Page 10


Perry’s connections to Leininger also include stock and airplane deals. Perry made $38,000 trading stock in Leininger’s hospital bed company, San Antonio-based Kinetic Concepts. In 1996, Perry’s campaign bought a 10 percent interest in a 1980 Piper Cheyenne I turbo prop airplane; Leininger and his brother Peter bought the other 90 percent of the plane. In 1997, the Houston Chronicle quoted Leininger as saying that Perry convinced him to buy the plane. “Rick’s the guy who talked me into getting an airplane,” Leininger said. In July of 1997, the Perry campaign bought the Leiningers’ 90 percent interest in the plane for $346,000 a price that Sharp loyalists claim was far below the plane’s market value. Perry’s campaign manager, Jim Arnold, defended the price to the Houston Chronicle, saying the plane was worth less than planes of similar vintage because of the high number of hours on the engines. The Leiningers also financed Perry’s purchase of the plane. According to Perry’s latest expense report, on December 1 the campaign paid Covenant Aircraft Investment Inc., a company run by Daniel Leininger, $3,040 for “airplane expenses.” Perry’s spokesman Ray Sullivan said the Perry campaign has “approximately $300,000 outstanding on the airplane loan” that was made to the campaign by Covenant. Sullivan said the Perry campaign makes regular payments to the Leiningers’ company to pay off the debt on the airplane. Despite Leininger’s close ties to Perry, Sullivan said that Perry “owes one group of people in Texas, and that’s the citizens who put him in office and entrusted him with that office. He owes nothing to any of our donors and contributors. He owes everything to the citizens of the state.” The citizens may find reason to doubt Perry’s reassurances, as Perry and Rylander are already working to stay in the good graces of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative, pro-schoolvoucher think tank that gets most of its financial backing from Leininger. On January 26, all the statewide elected officials including Governor Bush attended the T.P.P.F.’ s tenth anniversary dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin. And on February 3, perhaps as a payback to Leininger, Rylander will deliver the keynote speech at the foundation’s “1999 Legislative Conference,” also at the Four Seasons. Topics for discussion at the conference include “government downsizing” and “school choice.” T.P.P.F. is working hard to shape this year’s legislative agenda. It is also hoping to get conservative operatives into state jobs. The Foundation recently formed a “job bank placement service.” Its agenda, according to its web site, is “to help place conservatives with public policy oriented employers.” Toward that end, T.P.P.F. has posted a long questionnaire on its web site \( asking applicants, among other things, to indicate how much they agree or disagree with a list of statements including: “Communism has been sent to the trash can of history. There is no chance it will resurface as a serious threat to world peace.” And, “Busing of school children to achieve racial balance is wrong.” The application also asks applicants to rank their feelings toward individuals from a wide political spectrum, including Austin Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett, former Democratic Governor Ann Richards, and Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Others listed presumably those more appealing to T.P.P.F. include Governor George W. Bush, Senator Jesse Helms, Rush Limbaugh and surprise! Rick Perry and Carole Keeton Rylander. In a January 8 column in the San Antonio Express-News, political columnist Rick Casey quoted T.P.P.F. president Jeff Judson saying that Rylander had given the group “strong encouragement” for its jobbank effort. Speaking of the comptroller’s office, Judson told Casey: “That is the one institution that will probably use this more than anybody. Over time, there will be a shift of the focus of that agency. They’ll need the people who are consistent with that policy.” Two weeks after Casey’s column appeared, Rylander’s spokesman, Keith Elkins, wrote a letter to the paper, saying that Rylander was “informed in passing of the job bank, but at no time did she support, endorse, or make any commitments about the service.” For his part, Perry made certain that he repaid Leininger’s loan. Records show that his campaign paid off the $1.1 million loan on December 17, an amazingly quick turnaround. How did he do it? In part, by pressuring lobbyists. After the election, several lobbyists who had supported Sharp were contacted by Perry’s campaign and told that they were expected to help retire Perry’s campaign debt. In some cases, they were given specific amounts of money to raise and/or contribute, with amounts ranging up to $50,000. Said one lobbyist who asked not to be identified, “There was no direct mention of the Leininger loan, but you don’t have to do any high math to put two and two together. Most of the people who were contacted understood where that debt came from.” Republican Party political director Royal Masset even circulated a memo, advising Republican statewide elected officials to tell lobbyists who supported Democratic candidates that it was now going to cost them a premium to get on the “late train” with the Republican winners. Sullivan insists no fundraising quotas were given and dismisses the complaints as “sour grapes from lobbyists whose guy lost the election.” Perhaps so. But questions about Leininger’s influence over Perry and Rylander will undoubtedly continue, particularly as the issue of school vouchers becomes more prominent. Sharp, an opponent of vouchers, says he has no choice but to admire Leininger’s effectiveness. “I congratulate Leininger,” he said. “He wanted to buy the reins of state government. And by God, he got them.” Robert Bryce is a contributing editor at the Austin Chronicle, where a version of this story first appeared. INVESTING IN TOMORROW Putting the Budget Surplus to Work for ALL Texans ProTex: Network for a Progressive Texas First Annual Membership Meeting February 15, 1999 8:30 a.m. 5:30 p.m. Purpose: to launch ProTex as a statewide gathering of progressive forces, to engage progressive Texans around the use of the state budget surplus, and to provide activists with skill-building workshops Thompson Conference Center, U.T. Austin Featured Speakers: Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower or e-mail: info 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 5, 1999