Gov. Rick Perry has been burning up the miles since he won re-election last year. He is on track to have made nearly 50 stops in 21 states by November.
He's been on a book tour. He's been the top pitchman for the Lone Star State’s friendly business climate and an unabashed poacher of jobs from other states. Also, as leader of the Republican Governors Association, he has traveled the country to help Republican candidates for governor.
All that travel is not cheap. But it is unclear exactly how much it costs Texas taxpayers.
The governor’s airfare, hotel bills and security costs are paid for with a mix of campaign and private and public money. And state laws allow the governor to keep confidential much of the cost of his travels.
The Texas Tribune's PerryTracker map follows Perry’s out-of-state appearances since his re-election last year. Between his previous travels and his forthcoming itinerary, he is on pace to make at least 46 stops before November.
Mark Miner, Perry’s spokesman, said the governor tries to make the most of all his trips. For instance, Perry often holds side meetings with leaders from the private sector. “No matter where he goes, a major goal of his is to attract businesses to either relocate to this state or create new jobs in Texas,” Miner said.
Whatever the stated purpose of his trips, though, the governor’s message, usually before Republican audiences, is often tinged with strong rhetoric bashing the federal government and reinforcing his own social conservative values.
Miner said the RGA pays for trips related to Perry's role as the organization's chair and chief fundraiser, but the governor has always relied on his state campaign fund, Texans for Rick Perry, to foot cover his airfare, hotels and other standard travel expenditures. (Perry's campaign outlined some of those expenses on Friday in their latest campaign finance report.) That policy applies to both in-state and out-of-state travels and ensures that the governor’s office does not break state laws that prohibit the use of taxpayer money for campaign purposes.
Perry can also accept in-kind donations to his campaign that could include noncash goods like chartered planes and train tickets for his staff. He cannot accept those donations during the 140-day legislative session every two years, though, because of a campaign finance law intended to prevent potential conflicts of interest.
Miner said his boss does not accept speaking fees and has made it a habit to rely on private donors to pay for his travels since he became governor in 2000. Taxpayers, though, still pay for the governor’s security detail, provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The specific costs of those services are confidential. The Tribune's request for that information is pending review. In the past, though, the DPS has released total figures but has withheld itemized expenses, citing security concerns. The Texas Supreme Court recently sided with the department and ruled that the records should remain sealed.
The Texas Legislature added another layer of secrecy to the process when it passed a new law this year that will conceal peace officers’ travel vouchers for 18 months. The rule takes effect Sept. 28, which means the public could eventually learn about security expenses, but only for trips made after that date. All previous records can remain confidential. Though the department will file quarterly reports, it is required to report only lump sums, not detailed line-item travel expenditures.
Miner described the governor as a frugal traveler who only needs “the bare necessities.”
His definition of frugal, however, may differ from the average Texan’s. Perry’s journeys around the country and the world have come under scrutiny in the past. Critics like Keith Elkins, the executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the few records that had been released to the public included rentals for a golf cart and scuba gear during a trip Perry made to the Bahamas.
And when it comes to security expenses for the governor, Elkins said taxpayers should “know specifically how taxpayer money is being spent. Then they can make a decision on whether they support that use of funds or not.”
As attention to his travel expenses increases along with the frequency of his trips and the seeming likelihood of a presidential run, Miner said Perry would not apologize for touting Texas to the nation. “He’s not campaigning [for the presidency] because he’s not a candidate,” Mr. Miner said. “He still hasn’t made a decision.”
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