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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Make Us Great Again

Political leanings: Republican/Pro-Perry Super PAC

Spending target: $55 million

Make Us Great Again is the biggest money “super PAC” supporting Rick Perry’s presidential bid. It is backed by Mike Toomey, an Austin lobbyist who once served as the governor’s chief of staff, and Brint Ryan, a tax accounting executive who has been a heavy contributor to Perry’s most recent gubernatorial campaigns.

According to internal committee documents obtained by NBC News, Make Us Great Again plans to flood early voting states with a $55 million blitz aimed at establishing Perry as the Republican presidential front-runner. Jason Miller, a spokesman for the PAC, warned NBC, however, that that was an “early planning document that is now outdated. As the dynamics of this primary have changed, so have our targeting and spending.” The committee was formed in July.

Toomey, who served in the Texas House from 1983 to 1988, is a longtime friend and colleague of Perry’s. Austin lobbyist Bill Miller told us that the two have long been “fellow travelers” in the Texas political world and share common political ideals of fiscal conservatism. Toomey also shares a business venture with a top Perry campaign aide. According to state records, Toomey is a co-owner of a New Hampshire luxury resort island with Dave Carney, chief strategist for the Perry campaign.

Toomey is a partner in The Texas Lobby Group. Its web page boasts that the website Capitol Inside rated the firm tied for “Number one hired gun lobbyist” for 2005 and that Toomey was recently listed among Texas Monthly’s “Top 25 most powerful people in Texas politics.” Toomey’s clients have donated more than $5.5 million to Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns over the last decade, according to data from Texans for Public Justice. Among Toomey’s clients, according to the Texas Ethics Commission: AT&T, insurance companies Cigna and Liberty Mutual, Hewlett-Packard and Merck Sharp & Dohme.

It is that last client, Merck, that has drawn the most scrutiny, due to Perry’s controversial 2007 decision to issue an executive order requiring 11- and 12-year-old girls to get a Merck-made vaccine designed to prevent a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer.

Michele Bachmann has suggested “crony capitalism” was behind Perry’s decision, due to his relationship with Toomey. It’s a claim she first aired in a Republican presidential debate on Sept. 12. Perry has repeatedly called it a mistake not to run the issue through the state Legislature first, but said he “err[ed] on the side of life.” The Legislature blocked it from being implemented.

In addition to Toomey, the PAC is supported by Ryan, head of Ryan and Co., a global tax services firm with headquarters in Dallas. According to Texans for Public Justice, Ryan and his wife donated $563,336 to Perry between 2001 and December 31, 2010.

But Ryan wasn’t always a Perry supporter. The Dallas Morning News reports: “In 2006, Ryan was Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s biggest campaign contributor in her bid to unseat Perry. Ryan delivered several hundred thousand dollars to Strayhorn’s campaign. A Perry spokesman said Strayhorn should be banned from getting contributions from Ryan because as state comptroller, she was in a position to do favors in exchange for big money donations. But that was then. In Perry’s latest campaign report, Ryan gave the governor $100,000 for his reelection and flew him around on a private plane at a cost of $13,000. … According to the governor this week, Ryan is a ‘Texas success story.’ ”

As a so-called “super PAC,” Make Us Great Again can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in support of Perry’s presidential bid, though it is legally precluded from coordinating directly with the Perry campaign.

On its website Make Us Great Again touts Perry’s record on job creation in Texas. We took an in-depth look at Texas job statistics under Perry and found they are a mixed bag.

Update, Jan. 19: Rick Perry ended his campaign for Republican nomination. Make Us Great Again spent about $4 million.