Although state law prohibits Texas elected officials from accepting campaign contributions during the legislative session, Gov. Rick Perry this year raised a record $22 million for the Republican Governors Association — a nonprofit political powerhouse that has been Perry's own top benefactor during his decade as governor.
During this year's legislative session moratorium, Perry chaired the Washington-based RGA as it raised about $4 million from Texans, tapping some of the same top contributors to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns, according to a Chronicle analysis of IRS records.
Perry, who chaired the governors association in 2008 and in 2011, has received more donations from the RGA than any other supporter. He collected $3 million from the RGA for his 2010 campaign and another $1 million in 2006 that was challenged by an opponent as an illegal contribution.
Those RGA fundraising activities raise the question of whether Perry was exploiting a loophole in the Texas moratorium by soliciting campaign contributions from Texans with stakes in the outcome of the 2011 legislative session.
Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, argued that Perry was sidestepping the state law banning contributions during a legislative session and simply routing money to a different bank account.
"It appears the governor has a back pocket for his campaign money when he is restricted from taking money for his Texas account," McDonald said.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the governor's RGA fundraising was legal and benefitted others.
"Following the law, no fundraising was done for the governor's state political committee during the legislative session," Miner said in an email. "As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Gov. Perry raised funds to help elect Republican governors around the country."
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Both the Democratic Governors Association and the Republican Governors Association, political nonprofits that contribute directly to gubernatorial campaigns and spend millions more on advertising and strategy, have grown into mega-players in state governors' races in recent years, reporting record-breaking jumps in their war chests. In the first six months of 2011, both groups boasted of reaching new records — with the Democrats collecting $11 million to the Republicans' $22 million.
The governors behind those fundraising feats — Perry for the Republicans and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley for the Democrats — hail from states that ban campaign fundraising during legislative sessions. Both legislatures met this year.
DGA spokeswoman Elisabeth Smith said the Maryland attorney general ruled in 1999 that the governor could participate as a DGA fundraiser during a legislative session.
In an email, RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf said "there are no ethical issues" with a group like the RGA accepting money during a legislative session, noting Texas law does not mention independent political committees.
Texas has banned campaign fundraising during the legislative session since 1981, when a bribery scandal prompted calls for a moratorium on cash and other gifts once exchanged openly on the legislative floor. Nationwide, 28 states restrict campaign contributions during legislative sessions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In 2006, Perry's $1 million contribution from the RGA sparked a lawsuit from Democratic challenger Chris Bell, who claimed the last-minute cash infusion violated state ethics laws because the RGA had not registered as a political committee in Texas. The Perry campaign settled the lawsuit with Bell, but the RGA is appealing a court verdict awarding the Democrat $2 million in damages.
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