By David Goodner
Rick Perry's Iowa spokesman says the potential presidential candidate won't publicly advocate for the controversial Bakken oil pipeline project he has a personal stake in as newly appointed board member of Energy Transfer Partners. But Perry was on TV news telling Iowans they “should support efforts to build the Bakken Pipeline” three days before his appointment to the board of the Fortune 500 oil company was made public.
Rekha Basu's excellent story Feb 11 for the Des Moines Register, “PAC money distorts politics, caucuses” sums up exactly why former Texas Governor Rick Perry's entanglement in a controversial, hot-potato Bakken oil pipeline fight in Iowa is such a big deal. Basu writes:
Prospective presidential candidate Perry gets a direct financial stake in a controversial oil-pipeline proposal. The Bakken pipeline, which would stretch through Iowa on its way from North Dakota to Illinois, is widely opposed by environmental and other groups. But by investing in Perry and his campaign, the company can bank on a friend in the White House to create a climate favorable for such projects. In 2012, the head of Energy Transfer Partners gave a quarter million dollars to a Super PAC for Perry. And now Perry has a seat on its board. A Perry spokesman says Perry won't be publicly promoting the pipeline, but he doesn't have to. His board presence is endorsement enough.
I hope most Americans also understand the absurdity of politicians using their office to return a debt to the deep pockets that helped get them elected.
But Basu's op-ed is also the third mainstream media story in as many days to uncritically repeat a questionable claim that Perry's Iowa spokesman Robert Haus made saying that the Texas politician will not publicly promote the Bakken pipeline in Iowa.
The original interview comes from the Des Moines Register's Bill Petroski, one of the best old school journalists in the business, who wrote in a Feb 8 story, Rick Perry, exploring Iowa caucus bid joins pipeline board:
Robert Haus, an Iowa spokesman for Perry, said Sunday that after serving as Texas' governor for the past 14 years, Perry will be using his executive, managerial and leadership experience in the private sector. However, Haus said Perry will not be publicly promoting the Bakken pipeline project. Perry's compensation for his board service will be made public in a regulatory filing by the company in the coming weeks, he added.
This statement was also repeated the next day by USA Today's Martha T. Moore, in a Feb 9 story, Rick Perry joins oil pipeline board:
Perry won't be promoting the Bakken pipeline publicly, his spokesman, Robert Haus, says.
The problem with Haus' statement is that Rick Perry has already spoken publicly in Iowa about the Bakken oil pipeline, right about the time he was appointed to the board of the company trying to build it.
On February 1, Dave Price and WHO TV aired a television interview with Perry discussing the pipeline three days before Energy Transfer Partners announced his board appointment.
According to the lead-in text to the video, Perry “talks about why Iowans should support efforts to build the Bakken Pipeline through the state to transport crude oil.”
In the interview [pipeline discussed at 2:05 in], Perry goes so far as to say that the Bakken oil pipeline is in the “best interest of America.”
“I really want the people of Iowa to think about their role,” Perry says, referring to national security and the energy industry. He also says he's fine with the government confiscating private farmland on behalf of big corporations as long as farmers are “adequately compensated.”
Perry’s spokesman apparently did not even rule out the possibility that Perry could continue to speak privately about the pipeline with key decision-makers while he's in Iowa, perhaps by using the vast connections he’s made as a national Republican figure during his frequent trips to the Hawkeye State.
Such a private conversation has actually already happened at least once.
On February 4, Iowa state representative Jack Whitver, a young Republican whose district is within the same county as part of the proposed pipeline route, told KCCI News that he had recently spoken to Perry about the Bakken oil pipeline and was persuaded after their conversation that Energy Transfer Partners would be able to construct the pipeline without unduly impacting family farmers and private property owners.
Watch the KCCI News video here, Whitver begins at 1:41.
“I was talking to Governor Rick Perry a while ago and from what I understand the pipelines are a little more flexible about where they can go and can't go and hopefully they can do it without the use of eminent domain,” Whitver said.
Perry's RickPAC donated at least $2,500 to Whitver in 2014, part of more than $30,000 Perry gave to Iowa Republicans in August and September last year.
How many more times has Perry used his considerable influence in Iowa, as a national celebrity figure with bags of big donor money, to move the Big Oil agenda forward that we don't know about? How many more times will he?
Everyday citizens and the media should compel Rick Perry to speak publicly about the pipeline, because there are a lot of tough questions about his role in promoting the project that remain unanswered.