at events to build support for his GOP primary battle against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
"If everyone in this room signs up Perry Home Headquarters, we will win this race. It won't even be close," Perry told a group of volunteers in Dallas last month.
Campaign officials said those receiving money will be listed in campaign finance disclosure reports. Hutchison aides said her campaign does not pay volunteers.
Perry's use of volunteers takes a page out of the playbooks of successful grass-roots campaigns before him, including last year's historic presidential run by Barack Obama and the groundbreaking ground game used by George W. Bush in his runs for the White House.
Incentives for those efforts included photos, backstage passes, trips to swanky fundraisers and even commemorative coins. None paid straight cash.
Perry's 2006 campaign had a similar approach, as volunteers competed to accumulate points for recruiting voters.
Jonathan Neerman, now the Dallas County Republican Party chairman, was one of those volunteers. He said no cash was involved then.
"If people were getting paid, I didn't know about it," he said. "I want my check."
Here's how Perry's grass-roots organization works:
Volunteers are asked to recruit friends and neighbors, referred to as Perry Home Headquarters. Those recruits pledge in turn to recruit 11 more people to vote for Perry in the March primary.
The initial recruiters get $20 for each Perry Home Headquarter they bring in, plus another $20 for every 11 voters that the "headquarter" signs up for the primary.
The potential voters can go out and recruit more Perry Home Headquarters and voters.
Kimberly Garcia, a former Perry field director from Abilene, said the program was working well.
"For some people, like college kids, it does help," she said. "It's a Friday night out, or it helps pay the electric bill."
By using the Internet, some volunteers have racked up impressive numbers.
According to e-mail traffic from a Perry campaign organizer, a Dallas-area volunteer scored $3,500 last month by recruiting volunteers and voters.
"We are still the largest grass-roots organization working for him," said Jeff Cline, the Rockwall man who made the most cash from the grass-roots effort.
With Perry spreading around money, competition inside and outside the campaign has increased.
A Twitter post from a woman identified as Shaniqua Curry shows how easy it is to join Perry's grass-roots army, even if it is for selfish reasons:
"HELP ME RAISE MONEY FOR MY NEXT CAR!!! COPY, PASTE, AND SIGN UP TO SUPPORT RICK PERRY!" the tweet read.
Clicking on the link sends you to a Perry campaign Web page that appears to have a unique identifier so the recruiter can be paid.
Miner said there was nothing wrong with the incentives. If Curry can get her car while Perry rolls to victory, "it would be a win-win situation," he said.
Said Garcia: "Republicans have never competed this way, using the Internet and social media."
And workers all across the state are going after the money.
A message from a Perry organizer obtained by The Dallas Morning News describes how volunteers are trying to outdo each other.
"Our top recruiter in Central Texas is a recent UT grad who recruited over 30 Perry Home Headquarters and received a check for over $700 for her hard work," field organizer Jon McClellan wrote in the message. "The top producing [volunteer leadership chair] was from Dallas and he recruited over 175 Perry Home Headquarters and received a check for over $3,500. If any of you are tech savvy, you need to do this too!"
McClellan, who referred questions to Miner, urged his Central Texas crew to top the Dallas total for September.
"Our goal for this month is to beat Dallas and to grow our Facebook group to over 300 supporters," he said.
Cline, the man McClellan wants his team to catch, is coy about his success. But the insurance company owner said he wasn't in it for the money.
"I've been apolitical all of my life," he said. "But then I see what's going on with the current [presidential] administration. I decided to step up and do my part. I got a big mouth, and I know a lot of people."
Cline said he has had to let 20 employees go, which caused him to try to find answers through the political process. And he likes Perry's message.
"I really believe it's the right thing to do," he said. "It's a lot of hard work. We believe in what he's doing."
Perry praised Cline's effort during his August visit with grass-roots workers at a Dallas coffee shop, where the walls were decorated with information on how to become a Perry Home Headquarter.
"If you want to know about home headquarters, come and talk to this young man," Perry said, perhaps helping Cline raise a few extra bucks.
© 2009 The Dallas Morning News: www.dallasnews.com
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