Rick Perry stops paying his staff: Is he in serious trouble?

Former Texas governor Rick Perry appears to be having trouble raising funds for his presidential campaign, but aides say his bid is far from lost.

David Goldman/AP Photo/File
Republican presidential candidate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the RedState Gathering Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Atlanta. After raising just over $1 million at the end of June, Mr. Perry has stopped paying his campaign staff, reports say.

Rick Perry’s presidential campaign is running on fumes. Or is it?

After raising just over $1 million as of the end of June, reports say the former longtime Texas governor has stopped paying his staff, suggesting that his funds are all but drained. Yet aides close to the campaign say super PACs supporting Mr. Perry’s candidacy remain flush, an indication that his White House bid is far from dead on its feet.

“Oh God yes, full steam ahead. Because we raised $16.8 million” through last month, Austin Barbour, senior adviser to Perry's super PACs, told the National Journal. “We raised as much money as possible so that we would have the ability to spend it in whatever way we needed to spend it.”

The odd asymmetry between official campaign cash and outside funds is a new reality in modern politics, where super PACs reign supreme. As The Christian Science Monitor reported in early August:

Of the $388 million raised for presidential campaigns, the majority is being streamed to super PACs – external groups that, for five years now, have not been limited in the amount of contributions they can accept from individual donors. Nearly all of the candidates have been encouraging their donors to give to these committees, according to The Associated Press.

Donations to individual candidates cannot exceed $2,700 but super PACs can receive unlimited amounts.

Republicans in particular have relied heavily on such groups for this campaign, according to the New York Times, which analyzed Federal Election Commission reports and Internal Revenue Service records.

In Perry’s case, two wealthy Texans – retired data company founder Darwin Deason and pipeline company executive Kelcy L. Warren – are largely responsible for backing his two super PACs, Opportunity and Freedom and Opportunity and Freedom I, Politico reports. Between them, Mr. Deason and Mr. Warren contributed $11 million of the $12.8 million the two groups raised in the first half of the year.

A third super PAC, created in July, collected another $4 million from a single donor, according to CNN.

“Here are the facts: We have plenty of money to put [Perry] in position to finish in the top three or even win Iowa,” Mr. Barbour told the Times.  

But Perry’s campaign staff may have to work for free to get him there: Federal Election Commission regulations require aides to take a 120-day cooling off period before they can be involved in a super PAC’s activities. The campaign is also cutting expenditures down to the bare essentials while hoping for a breakthrough moment that could boost fundraising, perhaps in the Sept. 16 debate, the Washington Post reports.

How that might affect Perry’s bid remains unclear, but “there's no way to spin this that's positive,” Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak told the National Journal. Perry already faces what pundits call an “uphill slog” after an ill-fated first White House attempt in 2011.

“He starts off behind the starting line; he’s got a lot to prove,” Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas in Austin, told the Monitor.

Still, most of Perry’s aides have stuck with him even after campaign manager Jeff Miller told staff Friday that they would no longer be paid and are free to look for other jobs, according to the Post.

“Pay is only one reason people do this,” Katon Dawson, Perry's South Carolina state director, told the Journal. “We'll be able to live off the land for a while.”

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