WASHINGTON -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry bristled at accusations during Monday's GOP debate that he had done the bidding of a corporate donor by ordering schoolgirls to use a new vaccine.
"The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them," Perry said. "I raised about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended."
Campaign disclosure records portray a much deeper financial connection with Merck than Perry's remarks would suggest.
Perry's gubernatorial campaign, for example, received nearly $30,000 from the drugmaker since 2000, most of it before his decision in 2007 to order young girls to obtain Merck's vaccine against the human papillomavirus, or HPV.
Merck also has given more than $355,000 in donations to the Republican Governors Association since 2006, which was when Perry began to play a prominent role in the group, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Perry served as chairman of the RGA in 2008 and again this year, until he decided to run for president. The group also ranks among Perry's biggest donors, giving his gubernatorial campaign at least $4 million over the past five years, according to Texans for Public Justice.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., one of Perry's rivals for the GOP nomination, said on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday that "it's very clear that crony capitalism could have likely been the cause" of Perry's decision to issue the vaccine order, which was eventually blocked by the Texas legislature.
A Perry spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The HPV vaccine has become a major headache for Perry as he attempts to become the Republican nominee for the White House, complicating his generally warm relations with evangelical and social conservatives who play a pivotal role in the party.
Perry surprised religious groups in 2007 when he became the first governor in the country to order use of the vaccine against HPV, a common sexually transmitted infection that causes genital warts and, in women, can lead to cervical cancer.
Many social conservatives object to the vaccine because they argue that it suggests to young girls that having sex is OK.
One of Perry's closest confidantes, former chief of staff Mike Toomey, was working at the time as a lobbyist for Merck, which was in the midst of a multimillion-dollar campaign to persuade states to make the vaccine mandatory.