By Murray Waas and Peter Henderson
(Reuters) - Contradictions in sworn statements about Rick Perry's fundraising for his 2006 reelection bid raise questions about whether aides to the Texas governor, who is now running for president, gave false or misleading testimony under oath.
In a civil suit later filed by Chris Bell, Perry's Democratic challenger in that race, the testimony of aides David Carney and Deirdre Delisi was directly contradicted by a sworn statement from Perry's own gubernatorial campaign committee.
At issue were the circumstances surrounding a $1 million contribution to the campaign, and whether the Republican Governors' Association, which paid out the funds, was used as a conduit to camouflage their true origin. The lawsuit alleged that the actual donor was Texas multi-millionaire Bob Perry, a long-time supporter of Rick Perry (no relation) better known for bankrolling the Swift Boat campaign that torpedoed Senator John Kerry's presidential bid.
Carney has long been the Texas governor's closest political strategist. Delisi was formerly Governor Perry's chief of staff and now serves as a senior policy advisor to his presidential campaign.
Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner declined to comment on anything regarding the legal case, saying that a 2010 settlement, which required Perry to pay $427,000 to Bell's campaign, barred either side from saying anything further. It also diminished the chance of any further legal action against Carney and Delisi if, in fact, they gave false or misleading testimony in the case.
Prior to the case being settled, only a few pages of the aides' testimony had been entered into the trial court record. The complete depositions have since been seen by Reuters.
A LAST MINUTE PLEA FOR CASH
Bell's lawsuit alleged that Perry and the Republican Governors Association (RGA) violated the state's campaign finance laws. Discovery in the civil action examined the circumstances under which the RGA gave a last-minute $1 million contribution to Perry as the race suddenly tightened. Bell alleged the governor's reelection campaign, Texans for Perry (TFP), and the RGA collaborated to disguise the fact that this donation came from Bob Perry. Bell also asserted that this arrangement was discussed in an October meeting between Carney, Delisi and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. At the time Romney, who is now Perry's rival for the presidential nomination, was chairman of the RGA.
Delisi testified that she had no contact with the RGA about fundraising during the 2006 campaign. Carney testified about only one pitch for money from the RGA and made no mention of the meeting with Romney.
But the sworn statement by Perry's own campaign committee said that Delisi and Carney met with Romney in Washington D.C. on October 4, 2006, to discuss a last-minute contribution. Governor Romney was never deposed and did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Texans for Rick Perry opted last year to settle the case. The RGA refused to settle, and on August 31, 2010, Texas state judge John K. Dietz of Travis County awarded Bell $2 million, ruling that the RGA had violated state campaign finance law by failing to register as a political committee and not reporting the Perry contribution until after the election. A spokesman for the RGA, Mike Schrimpf, told Reuters: "The RGA is appealing the decision."
The Texas court did not rule on whether the $1 million RGA gave to Rick Perry's campaign was a disguised contribution from Bob Perry. TRP and the RGA denied that this was the case in statements to the court. Bob Perry said in sworn testimony that he had not spoken with Rick Perry's campaign staff.
A LOYAL DONOR
Over the years Bob Perry and his wife have given more than $2.5 million to Rick Perry's various campaign.
Another large, direct contribution to the governor's reelection bid would not have been illegal - Texas campaign laws put no limit on individual donations - but it might have looked unseemly at a time when Rick Perry was lambasting Bell for taking $1 million from a single wealthy donor.
Documents and testimony from the lawsuit established the following:
* On October 4, 2006, Carney and Delisi met with RGA chairman Mitt Romney in Washington about the need for campaign cash, according to the Perry campaign statement.
* On October 6 of that year Bob Perry made a $1 million contribution to the RGA.
* On October 27 the RGA cut the first of two $500,000 checks to Texans for Perry.
* On October 30 Bob Perry donated another $500,000 to the RGA, and another $50,000 the next day.
* On November 1 Phil Musser, executive director of the RGA, personally handed over a second $500,000 check to Rick Perry in the RGA's Washington offices.
* On Nov 2, Rick Perry defeated Bell and two independent candidates, winning reelection with 39 percent of the vote.
The campaign's statement to the court said that when Delisi and Carney met with Mitt Romney on October 4 they were told that the RGA was about to receive $1 million from a Texas donor. "Gov. Romney did not identify who the individual was, and TRP had no knowledge prior to that time that any individual was planning to contribute $1 million to the RGA," the statement said. According to this document, it was only later that "Delisi connected with Bob Perry's attorney Buddy Jones to ask whether Mr. Perry had contributed money to the RGA." When Jones confirmed it, the statement continued, "Delisi asked Mr. Jones to encourage the RGA to make some contributions in Texas since the RGA raised such significant funds in Texas."
Mr. Jones declined to comment.
The statement also said that Carney had multiple conversations with the RGA, requesting $1 million and then a second $1 million. "Toward the end of the campaign, Mr. Carney asked the RGA if it would contribute an additional $1 million for a total of $2 million," it said.
These statements contradict Delisi's and Carney's own testimony.
WHAT THE AIDES SAID
"When you were performing some campaign activities for the 2006 Perry campaign, did you interact in any way with the Republican Governors' Association?" Delisi was asked in her January
8, 2009 deposition.
"No," she answered, then added that she had been in contact with the RGA over scheduling some events.
"Were you involved in any way with soliciting any contributions made totaling a million dollars?" the lawyer added.
"No," Delisi replied.
Delisi was then asked: "Are you familiar with anyone - do you know anyone who - that was involved in soliciting contributions from RGA to the Perry campaign in 2006, in - excuse me, in October 2006?"
"Yes. Toward the end of the campaign Dave Carney had conversations with the RGA about financial support as had been previously discussed earlier in the year."
Delisi said she didn't know whether anyone else in the campaign had contacts with the RGA.
Carney's January 28, 2009 deposition painted a more muddled picture of the campaign's interactions with the RGA. When he first asked the RGA for money, he said, "they laughed," because Governor Perry appeared to be holding a comfortable lead. Carney
described an early-race strategy of asking for funds just in case the RGA ended up with extra cash, but he did not recall the date of the conversation and said it could have been as late as October, the month before the vote.
"(D)id you follow up on your request to the RGA after you asked them for the $2 million?" he was asked later in the deposition.
"I don't think so," Carney responded.
Asked about his knowledge of the late, $1 million contribution, Carney claimed ignorance.
"Did you ever know what they committed to give?"
The RGA's executive director, Phil Musser "told me they were going to give us a million dollars," Carney said, adding later that he learned of the contribution by seeing $1 million show up in campaign cash reports, rather than hearing at the time about the two $500,000 checks.
Asked when he became aware of those payments, Carney said, "I'm not sure. I honestly don't know when it was."
And Perry's settling the lawsuit before launching his presidential bid will likely forestall any further investigation of the matter.
(Editing by Lee Aitken and Michael Williams)