Aug. 17, 2011 -- Appointing campaign donors to high-level government jobs might sound like a front-page scandal, but it is a common practice, especially in states such as Texas where there are no limits on campaign donations.
And as the longest-serving governor in Texas history, Rick Perry has made his fair share of appointments. Of the nearly 4,000 government jobs that the GOP's newest presidential candidate has filled, almost one in four of them went to campaign donors.
"We say it's the Wild West," Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, said. "Only a quarter of the appointees gave money but they gave a substantial amount of money."
Indeed, about $17 million, or 21 percent, of the $83.2 million Perry raised between 2001 and 2010 came from the governor's political appointees, according to Texans for Public Justice, which advocates for campaign-donation limits.
But Perry's appointments were based solely on merit, according to his office.
"The governor makes appointments based on an applicant's qualifications and willingness to serve," deputy press secretary Lucy Nashed said in a statement.
Others say the overlap between donors and appointees is just the nature of politics.
"This is always an issue that's hard to disentangle," said Brad Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. "Obviously, you are going to appoint your supporters. It's sort of unfair to say they just got their jobs because they gave contributions. Of course, people who support Perry are going to contribute to his campaign."
For example, Peter Holt and Thomas Friedkin each donated more than half a million dollars to Perry between 2001 and 2010, according to the public justice report. They were appointed to the state Parks and Wildlife Commission. Chairman Holt, who heads the largest U.S. Caterpillar dealership, is principle owner of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs. Vice Chairman Friedkin, a Toyota distributor, is an active wildlife conservationist.
Wildlife commission appointees have collectively given more than $2 million to Perry in the past decade. Texas A&M University Board of Regents appointees are also large Perry donors, having donated an average of $113,000 each. Four board members have given more than $200,000, according to the report.
"Some people gave before they were appointed, some after and some both," McDonald said. "We aren't saying there is a cause and effect, we're just saying look at this."
The practice of appointing big donors is not unique to Perry. President Obama appointed 200 of his campaign "bundlers" who raised at least $50,000 for the president's election campaign, according to a Center for Public Integrity report.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has also caught some flak for appointing a campaign donor after he appointed Mariyana Spyropoulos to the Water Reclamation District. Spyropoulos's father donated $25,000 to Quinn's campaign during a tough primary five months after Spyropoulos' appointment, then another $25,000 after he won the primary, according to a 2010 Chicago Tribune review of public records.
Appointing Donors 'No Cause for Undo Condemnation'
"I had to appoint people ... to positions of importance," Quinn told the Tribune. "And I wanted to find the best people, and many people who have helped me politically, I've known for years, decades, and they support me because they believe in my approach to government."
As of March 2011, 26 of the 59 people that South Carolina Gov. Haley appointed had contributed to her campaign, giving a total of about $75,000 throughout the 2010 election, the State newspaper reported.
"Obviously, any politician is going to rely on the people who support him," Smith of the Center for Competitive Politics said. "And the people you appoint to high positions are successful people and these people make a lot of money so typically they are going to be financial supporters.
"It is sort of unfair to say it's all corrupt. Like so many things in life, the reality is pretty complex," Smith added. "Politicians want people who have proven their loyalty. So I guess that is a long way of saying it's the nature of the beast."
But while appointing campaign donors is common practice, Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for advocate Public Citizen, said Perry has taken it to extremes.
"All we can see form the numbers that are disclosed is there is an obvious pattern," Holman said. "The pattern in itself should be very troubling. It's higher than I've seen among nearly all politicians."
Perry has also appointed more people than almost any other governor because he has been in office longer. Appointees should be judged on the results they get while in office, Smith cautioned, not the money they give to campaigns.
"I wouldn't say it's no cause for concern," he said, "but it is also no cause for undo condemnation."