Report: Bo Pilgrim Pays For Perry's Airfare

Published: Jul. 16, 2008 at 7:39 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 17, 2008 at 12:25 AM CDT
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Governor Rick Perry
Governor Rick Perry
Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim
Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim

AUSTIN (AP) - An East Texas poultry producer, who wants a waiver of federal ethanol mandates, paid more than $9,000 in airfare for Gov. Rick Perry and three aides to attend a June 24 news conference in Washington to promote the waiver, according to newspaper reports.

Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim also donated $25,000 to Perry's political committee about a month after the waiver request was made. Furthermore, Pilgrim donated $25,000 to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs 11 days before Perry filed the waiver request. Perry's letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson was copied to Combs, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reported in Wednesday's editions. The newspapers cited the contributions included in campaign finance reports released Tuesday.

Pilgrim is co-founder of Pilgrim's Pride Corp. of Pittsburg, the nation's largest chicken producer. Pilgrim's aides did not respond to a request for comment.

The newspaper reported Perry met with Pilgrim in March and six days later donated $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association, a group chaired by Perry. The donation, given March 31, also helped pave the way for Pilgrim to address nine Republican governors during a closed-door energy conference in Grapevine to explain his belief that ethanol production is increasing feed costs for poultry and livestock producers.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who also supported the waiver request, did not report receiving any money from Pilgrim.

Perry is one of a number of politicians, livestock and poultry producers, and grocery manufacturers who have been calling for a reversal of the Renewable Fuel Standard that Congress approved last year. Opponents of the standard say the push to turn more corn into ethanol is raising food prices and the cost of feed for livestock.

This isn't the first controversial donation involving Perry and the Republican Governors Association, which promotes Republicans and conservative philosophies. Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, not related to the governor, gave the group $1 million during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign. The association then gave a similar amount to Perry.

Perry raised $1.9 million from all sources between Jan. 1 and June 30, and ended the period with $2.9 million in the bank, according to his campaign finance report.

About $1.4 million of the Republican Governors Association's money came from Texas-based companies or individuals, including $5,000 from a non-grain biofuels company that Perry has been promoting.

"RGA's efforts to energize the Republican Party at the state level and elect Republican governors are resonating with supporters and voters alike," Perry said in a statement.

About $475,000 came to the association from the Dallas-based tax consulting company Ryan. The firm's executives in 2006 gave heavy financial support to the unsuccessful independent gubernatorial campaign of former Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

Perry's April 25 waiver request has national implications because an EPA waiver of renewable fuel standards would affect all ethanol production in the United States, not just in Texas.