As news broke late Monday that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign had suspended paying staff, Breitbart News has learned that “over ninety percent” of the staff were staying on, confident that the Super PACs supporting Perry, and the millions of dollars they still had as cash on hand, would provide the necessary backup support while they weathered this storm.
As National Journal reported, the Perry campaign had suspended pay to their South Carolina staff, but that a number of staffers had committed to stay on until the fundraising picked back up. Those remaining on the campaign include state director Katon Dawson and two top South Carolina Republican operatives, Walter Whetsell and Le Frye. “We’ll do it if there is pay or no pay,” Dawson told National Journal. “Nothing has changed with South Carolina as far as the mission at hand of helping the governor become the nominee of the party. Nothing has changed.”
Shortly thereafter, the Washington Post reported that the situation included the rest of Perry’s staff in Texas, Iowa, and New Hampshire. In a statement provided to Breitbart News, Perry campaign manager Jeff Miller said, “As the campaign moves along, tough decisions have to be made in respect to both monetary and time resources. Governor Perry remains committed to competing in the early states and will continue to have a strong presence in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.” Perry was “also looking forward to his trips to South Carolina this Thursday and Iowa next week,” Miller added.
Breitbart News reached out to several of our sources within the Perry campaign, and they confirmed that Miller had given the staff the news last Friday, after the GOP debate. The staff had been paid through July.
Miller is “unfailingly honest,” said one source, and that ended up creating a problem. With years of experience in campaigns, he had seen too many times where campaigns were not honest with staffers when there were money issues, and staffers would be left in the lurch. This could be especially devastating to younger staffers without the financial resources to ride out a storm. According to multiple sources, Miller wanted to give staffers the information so they could take other jobs if they financially needed to do so and thus would not miss out on any opportunities.
Despite the pay freeze and no firm commitment for when pay would be resumed, “over 90 percent” of Perry staffers agreed to stay with the campaign, according to multiple sources. This includes about a dozen employees at the Austin, Texas headquarters, about another dozen or two divided up between South Carolina, Iowa, and New Hampshire, key early primary states where Perry has been spending a lot of time on the ground.
Miller being upfront and honest with the staff may have been the right thing to do, ethically, but has created a new headache for the campaign, as one or two unhappy South Carolina employees leaked the story to the National Journal, setting off a frenzy for a national political media hungry for new stories during the August doldrums.
Our sources with both the campaign and Super PAC expressed their frustration over the story and said that they had plans in place to move forward, that they were confident they would be successful. The story breaking has not changed those plans but has moved up the timetable.
As Breitbart News reported, the Perry campaign was disappointed that he just missed the top ten cutoff to be invited to the main GOP debate but was confident that their candidate had the right message and would have enough resources to move forward.
Remembering well the disappointment of Perry’s quick rise to the top of the polls in 2012, only to come crashing back down after a series of missteps, the top advisers of the campaign and the PAC, and even the candidate himself, have all expressed to Breitbart News that the plan for 2016 is more of a slow and steady trajectory rather than the roller coaster of the 2012 election cycle. It may not be as exciting, said one Perry adviser, but it’s more sustainable, and they believe they can do it successfully.
Playing the long game became even more crucial when the Republican field swelled to a crowd of seventeen, and Donald Trump’s outspoken campaign style took over the headlines. Perry became one of the most vocal critics of Trump, and it earned him headlines but failed to move him up in the polls.
This month, the campaign made preparations to run a “lean and mean” operation, confident that Perry’s solid performance in the undercard debate and continued high favorability ratings in the early states would help slowly build the fundraising up so that staffers could get caught up on pay.
Our sources within Team Perry also pointed to the campaigns of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in 2008 and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) in 2012. Both of them had massive staff exoduses, pay freezes, etc. early on, but McCain would go on to win the 2008 nomination and Gingrich ended up one of the final contenders in 2012. This reporter remembers seeing McCain alone, without any staff at all, carrying his own bags after a 2007 debate in Orlando, Florida.
Brian Haley, deputy national finance director on McCain’s 2008 campaign, told the Washington Post that when they experienced their fundraising crash, it was “traumatic,” but “wasn’t the end of the campaign… we all recommitted when it occurred and took it to win the nomination.”
“In today’s world,” continued Haley, “with varying political committees supporting the candidate, there does seem to be an opportunity for campaigns to shift costs. So I’m curious how the Perry organization decides to do that.”
The rise of Super PACs has radically changed the campaign landscape, and Team Perry is counting on that. Super PACs can take in unlimited contributions but they cannot communicate with candidates after they formally announce they are running. However, they can be especially effective in creating digital and ad content, buying airtime on TV, radio, and online, and providing additional grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) raised over $100 million through his Super PACs and planned all along to delegate key campaign operations to them. The Opportunity and Freedom PAC and allied PACs supporting Perry did not raise $100 million, but they do have sufficient cash-on-hand as of today to continue operations until well into the primaries.
Late Wednesday evening, Breitbart News spoke to Austin Barbour, the Senior Adviser for Opportunity and Freedom PAC. He confirmed that out of the $17 million the PACs had raised, they had only spent “about two or three million,” leaving somewhere around $14 or 15 million cash on hand. Perry supporters had donated early on, said Barbour, and so their overhead costs to raise those funds had been remarkably low.
“I’m not sitting here concerned,” said Barbour. He reiterated that they had planned for a long time for the PAC to do the heavy lifting for this early campaign period. “We saw the Governor’s campaign finance report three weeks ago [when it was released publicly] and we knew at some point that they would have to go mean and lean. We knew that we would have to build an on-ground team with our own team.”
Barbour told Breitbart News that their PAC staff all “have a ton of experience” in get-out-the-vote efforts, “real active ground game” work, and setting up county organizations, an especially critical skill set in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
“We started on that [ground game plan] weeks ago,” said Barbour. “We didn’t tell anyone because you don’t tell all of your strategies and secrets,” but since the news was out there, he was sharing the information now.
“We feel good about our team,” he added. “We’ve got great creatives, a great message, digital and TV and paid media and now we’re in the process of building an A+ ground game that any campaign would be proud of.”
Barbour, who has not been able to communicate with campaign manager Miller since Perry’s campaign announcement in June, spoke very highly of Miller and the campaign team he had assembled. “He’s been straight up,” said Barbour about Miller, and while obviously they would have preferred for the news to not be leaked, he praised Miller for doing the right thing by his staff.
The campaign “can still accomplish what they need to do,” said Barbour, “get the Governor to where he needs to go and make sure he is prepared for policy forums, and most importantly, the debates. They are plenty capable of doing that.”
Governor Perry “is not a quitter, and neither are we,” he added. “He sees the same numbers we do — he has some of the highest favorability ratings in the early primary states — and the field is so fluid right now.” Barbour praised Carly Fiorina for her standout performance in the GOP Debate, where she was the consensus winner of the undercard debate, and cited that as an example of how a candidate could break through.
“Good for her,” said Barbour, for coming into the debate unknown to many Americans but then making a strong, positive impression. “That can happen with several of these candidates. That can happen with Governor Perry or [Louisiana] Governor [Bobby] Jindal, and that’s going to continue to happen.”
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.