The Think Tank Behind Rick Perry

Part I: Rick Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation

If Rick Perry goes to Washington, it's likely that he will bring with him the conservative policies and principles of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Perry’s campaign book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington is copyrighted to this Austin policy institute. Founded in 1989, the foundation’s mission is to “promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas and the nation by educating and affecting policymakers and the Texas public policy debate with academically sound research and outreach.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation was founded by James R. Leininger on the model of the Heritage Foundation, the highly successful Washington, DC conservative think tank.

The foundation has worked closely with the state’s Republican leadership to set Texas policy and budget directions. TPPF says:

For more than 22 years, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has stood as a voice of liberty, free enterprise, and personal responsibility in Texas. Our successful policy recommendations in Texas have made our state a model of applied conservative principles. Our success has put us in the unique and honorable position of leading other states to retain control over state issues and spending. Now considered one of the leading state-focused think tanks in the nation, the Foundation is being called on to provide model policy recommendations, oversee major national outreach efforts, teach our methods to likeminded groups throughout the nation, and defend liberty in a variety of policy areas.

In the book’s “Author’s Note” Perry writes that he has been “proud to partner with them to help ensure that Texas is a national leader in the cause of liberty and respect for limited government.”

Perry says the foundation “has helped make Texas stronger while defending the Constitution and demonstrating the harm caused by the excesses of Washington.” He then cites their role in fighting “Obamacare,” “rampant federal spending,” and the “perils of environmental policy” arising from the “hysteria of global warming.”

Perry’s bona fides as a social and fiscal conservative are underscored by his close association with this conservative policy institute.

Before joining the foundation as president and CEO eight years ago, Brooke L. Rollins worked in the governor’s office, first as Perry’s deputy general counsel and then as Policy Director. According to the profile on the foundation’s website, Rollins “managed the Governor’s Policy Division and all policy issues including education, transportation, natural resources, agriculture, criminal justice, economic development, health and human services, and insurance.”

The Texas Monthly (February 2011) named Rollins one of the state’s most powerful people – a member of the Texas “Power Company.” According to the magazine, “TPPF’s positions on issues can make the difference between life and death for major legislation.”

Another leading figure at TPPF is Wendy Lee Gramm, who is a senior scholar at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, which functions as a free-market think tank. Married to former US Senator Phil Gramm, she serves as the chair of TPPF and is also on the board of directors of the Independent Women’s Forum, a right-wing women’s advocacy institute. Gramm has also been a member of numerous corporate boards, including Iowa Beef Processors, State Farm, and Enron Corporation, which contributed to the Mercatus Center before imploding.

TPPF’s own conservative politics are readily apparent in its donor list and in its position papers.

As well as founding TPPF, James Leininger also underwrote the foundation with his personal wealth during its formative years. Other conservative advocacy and policy groups founded by Leininger include the two right-wing judicial groups, Texans for Justice and Texas Justice Foundation. He also founded several political action committees that have been instrumental in advancing conservative leadership in Texas, including the Committee for Governmental Integrity, Texas for Governmental Integrity, and Texans for Judicial Integrity.

In addition to funding the organizations he created in Austin, Leininger has funded national social conservative organizations, including the American Family Association, Christian Pro-Life Foundation, Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family.

Foundations account for 38 percent of TPPF’s $4.5 million annual budget. Two foundations associated with Koch Industries (Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation) have been longtime supporters of TPPF, contributing $383,125 in 2005-2009 and nearly a half million dollars between 1997 and 2009.

TPPF’s policy interests cover a broad spectrum of conservative causes – from disputing climate change science, promoting private imprisonment, developing states’ rights initiatives, and limiting federal regulation of business.

It offers various policy agendas for state and national legislators and officials. Its “Agenda for Prosperity” is described as “a roadmap of effective principles that will keep Texas on its path of extraordinary economic growth, and preserve the Lone Star State’s role as a beacon of liberty to the rest of the nation.”

As part of the 2012-13 budget process, TPPF teamed up with another Koch-funded advocacy groups, including Americans for Prosperity-Texas, to form Texans for a Conservative Budget. Other coalition members included Americans for Tax Reform, Liberty Institute, and Heartland Institute.

TPPF reports that this year it also “conducted the federalism portion of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s [ALEC] midwinter conference in Washington, D.C., bringing together more than 900 state legislators from across the country to present our Agenda for State Action and discuss a series of proposals on what the states can do to reverse federal overreach and restore Constitutional rights.”

Throughout his book Fed Up! Perry argues a states’ rights position for downsizing federal government. Perry says that all his author’s net proceeds will go to TPPF’s newly established Center for Tenth Amendment Studies.

According to Perry, the “unprecedented federal intrusion” into American life violates the Tenth Amendment’s provisions. According to Perry, the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution specifies that “all powers not specifically granted to the federal government are reserved to the states and to the people.” That’s an interpretation not shared by most constitutional scholars and manifestly conflicts with the “necessary and proper” clause of Article I of the US Constitution.

The foundation is an avid and effective advocate of the privatization of prisons and other parts of the criminal justice system. In its Private Sector Public Safety Solutions policy brief, the foundation asserts that the “private sector can bring innovation and competition to the criminal justice system.” The paper echoes the highly contested argument that private prisons cost less than public ones, stating that “private prisons cost Texas taxpayers about 14 percent less to operate than their government-run counterparts.”

With respect to climate change science, the Texas Public Policy Foundation contends that the “scientific consensus has never been as broad as proclaimed.” In a policy paper on climate change, TPPF asserts that there are mounting questions about the scientific justification for binding CO2 limits and subsidies for alternative energy.”

