Friday, September 23, 2011

Rick Perry's campaign hopes the stench of his "blind trust" will fade before primary

Perry trust invested in companies that had state, political ties


By Chuck Lindell
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2011

A striking number of companies in Gov. Rick Perry's blind trust, designed to handle investment decisions to avoid conflicts of interest, had personal or political ties to the governor, a state watchdog group said Wednesday.

Perry's trust, revoked last month in preparation for the governor's federal filings, included investments in a business begun by a friend and stock in companies that received tax-funded grants or donated money to Perry's campaigns, according to Texans for Public Justice, an Austin nonprofit that tracks money and politics.

"I don't have any proof that anything untoward happened," said Craig McDonald, director of the nonprofit. "It does seem coincidental. His private investments mesh pretty well with his political interests and his donor base."

Perry revoked the blind trust to comply with campaign laws in his run for the Republican presidential nomination. Candidates for federal office must report all financial holdings to the Federal Election Commission. Perry's first filing is due next month.

Perry did not coordinate or influence the blind trust's investments, presidential campaign spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said.

"Gov. Perry was uninvolved in sales and purchases of items in the trust and was unaware of the trust's holdings that were recently disclosed," she said.

Perry's investments included an ownership interest in MKS Natural Gas Co., which earned the governor between $10,000 and $25,000 in income last year, according to records Perry provided to the Texas Ethics Commission last month.

MKS was founded by Ric Williamson, a close Perry associate when both served in the Texas House in the 1980s. Perry appointed Williamson, who died in 2007, to the Texas Transportation Commission. Perry also appointed his widow, Mary Ann Williamson, to the Texas Lottery Commission in 2008.

Perry owned or sold shares in three companies — Automatic Data Processing, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard — that received a combined $12.2 million in grants from the Texas Enterprise Fund, McDonald said. The fund, managed by Perry's office, is used to encourage businesses to relocate or expand in Texas.

Those companies, or their officials, also donated a combined $40,000 to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns and $1.6 million to the Republican Governors Association when Perry was chairman of the organization, McDonald said.

Three other companies — Novartis, Ecolab and Multimedia Games — also donated to Perry, the governor's association or both, McDonald said.

"Given that Perry reported stock holdings in just 37 companies, a surprising number of these blind stock picks enjoy ties to the governor," Texans for Public Justice said., 912-2569

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