There hasn't been much reason these past few weeks to dig back into the vast landscape of unsavory dealings in Rick Perry's Texas, given the governor's increasing irrelevance in the GOP primary. But his new attack on Rick Santorum -- the candidate who seems poised to steal whatever social conservative thunder Perry has been seeking -- demands a quick return to the Lone Star State to address the hypocrisy.
I'll let CNN describe Perry's new attack ad:
In a new radio ad released by Perry's team Thursday, Santorum is portrayed as a free-spending Washington insider who voted for earmarks and wasteful spending during his time in Congress. Watch a web version of the ad here.
The ad mimics a game show, asking questions of contestants like "Which Republican running for president voted for the bridge to nowhere?" and "Who personally demanded more that $1 billion in earmarks to his sixteen years in Congress?" Each time the announcer proclaims the answer: "Rick Santorum!"
The spot features a clip of Santorum saying he was "very proud of the earmarks" he wrote into spending legislation. "Rick Santorum is proud of feeding at the earmark trough in Congress," Perry's ad proclaims.
Okay...where to start with this? Well, one could note that Perry caused a controversy in Texas when he spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on top Washington lobbying firms like Cassidy & Associates and Ogilvy to supplement the work that the state's office of state-federal relations was doing in trying to secure federal funding for Texas. After paying the lobbyists for several years, Perry finally dropped them under pressure in 2006. As a lobbyist at one of the firms explained to me when I was reporting my September cover piece on Perry's rise to power, Perry and his aides in Texas "were trying to improve their ability not only to ensure they were getting access to available federal resources but to make sure they were adequately staffed to be apprised of any regulatory changes that might affect them."
Or one could note that, despite much fulminating about the federal stimulus package, Perry managed to balance the state budget leading up to his 2010 reelection thanks only to the massive infusion of additional federal aid that the stimulus provided. It was only after his reelection, as the stimulus began to wear off, that the extent of the state's budget crisis emerged, leading him to make big cuts in education and other spending.
Or one could note that much of Perry's economic development program in Texas was based, in one way or another, on earmarks. The Emerging Technology Fund that he created is, essentially, earmarking at the state level -- it has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to start-up ventures, in many cases ones owned or backed by his friends and associates. Then there's the Enterprise Fund, which has awarded hundreds of millions of state dollars to established companies that move to Texas; in my cover story, I focused on one particular award from that fund, $3.6 million that went to an entity in called the Texas Energy Center, a proposed public-private consortium whose true purpose was to serve as a receptacle for a windfall of federal funding that the Center's supporters were hoping to procure in the Bush-Cheney energy bill. The money never came through (despite the aforementioned lobbyists and the best efforts of Tom DeLay, in whose district the Center was sited) and the Center now exists only as a figment on paper -- as, you might say, a Sugar Land version of the dreaded Bridge to Nowhere.
If this is what the supremely ill-fated Perry campaign has come to -- a hypocritical attack on Rick Santorum, of all people -- then it really must be time to head back to Austin.