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Perry understates Merck’s campaign donations around HPV vaccine order

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/06/RickPerry_Thumb2.jpgDuring Monday night’s CNN/Tea Party GOP debate, Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann took aim at Gov. Rick Perry’s 2007 executive order requiring middle school girls to be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV), the most frequent sexually transmitted disease and a leading cause of cervical cancer.

Bachmann called out Perry’s financial ties to Merck & Co., the manufacturer of the vaccine, Gardasil — a group, she said, that stood to gain from the order. Bachmann insinuated the governor’s decision may have been swayed by the company’s donations to his campaign.

“We cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order, there was a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate. We can’t deny that,” said Bachmann.

“What are you suggesting?” pressed moderator Wolf Blizter.

“What I’m saying is that it’s wrong for a drug company, because the governor’s former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?”

The Minnesota Congresswoman was referring to Mike Toomey, Perry’s former chief of staff, who served as one of Merck’s three lobbyists in Texas. Bachmann did not point out other efforts to push Gardasil in Texas and those connections to Perry.

For instance, at the time Merck doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and gave more cash through the group Women in Government, a national group of female state legislators. The mother-in-law of Perry’s chief of staff (at the time) served as the state director for the advocacy organization, the Associated Press reported. Additionally, a high ranking official from the company’s vaccine division sat on the group’s business council.

Today, Toomey heads a pro-Perry super PAC called Make Us Great Again.

Perry responded to Bachmann’s by saying he received $5,000 in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical company — a figure that couldn’t have influenced his decision-making, in when he raised $30 million for his campaign.

“If you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended,” said Perry. Bachmann replied, “Well, I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn’t have a choice. That’s what I’m offended for.”

But that $5,000 figure isn’t the whole picture. While Perry was indeed the recipient of that amount during his 2006 gubernatorial reelection bid, on the same day Perry’s staff met for a briefing on the vaccine, Merck PAC has donated nearly $30,000 to the Perry campaign since 2000, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports. The largest sum from Merck came in October 2004, when the major pharmaceutical group donated $10,000 to Perry’s coffers. The company has given $7,500 to the governor’s campaign since Perry’s ill-fated executive order.

The HPV vaccine order has drawn considerable attention and criticism from social conservative and Tea Party circles, where it’s railed against as an infringement on individual rights by the government, and even an encouragement for young girls to have promiscuous sex.

Perry maintains the order, eventually overturned by the Legislature, was not a mandate and had an opt-out portion for parents. Since announcing his presidency, Perry has called the order a “mistake,” and said he should have consulted with the Texas Legislature instead.

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