Perry underestimated donations from Merck more than fivefold in debate

UPDATED 3:49 p.m. ET
Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry reacts after a Republican presidential debate Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa, Fla. Mike Carlson

Texas Gov. Rick Perry received more than $28,000 from the pharmaceutical company that makes a vaccine used in the battle against cervical cancer, significantly more than the $5,000 he acknowledged in Monday night's Republican debate in Florida.

During the debate, Perry found himself under heavy attackfor an executive order he issued in 2007 mandating that schoolgirls receive a vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV, the virus responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. Fellow candidate Michele Bachmann charged that Perry had received thousands of dollars in contributions from Merck Pharmaceuticals to mandate the use of a vaccine that only Merck produced.

Perry responded, "The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended."

The governor was right that he is known for being a prolific fundraiser (though he operates in a state with no contribution limits). But the claim that he had only received $5,000 from Merck is misleading when considering the sum of his donations from the company.

According to records from the Texas Ethics Commission compiled by the Institute on Money in State Politics, Perry received a total of $28,500 in contributions from Merck's political action committee between 2002 and 2010. In 2006, the year before his executive order, he received $6,000, and in his most recent gubernatorial fundraising year, he received $5,000 -- the closest numbers to the $5,000 he mentioned in the debate.

The institute first compiled a report on Merck's contributions to Perry in February 2007, by which time Perry had already received $21,000 from the company. The largest donation was in 2004, between two election cycles, when Merck donated $10,000 to Perry's political action committee.

Money is not his only tie to the pharmaceutical company. Perry's former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, served as one of the Merck's three lobbyists in Texas, at the time Perry signed the executive order. In the mid-2000s, Merck was lobbying for several states to pass laws mandating the use of Gardasil vaccine for girls over the age of 10. Between 2000 and 2006, the company spent $158,143 on its lobbying campaign in Texas, the fifth largest amount spent in a state, according to the institute.

Perry's campaign declined to discuss the discrepancy in the numbers. Instead, spokesman Mark Miner said, "Life was the governor's factor in this issue" and stressed that the executive order was never implemented. The Legislature voted to overturn the order, and Perry has argued that he was motivated by his desire to prevent cancer deaths.