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 For Perry, Use of Private Jets as Part of Job

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PostSubject: For Perry, Use of Private Jets as Part of Job   Fri Nov 04, 2011 5:58 am

On a July morning in 2008, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and several aides boarded a plane for Washington to lobby on ethanol use, an issue important to corn growers and livestock owners in his state.

The growers favored federal rules requiring the use of the corn-based fuel in gasoline, but beef and chicken suppliers said the rules would raise the price of feed stocks. Mr. Perry was firmly in the livestock camp, and he took his case straight to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, urging him to waive the ethanol mandate to lower the cost of corn.

While executives from the livestock industry did not attend Mr. Perry’s private cheap jerseys free shipping meeting at the E.P.A., the governor would not have made it there without them — literally. The Hawker 800XP plane that Mr. Perry and his team flew from Austin to Washington and back was provided by Lonnie Pilgrim, one of the world’s largest chicken producers and a leading critic of the ethanol mandate.

Mr. Pilgrim had urged Mr. Perry during a meeting in March to take up the matter, and a lobbyist for Mr. Pilgrim’s company, the Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, worked with the governor’s office to prepare for the waiver request. The poultry magnate also flew the governor to Washington in June to take part in a news conference on the issue.

The two trips, each valued at $9,179, were among more than 200 flights worth a total of $1.3 million that Mr. Perry has accepted — free — from corporate executives and wealthy donors during 11 years as governor, according to an analysis of Texas Ethics Commission records by The New York Times.

Although many of the trips were for political or ceremonial events cheap football jerseys— not unusual for elected officials — others involved governmental functions, including some that were of interest to the planes’ owners. As a result, a group of well-heeled businessmen has effectively helped underwrite some of Mr. Perry’s activities as governor.

The head of a Texas oil refinery spent almost $20,000 flying Mr. Perry and his staff to a trade meeting in Mexico, where the governor asked Mexican energy officials to consider more joint ventures with Texas oil companies. Other Texas business owners have paid Mr. Perry’s way to Washington to lobby on immigration, testify before Congress and meet with the homeland security secretary.

Mr. Perry’s travels adhere to Texas ethics laws, and he is far from alone in accepting gifts of air travel. But among politicians he stands out for taking private flights for activities that are considered part of his job as governor. That is different from campaign travel or the sort of quasi-official trips for which officeholders normally use private planes, like attending a conference or giving a speech.

“It would be unusual for an official to be flown to Washington t cheap baseball jerseyso testify before Congress by a special interest of some kind,” said Robert M. Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “Usually the state would pay for that.”

Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for Mr. Perry, defended the governor’s use of private planes, saying it was part of an effort to save tax dollars. Mr. Sullivan acknowledged “there are critiques to be made” about using state-owned versus private planes, but said “we chose to err on the side of protecting taxpayers.”

When the governor’s staff asks to use a private plane, no promisesNHL Jerseys Cheap are made and no consideration is given to whether the owner has an interest in the trip, he said. “Over the years we’ve developed a good feel for supporters and other Texans who own private aircraft that we could ask to use,” Mr. Sullivan said. “The governor bases all of his decisions on his philosophy and on what he believes is best for the citizens of the state.”

Mr. Perry’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has had to answer questions recently about his use of supporters’ planes. Two weeks ago, after The Times questioned whether he was properly reimbursing the costs of such flights for the presidential race, his campaign said it had mistakenly understated them and would pay tens of thousands of dollars more to comply with the law.

Before running for president, Mr. Perry drew attention in Texas for his plane use. A 2007 report by Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit policy group, found that of the 338 private plane trips taken by 81 elected officials in the previous two years, Mr. Perry took the most, accounting for 18 percent of the total.

Nationally, concern about the ethics of such practices has stirred changes. When he was governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger regularly flew on jets paid for by donations to a foundation he used for that purpose, until the practice was effectively banned by state law last year. snsbarsMembers of Congress generally cannot use private aircraft for duties related to their office, under a 2007 federal law, said Paul Ryan, a lawyer with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

Texas remains relatively permissive. State law says an officeholder’s expenses can be paid with private donations if they “are not reimbursable with public money,” which would seem to rule out official trips. The Texas Ethics Commission, however, has said officials are not required to charge those expenses to the state. Further, while state law allows officials to count the cost of any flights as in-kind campaign donations, they are not required to reimburse plane owners.

As a result, said Buck Wood, an Austin lawyer who specializes in ethics cases and admits being “no friend of Rick Perry,” the governor broke no laws by accepting flights for official activities.

“If you want to say it smells to hell, it does,” Mr. Wood said. “But the fact is, that sort of transaction is not uncommon and is permitted in Texas.”

Details of Mr. Perry’s flights as governor are sketchy. The purpose of incheap nfl jerseys-state trips does not need to be reported, and only minimal disclosure is required for those outside the state. In the case of the ethanol lobbying trip, Mr. Pilgrim had an obvious interest, but any motivations of other plane owners are less clear; none of those contacted, including representatives of Mr. Pilgrim, would comment.

The privately financed trips included that official visit to Mexico in August 2007, where Mr. Perry met with President Felipe Calderón and took along Texas business leaders to talk about trade. The flight was provided by Paul Foster, the chairman of Western Refining, an El Paso-based oil refiner and marketer with interests in Mexico. During the trip, Mr. Perry encouraged the Mexican government to open up its state-owned oil monopoly to partnerships with Texas companies.

When Mr. Perry and aides traveled to Capitol Hill to testify about hurricane relief before the Senate Appropriations Committee, the flight was provided by Danny Janecka, the owner of a Texas food processing company, who has given $158,000 to Mr. Perry’s campaigns. Mr. Janecka paid $16,700 for the round-trip flight, according to ethics commission records.

Mr. Perry has taken trips paid for by TexasOne, a nonprofit economic development initiative he created that is financed by corporations including AT&T, Exxon Mobil and Novartis. The foundation arranged for Mr. Perry and his wife to use a private plane for an economic development trip to Israel in 2009, paid for with an $180,000 donation from a road-building contractor, according to published reports confirmed by the governor’s office.

The trips provided by Mr. Pilgrim in 2008 followed a lobbying effort by the livestock industry to halve the national quota of nine billion gallons of renewable fuel that year. Mr. Pilgrim, who has contributed more than $600,000 to Mr. Perry’s state campaigns, donated $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association, then led by Mr. Perry, in March 2008, around the time the ethanol issue was being discussed.

Mr. Sullivan, the governor’s spokesman, said that he did not know how Mr. Perry wound up using Mr. Pilgrim’s plane, but that it did not affect Mr. Perry’s decision to pursue the waiver, which the governor had long believed was necessary to protect a major sector of the state’s economy.

Mr. Perry’s June flight to Washington to take part in a news conference with livestock industry lobbyists was noted at the time by The Houston Chronicle, which first reported on the governor’s dealings with Mr. Pilgrim on the ethanol issue. His subsequent trip to meet with Stephen L. Johnson, then the E.P.A. administrator, has not been previously reported. After that meeting, Mr. Perry and his aides returned to Austin the same day, according to Flightwise.com, which tracks flight data.

Mr. Johnson ultimately decided against granting the waiver. But Mr. Perry’s lobbying did not sit well with corn growers, who said they felt snubbed by the governor’s office, which seemed to be taking its cues from the influential livestock and poultry industry.
http://talktubeforum.darkbb.com/t11-for-perry-use-of-private-jets-as-part-of-job
“We came to the view that it was more about politics than about policy,” said David Gibson, executive director of the Texas Corn Producers Board.
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