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Perry Has Modest Wealth, But Questions Remain

Photo illustration by Bob Daemmrich/Todd Wiseman

Gov. Rick Perry once scooped up valuable tracts of land in Central Texas, and he scored big when he sold them. But new financial disclosures suggest Perry gave up much of the profits on Wall Street and no longer directly owns any land or even a house.

It’s hard to draw firm conclusions about the fresh filings at the Texas Ethics Commission (view the letter and amended filing below), a precursor to more disclosures that will be released as Perry adheres to new federal requirements. Critics say the filings reveal potential conflicts of interest, including Perry's ownership interest in a natural gas company founded by a former lawmaker and top Perry appointee.

Still, the records available to the public paint a portrait of modest wealth, and they present a stark contrast to Perry’s chief rival, Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor’s wealth has been estimated at between $190 million and $250 million, according to a recent report in the Boston Globe.

“For a guy that’s almost 62 years old, he does not appear to have built a lot of net worth. He’s got some pensions and things. He had this one time in his career where he made some money in real estate, but he appears to have lost a lot of what he did gain,” said Bob Martin, a Houston accountant who helped analyze Perry’s financial disclosures for The Texas Tribune. “Unless there’s a ringer in there as far as these investments, he is not as well off as a corporate employee who had a low six-figure salary for several years."

Perry made several profitable real estate deals while in public office in Texas, generating about $2 million in pre-tax profits, according to available public records.

But much of the proceeds went into a blind trust that Perry, while serving as Texas agriculture commissioner, formed in 1996 to shield himself against conflict-of-interest allegations. A blind trust is an investment tool designed to create a legal firewall between public service and personal business dealings.

Now that he’s running for president, Perry has revoked the blind trust and revealed for the first time some of the investments he has made. More disclosures are expected in coming weeks when Perry fills out more stringent federal forms.

What’s clear now is that some of the profits from the land deals were sunk into the stock market. And Perry reported more than a half million dollars in short-term and long-term gains on his tax returns in 2008. Perry also sold his only remaining property, a home in College Station, for a loss that did not exceed $5,000. At one point, Perry had claimed the house as his chief homestead, but he gave that up after critics said he was claiming residence in two towns. The Perry campaign said the home was sold last year.

A Tribune analysis of Perry’s disclosures, reported in broad ranges, shows that the governor's publicly traded stocks are worth between $132,000 and $340,000, based on share prices as of Tuesday. There are other investments, including municipal bonds and privately held companies, but it’s impossible to tell from the state filings precisely how much they are worth.

Blind Trust Shares Still Held by Gov. Rick Perry

Company# of SharesLast Close Value (9/20/11)Estim. Low ValueEstim. High Value
The Coca-Cola Company (KO)Less than 100$70.65-$7,065
FedEx Corporation (FDX)Less than 100$75.22-$7,522
Illinois Tool Works Inc. (ITW)Less than 100$45-$4,500
National Instruments Corporation (NATI)Less than 100$24.96-$2,496
Nordson Corporation (NDSN)Less than 100$43.16-$4,316
Novartis AG (NVS)Less than 100$55.38-$5,538
Pepsico, Inc. (PEP)Less than 100$60.39-$6,039
Procter & Gamble Co. (PG)Less than 100$64.08-$6,408
Schlumberger Limited (SLB)Less than 100$69.29-$6,929
Sigma-Aldrich Corporation (SIAL)Less than 100$64.4-$6,440
United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS)Less than 100$66.21-$6,621
W.W. Grainger, Inc. (GWW)Less than 100$160.47-$16,047
Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (ADP)100 to 499$50.72$5,072$25,309.28
Canon Inc. (CAJ)100 to 499$44.07$4,407$21,990.93
Cisco Systems, Inc. (CSCO)100 to 499$16.53$1,653$8,248.47
Donaldson Company, Inc. (DCI)100 to 499$57.27$5,727$28,577.73
Dover Corp. (DOV)100 to 499$50.8$5,080$25,349.20
Ecolab Inc. (ECL)100 to 499$51.41$5,141$25,653.59
Emerson Electric Co. (EMR)100 to 499$45.55$4,555$22,729.45
Molex Inc. (MOLX)100 to 499$21.38$2,138$10,668.62
PACCAR Inc. (PCAR)100 to 499$37.16$3,716$18,542.84
Sysco Corp. (SYY)100 to 499$27.11$2,711$13,527.89
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT)100 to 499$52.29$5,229$26,092.71
Illinois Tool Works Inc. (ITW)100 to 499$45$4,500$22,455
Intel Corporation (INTC)100 to 499$22.20$2,220$11,077.80

