Perry rings up pricey 2009 travel bill
Governor takes on role of 'world traveler'
The Associated Press
AUSTIN - Republican Gov. Rick Perry, seeking re-election with a down-home Texas message, took on the role of world traveler this year, making a dozen cross-country or international trips and ringing up tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded security costs.
Perry's travels — a meeting with film executives in Los Angeles, a gathering with GOP leaders in Aspen, Colo., a visit to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — were outlined in interviews with his aides and in documents examined by The Associated Press. But a detailed financial accounting of each trip is not easily accessible, and is in some cases off limits.
Out-of-state travel is part of Perry's job, his aides said.
"As governor and CEO of a state that's the 12th-largest economy in the world, it's important that he continue to promote Texas as the best place for business, both nationally and internationally," said Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle.
Perry visited Iraq on U.S. Defense Department trips in January and July. In August, he went to Israel on a trip organized and partially paid for by one of his campaign donors and by the investment firm Doheny Global Group.
He also visited California, New York, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Colorado, Florida and Mississippi in 2009.
Perry isn't alone among big-state governors in his far-flung travel. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger frequently jet around the country and the world. And, Perry has traveled plenty before this year, having taken assorted national and international trips since becoming governor in December 2000. Former Texas governors George W. Bush and Ann Richards also earned their share of frequent flier miles.
But an open government advocate questions whether there's enough information available about the Texas governor's trips."Are we getting the full story?" said Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. "Any time you have the head of government, especially the governor ... taxpayers and voters are interested in that."Texans should be able to easily find out what business the governor is doing and whom he's doing it with, Elkins said. He cited a recent KTVT television report he said revealed new details about Perry's Israel trip: documents showing the Perry family members and friends who went along as well as the state officials who oversee energy policy who went, plus the information that Perry's security officers stayed at the swanky King David Hotel at a cost of $17,000 to the state. Perry's travel is typically paid by a patchwork of sources including his campaign, private donors and the economic development non-profit group TexasOne. Much of his 2009 travel cannot yet be viewed on state disclosure reports.State-paid Department of Public Safety officers travel with Perry to provide security, but specifics of those costs are closed to the public, thanks to a bill passed in this year's legislative session. Only summaries of the security costs can be obtained. A summary by DPS showed that security for the Israel trip cost $58,775 for the officers' air fare, lodging, meals and other expenses and $15,609 for overtime pay.The Doheny group organized and paid for Perry's stay in Israel and for First Lady Anita Perry's commercial flight to the country, the governor's office said.Perry flew to Israel aboard the private plane of Texas campaign donor Doug Pitcock, head of Williams Brothers Construction
, a round-trip charter flight donated to TexasOne and valued at $180,000, Castle said. Anita Perry joined him for the trip home.
Doheny Global Group managing director Irwin G. Katsof, describing himself as a rabbi and a concerned Jew, said in an e-mail to the AP that he has been taking American political leaders of both major political parties to Israel for more than 15 years. He did not respond to a question about the cost of the trip.
"I care deeply about Israel and believe these trips help foster a better understanding of the cultural, economic and social bonds that our countries share," Katsof wrote.Perry's most recent out-of-state trips were to New York City, where he visited NASDAQ and held four private meetings with campaign donors, and to Las Vegas, where he met with Nevada Republican governor candidate Brian Sandoval.
Meanwhile, Perry's Republican rival, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, frequently travels between Texas and Washington, D.C. Her only government or campaign trip this year outside of those two places was to Iraq with a Defense Department delegation, her aides said.
Perry's campaign said Hutchison's trips around Texas should be scrutinized. Perry spokesman Mark Miner suggested that Hutchison slips in campaign stops while in Texas on government-funded travel. He also said she should fly commercial, instead of the charter flights she sometimes takes that can cost $5,000 or more.
"Southwest (Airlines) flies almost everywhere in the state," Miner said. "In this economy when tax dollars are tight, is it really necessary for a U.S. senator to be flying around the state on charter airplanes that are paid for by the taxpayers?"
Hutchison spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said sometimes charters are the only way Hutchison can get to the events where she needs to be. The campaign is diligent about making sure campaign events are paid with campaign money, not federal funds, Baker said, disputing Miner's contention that campaign stops are mixed into her itinerary.
Baker said Perry is the one with the transparency problem. "If the governor is traveling in his official capacity as governor, which he was elected to do by the people, by the citizens of Texas, then they deserve to know who is paying for the trips and what he's doing on the trips," she said.
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