It claims that “the US government has dismissed mounting evidence of core errors in orthodox global warming science sponsored by the United Nations.” TPPF’s policy agenda recommendations include “urging federal policymakers to establish an independent, rigorous review” of UN climate science, “suspending state programs that require or incentivize” greenhouse gas reductions, and “avoiding state and federal mandates to reduce CO2” emissions. To combat what Governor Perry calls climate change hysteria, TPPF is promoting the development of “extending the new empirical climate science.”

In Fed Up! Governor Perry says that he knows of no other organization that is better positioned than Texas Public Policy Foundation to help “foster a national conversation” about “the proper role of government in our lives.

Part II: Rick Perry on Border Security at Texas Public Policy Foundation

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Governor Rick Perry met briefly (36 seconds) on the tarmac of the Austin airport when President Obama traveled to Texas a year ago.

Perry wanted more time with the president to discuss the issue one which he rode to victory in the primary contest and in the general election against his Democratic opponent. It wasn’t the issue of his forthcoming book, Fed Up!, which is a tirade against big government and for states’ rights and unregulated private enterprise. Rather, Perry’s pressing concern was about border security.

“My hope was to have a very frank, face-to-face discussion [with the president] about the issue of border security,” lamented Perry, who took advantage of the occasion to hand a letter to the president complaining about his administration’s failure to secure the border.

Later that day Perry had a chance to talk at length about border security in Texas. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin with close ties to the governor, had invited the governor to address border security as part of its Lone Star lecture series.

During his speech Perry criticized the Obama administration’s border control policy as “lackadaisical” and “an abject failure,” while warning that “spillover violence” from Mexico was wreaking havoc in Texas. Not only was the drug-related violence spilling over into the Texas borderland but also was taking the form of increased “transnational gang” violence in the state’s interior cities.

In contrast to the get-government-off-our-backs messaging of his book Fed Up!, Perry insisted that the “federal government step up” and “secure our borders.”

The political community in Texas has long been aware of the governor’s close relationship with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The ideological alliance between the governor and the policy institute was underscored by the publication of Fed Up!, which Perry described as a product of his partnership with TPPF. Within Texas, the governor’s political closeness with the institute was again highlighted when on Perry keynoted the institute’s 2011 Policy Orientation Conference, a traditional gathering of Texas Republicans.

In November 2002 the Texas Monthly profiled James Leininger, the founder of TPFF and a longtime Perry campaign contributor. In her “Mr. Right” story, Texas Monthly reporter Karen Ollson wrote:

What makes Leininger one of the most powerful people in Texas politics is less the amount of money he has given over the years than the broad reach of his spending and his commitment to a conservative agenda. By pumping tens of thousands of dollars into the previously ignored State Board of Education races, he turned an obscure committee of retired teachers into an ideological hornet's nest, whose debates over curriculum and textbook content have made national news. In addition to funding candidates personally, Leininger has launched several political action committees to support conservative judicial and legislative candidates and advocate for school vouchers. He has, moreover, established an entire politics and policy conglomerate in Texas. He founded and provided seed money for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an increasingly influential conservative think tank, in 1989. He has invested millions in private school voucher programs in San Antonio, the first of which he initiated in 1993. Some regard the state Republican party as an extension of his empire; its chair, Susan Weddington, is a former Kinetic Concepts [a company founded by Leininger] employee, and the $475,000 Leininger donated to state party and caucus committees in the 2000 election cycle far exceeded the amount contributed by any other individual or organization in Texas, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity.

After Perry announced his candidacy, Texans for Policy Justice issued a report titled Rick Perry’s Heavenly Host. The report observes:

Perry might never have been governor—nor now be a presidential candidate—but for James Leininger. In a game-changing 1998 race then-Texas Agriculture Commissioner Perry was elected Lieutenant Governor. That victory secured Perry’s automatic promotion to governor two years later when President-Elect Bush abandoned the Governor’s Mansion. Perry narrowly won his fateful 1998 race against Democrat John Sharp, capturing just 50.04 percent of the vote. This squeaker victory was secured by an eleventh-hour media blitz that Perry paid for with a last-minute, $1.1 million loan. Leininger and two other Texas tycoons guaranteed the loan, which supplied more than 10 percent of the $10.3 million that Perry raised for that election. Leininger’s family and company PAC contributed $62,500 to that Perry campaign. Leininger also was the No. 1 contributor at the time to the Texas Republican Party (then chaired by former Leininger employee Susan Weddington), which sank $82,760 into that Perry campaign. “I congratulate Leininger,” Perry opponent John Sharp said at the time. “He wanted to buy the reins of state government. And by God, he got them.”

Last weekend as Hurricane Irene dominated the national news, Leininger was hosting a meeting of Christian evangelicals and Perry at the right-wing magnate’s estate. As Dallas News reporter Wayne Slater noted in his Aug. 24 article, “A Marriage Made In Heaven”:

When Rick Perry heads this weekend to Jim Leininger's ranch for a confab of Christian conservatives, he'll be on hallowed ground. Leininger has long been one of Perry's financial angels. He's been a leading proponent of school vouchers and bankrolled the campaign to ban gay marriage. And he's given large sums to Perry campaigns over the years. In some quarters, he's seen as saving Perry's political career with a last-minute infusion of $1.1 million to fuel Perry's 1998 victory as lieutenant governor.

With Perry assuming frontrunner status in the race to become the Republican Party’s standard bearer for the presidency, the policy positions of the TPFF and its donor base deserve a closer look by the national media and electorate.

On Aug. 18 the Border Lines of the Center for International Policy published a profile of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and its relationship to Perry titled “The Fed Up Think Tank in Austin,” which stated: If Rick Perry goes to Washington, it's likely that he will bring with him the conservative policies and principles of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.