Martin, the accountant, said the records at the Texas Ethics Commission suggest that Perry has not recovered from the 2008 stock market losses.

“Like a lot of investors, he made a lot of money in one thing and lost it another,” Martin said. “It appears, based on what we saw in the breakup of the blind trust, that he has not recovered his losses.”

Blind Trust Shares Sold by Gov. Rick Perry

Company# of SharesSold ForValue
Chevron Corp. (CVX)Less than 100GainLess than $5,000
Covidien plc (COV)Less than 100GainLess than $5,000
Baker Hughes Incorporated (BHI)500 to 999Gain$5,000 - $9,999
ConocoPhillips (COP)500 to 999Gain$10,000 - $24,999
Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. (FDP)1,000 to 4,999Gain$5,000 - $9,999
MDU Resources Group Inc. (MDU)1,000 to 4,999Gain$5,000 - $9,999
Apache Corp. (APA)Less than 100LossLess than $5,000
Hewlett-Packard Company (HPQ)100 to 499LossLess than $5,000
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)100 to 499LossLess than $5,000
General Electric Co. (GE)500 to 999Loss$5,000 - $9,999
Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)500 to 999LossLess than $5,000
Multimedia Games Inc. (MGAM)500 to 999LossLess than $5,000

Aides estimated the value of the blind trust at $896,000 in 2009, but they have declined to provide an estimate of Perry's net worth. Perry filed an extension of the federal disclosure on Sept. 8 and, under FEC rules, has to turn in his form by Oct. 31.

“The governor is going to disclose everything that is required to be disclosed,” said Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier.

The more complete federal disclosure is unlikely to muzzle his critics. Texans for Public Justice, a liberal watchdog group, released a report Tuesday about Perry's new disclosures. It highlighted, for example, Perry's ownership interest in MKS Natural Gas Company, founded by the late Ric Williamson. According to a Tribune review, MKS had lease interests worth at least $2.4 million in Hood, Parker, Palo Pinto and Wise counties.

Perry appointed Williamson, a former state representative, as chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission. Williamson, one of Perry's closest friends, died in 2007.

TPJ also noted that several companies in which Perry's blind trust invested, like Hewlett-Packard and Automatic Data Processing, had received grants from the governor's job-luring Texas Enterprise Fund.

Frazier said Perry was unaware of the investments made while he had a blind trust. Now that the blind trust has been revoked, she said, he will make decisions about any assets that present any potential for a conflict of interest.

"All of those decisions are going to be made at the appropriate time," Frazier said. "Of course, the governor wants to remain completely above reproach so that there are no conflicts of interest."

Jay Root is a native of Liberty. He never knew any reporters growing up, and he has never taken a journalism class in his life. But somehow he got hooked on the news business. It all started when he walked into the offices of The Daily Texan, his college newspaper, during his last year at the University of Texas in 1987. He couldn't the resist the draw: it was the the biggest collection of misfits ever assembled. After graduating, he took a job at a Houston chemical company and realized it wasn't for him. Soon he was applying for an unpaid internship at the Houston Post in 1990, and it turned into a full-time job that same year. He has been a reporter ever since. He has covered natural disasters, live music and Texas politics — not necessarily in that order. He was Austin bureau chief of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a dozen years, most of them good. He also covered politics and the Legislature for The Associated Press before joining the staff of the Tribune.