Rick Perry Staffs Up as Allies Launch Super PAC

Former Gov. Rick Perry during a press conference with his legal team on Jan. 28, 2015.
Former Gov. Rick Perry during a press conference with his legal team on Jan. 28, 2015.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Allies of former Gov. Rick Perry have launched a super PAC that can raise unlimited amounts of money to boost the likely 2016 candidate, one of several signs that his presidential apparatus is kicking into high gear.

The Opportunity and Freedom PAC will "educate voters on Perry’s record as governor of Texas and promote his vision for the future of America," supporters said in a news release. The super PAC also unveiled a web video touting Perry's rise from small-town Paint Creek to the state's highest office, a narrative expected to factor prominently into its messaging. 

The formation of the super PAC was just one indication Thursday Perry's circle is ramping up ahead of a campaign that could be official as early as next month. A person close to the operation said Jeff Miller, Perry's chief political strategist, is now working full-time for RickPAC, Perry's leadership PAC. Perry's team also announced it has formally brought on board five GOP hands in South Carolina.

Mississippi-based Republican operative Austin Barbour is leading the super PAC as a senior adviser. He is the brother of Henry Barbour, a longtime friend of Perry's and informal adviser over the years. Their uncle is former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

 

In an interview Thursday afternoon, Austin Barbour said the super PAC already has "had several individuals who've stepped up big" but declined to identify them or how much they have committed. He predicted the "Paint Creek story" will resonate with donors as it does with people Perry has been meeting with in the states holding the first presidential primaries.

"That is a story that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and the rest of the country can relate to," Barbour said. "This is not a guy who was born with a silver spoon in his hand." 

Also on board as a senior adviser to the super PAC is Tony Russo, a strategist who is close to Miller. Two former chiefs of staff to Perry — Ray Sullivan and Mike Toomey — are serving as co-chairmen of the Super PAC. 

In addition to highlighting his up-by-the-bootstraps biography, the Perry supporters indicated they plan to showcase the wide range of decisions the former governor had to make as he led the second-most-populous state. 

"As governor, Rick Perry dealt with hurricanes, wildfires, a space shuttle explosion, and the federal government's failure to secure our border," Toomey said in a statement. "In all these circumstances, Governor Perry displayed an ability to take decisive action. He always leads from the front."

In a separate statement, Sullivan said Perry's "economic record is without equal."

Although their connections could be numerous, the super PAC will not be allowed to coordinate political activity with Perry's campaign under federal law. Many RickPAC officials are likely to transition to the campaign, including the five hires in the Palmetto State the committee rolled out Thursday.

At the helm of Perry's newly named crew in South Carolina is Katon Dawson, the chairman of the former governor's 2012 bid in the state who has been informally guiding his travels there over the past two years. The rest of the team includes South Carolina GOP operatives Walter Whetsell, Le Frye, Jeff Alderman and Jonathan Davis. CNN first reported the hires in the Palmetto State as well as Miller's move. 

As RickPAC finalized the South Carolina staff this week, Perry's supporters submitted the paperwork to create the super PAC, according to Federal Election Commission records. The super PAC is based in Houston, according to the paperwork, which the FEC received Wednesday.

The super PAC's treasurer is listed as Stefan Passantino, the Washington, D.C., lawyer who most recently served in the same position for RickPAC. Kathy Walt, Perry's former chief of staff, recently replaced Passantino as treasurer of RickPAC, according to FEC records. 

Dallas-based Glass House Strategy produced the web video.
 

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