Time for Governor to Come Clean

Time for Governor to Come Clean

Gov. Perry Should Reveal Who Is Paying for Pastors to Hear His Campaign Pitches

August 24, 2005

AUSTIN The president of the Texas Freedom Network today called on Gov. Rick Perry to reveal who is paying to recruit hundreds of Texas pastors to hear him and his political backers at campaign-style events around the state.

“It’s time for Gov. Perry to come clean,” said TFN President Kathy Miller. “Texans have a right to know who is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to get pastors to support the governor’s reelection campaign.”

Gov. Perry spoke today at the Austin Hilton Hotel to hundreds of clergy members and their wives at a “Pastors’ Policy Briefing.” The event was the second in a series of at least six planned conferences in cities around the state. The first was in May, also at the Austin Hilton.

The gatherings are sponsored by the Texas Restoration Project, which promotional materials say “was established to mobilize pastors and pews to restore Texas and America to our Judeo-Christian heritage.”

“We applaud all people of faith who take an active role in the democratic process,” Miller said. “But these so-called ‘briefings’ appear to be little more than slick and expensive campaign opportunities paid for by secret funders.”

More than 500 pastors attended the first “Pastors’ Policy Briefing” in Austin. Hundreds of others attended this week’s event. Organizers have not revealed who is paying for the pastors and their wives to attend these events for free.

At this week’s event, however, wealthy San Antonio businessman Dr. James Leininger sat at the front and was repeatedly thanked by speakers. East Texas chicken tycoon Bo Pilgrim introduced the governor today. Together, Dr. Leininger and Mr. Pilgrim have donated or loaned more than $1.6 million to the governor’s election campaigns since 1997. Each donated $50,000 to the Gov. Perry’s reelection campaign in June of this year, according to records from the Texas Ethics Commission.

Programs for the “briefings” show that the only speakers have been the governor and some of his most outspoken supporters, as well as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Neither the governor’s Republican primary opponent state Comptroller Carole Strayhorn nor, apparently, any Democrats were invited to speak.

The events have been closed to mainstream news media, but a news crew from the Christian Broadcasting Network attended at least part of this week’s event. Speakers sang the governor’s praises, with former state GOP chair Susan Weddington calling him “a spiritual giant.”

Such rhetoric made the event’s purpose clear, TFN’s Miller said.

“If the governor is going to use clergy and churches to build his reelection machine, he should be open about who is paying for it,” Miller said. “After all, Texans have a right to know what big-dollar special interests are dragging our churches into partisan politics.”