Cancer and Crony Capitalism in Texas
It is a growing scandal that could forever change Texas politics. As national political players look toward turning red Texas blue, something that would put the electoral college out of Republicans’ reach for years, many see the scandal as the beginning of the end of GOP dominance in Texas.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry and his cronies in and out of public office have diverted funds intended for cutting-edge cancer research into the campaign pockets of Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. You read that right. Proceeds from millions in taxpayer-backed bonds awarded by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) have fallen victim to corruption and cronyism. Cronies get the state money; the cronies give some of the money back to Perry and others.
The agency might better be named the Crony Capitalist Research Institute as searches for cancer prevention, treatment and cure are sacrificed to the feeble political ambitions of a few petty politicians and greedy plutocrats. It is hard to imagine a greater moral failing. Unless, of course, you remember that Perry and his cronies are the very same people fighting against the expansion of Medicaid and the creation of health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. People are going to get sick and die because of the actions of Perry and others. That is not hyperbole or political spin.
CPRIT is the nation’s second largest source of cancer research money, behind only the federal government. Texas voters approved the agency’s bonding authority in November 2007 (a few days later, wannabe recipients of the largesse were lavishng money on Perry and Dewhurst). The agency could spend $3 billion over ten years.
In a series of explosive articles, the Dallas Morning News has revealed that many of the grants went to Perry and Dewhurst’s allies and donors. The agency’s scientists that review grant proposals have resigned in protest. Those actions have already made the scandal news in international science journals like the well-respected Nature.
Amid calls for state and federal criminal investigations (I filed one of the state complaints under the auspices of Progress Texas PAC), agency officials are scrambling. Now it has been revealed that key emails among those officials have disappeared. That is a sign that evidence is being destroyed and that a coverup is underway.
The players involved include such stalwart Perry-ites as James Leininger and Jimmy Mansour. They have also been central players in the right wing’s nationwide effort to privatize public education. Even though he once held stock in a company that received CPRIT funding, Mansour remains chairman of the agency’s Oversight Committee. Other Oversight Committee members include Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and State Comptroller Susan Combs. Perry, Dewhurst and the Texas House Speaker appoint the others.
For his part, Speaker Joe Straus appears concerned and has ordered up a committee investigation of the scandal. But because of the deep involvement of the state’s top Republican officeholders and the power they wield over the Legislature, it is doubtful that anyone in state government will accomplish much.
That is especially true of CPRIT officials. They – including Mansour – are very busy executing a public relations plan that has them posing as outraged champions of reform. In fact, they, along with Perry, are the source of the scandal. They are not going to turn themselves in.
That is why federal and state authorities must launch investigations of their own. Forget the politics. The diversion of money intended to for the fight against cancer is a moral crime that cannot stand. If state and federal laws have been broken, the culprits have to be brought to justice.
This scandal opens a window into the crony capitalists’ privatization mania. What will happen to public education when the greedy and morally unmoored get their hands on taxpayer money through school privatization? Or through Medicare vouchers? Or Social Security private accounts?
If these people will sacrifice victims of cancer to further their own wealth and power, it is doubtful they’ll resist the temptation to destroy education or raid our earned savings and health care insurance. If crimes have been committed, maybe the perps will get to spend some time in a private prison. That might end privatization mania forever.
Director, Progress Texas PAC
James Moore is the author of six books including he New York Times bestseller "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.” Moore is on political analyst MSNBC and frequent guest on national political news programs. Read more »
Director, Progress Texas PAC
Glenn Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” Read more »