WASHINGTON — Time and again, Texas Gov. Rick Perry picked up his office phone in the months before he would announce his bid for the presidency. He dialed wealthy friends who were his big fundraisers and state officials who owed him for their jobs.
Perry also met with a Texas executive who would later co-found an independent political committee that has promised to raise millions to support Perry but is prohibited from coordinating its activities with the governor.
An Associated Press review of Perry's phone records and daily public schedules reveals a chronology — at times, minute by minute — of the governor's meetings before his campaign launch. Texas state ethics rules prohibit use of state phones for campaign purposes. Perry officials said the talks were for official business.
The governor's files also show connections between Perry and many of his early supporters. Those whom Perry called have raised millions for his state campaigns, and he appointed some of them to Texas state jobs. Some were quick to return the favor by donating to his White House campaign.
They included Brint Ryan, a Dallas businessman and University of North Texas regent whom Perry talked with in-person and on Ryan's cell phone in April, just as buzz swirled of Perry's presidential ambitions. Ryan would go on to back Make Us Great Again, a "super" political action committee that legally is not permitted to coordinate with Perry or his campaign.
Fred Wertheimer, the head of campaign watchdog group Democracy 21, said the roles of elected officials who are running for office can blur. "But the elected official has to take appropriate steps that ensure that government resources aren't being used for campaign purposes," Wertheimer said. The conversations in the spring between Ryan and Perry, he said, "raise the question of whether this so-called candidate-specific super PAC is really independent from the governor."
It's unclear what Perry and all of his supporters discussed in their conversations, and Perry didn't appear to contact Ryan since his Aug. 13 campaign announcement. State logs do not record incoming calls or those made by aides, and most of Perry's daily schedules produced since then say only that Perry was "tending to state business" with no further details.
"Gov. Perry only conducts state business on his state office phone," Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said, adding that members of his executive staff have access to his line. A Make Us Great Again representative said Ryan and Perry discussed higher education and economic issues in the governor's office April 29, but wasn't aware of the phone call.
Perry's conversations with Ryan aren't unique. The governor has reached out to local political allies and national power players alike:
—Hank Greenberg, the former chief of American International Group, received a seven-minute call from Perry last summer. Castle said the call was to thank Greenberg for hosting a meeting the day before. Greenberg also hosted a New York fundraising event for Perry in September.
—Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim, a Texas poultry magnate, contributed to Perry campaigns and the Republican Governors Association, which Perry ran until recently. Pilgrim was not only in contact with Perry by phone in recent years; he also provided air travel in 2008 so that the governor could travel to Washington and argue against rules that require more ethanol in fuel, which Pilgrim opposed over concerns they would increase feed grain prices.
—Since his August announcement, Perry phoned the office of Andy Card, President George W. Bush's chief of staff, and Frederick McClure, a former Texas A&M University regent who worked on the Bush presidential transition committee.
Old friends also made the list: Perry called the home and business lines of Phil Adams, another Texas A&M regent, more than a dozen times between 2006 and 2008. Adams, meanwhile, has given Perry more than $250,000 in contributions.
Perry's connections with the founders of the super PAC supporting him are hardly unique. Aides to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney founded Restore Our Future in 2010, and a former spokesman for President Barack Obama formed super PAC Priorities USA Action to help the incumbent's re-election efforts. Indeed, all politicians reach out to potential donors and fundraisers as they gear up their campaigns.
The AP obtained Perry's records through public-records requests and cross-matched thousands of phone numbers to identify those Perry called. Texas rules frown on government employees using state phones for personal use; they also prohibit calls that cost the state extra money, although documents show that the costs of Perry's long-distance calls were inexpensive.
The AP's review was incomplete. When Perry's administration turned over the records AP had requested, it censored dozens of calls for privacy reasons, and his schedules in recent years contain only partial information. Perry has said publicly that government institutions should be more transparent and accountable to voters.
Follow Jack Gillum at http://twitter.com/jackgillum
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