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During his first two months as a presidential candidate, Rick Perry has managed to do something we didn’t think was possible – look dumber than former president George W. Bush.

Seriously … that’s quite a feat.

Perry has stumbled, bumbled and fumbled through several Republican presidential debates … watching his popular support nose dive in the process. Not only that, he’s been exposed as an ideological fraud – a big government RINO who engages in pay-to-play “crony capitalism” while using tax dollars to support college scholarships for illegal immigrants.

Sadly, though … we can’t count Perry out of the 2012 race just yet. For starters, he raised $17 million during the most recent fundraising quarter – which ensures that he’ll be able to continue getting his message out to impressionable Republicans in early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina.

Also, there’s a growing suspicion that Perry may have a “secret weapon” in South Carolina in the form of Gov. Nikki Haley – who is raising some major cash from one of Perry’s newest subordinates, her longtime friend and former S.C. Budget and Control Board executive director Eleanor Kitzman.

Ever since FITS broke the story of Kitzman’s resignation (and subsequent hiring by Perry), the rumor mill in both states has been churning about the underlying motivations for her decision. That chatter only intensified when Perry made his presidential announcement at a Charleston, S.C. political event that was attended by Haley – and at which Haley offered some kind words for the Texas governor.

A longtime confidant of Haley’s, Kitzman is one of a handful of people in whom Haley confided following her affair with FITSNews founding editor Will Folks. In fact, Kitzman was present at the Liberty Taproom in early February 2007 on the night that Folks and Haley began their affair.

She’s also likely to be among the first people deposed in the event Folks files a lawsuit against Haley in conjunction with the release of his book – as many have speculated he might do in light of the smear campaign Haley launched against him last spring.

Anyway, Kitzman – who ran unsuccessfully (and illegally, as it turns out) for Lt. Governor of South Carolina in 2010 – wasn’t in Texas long before she began shaking down the insurance corporations she regulates on Haley’s behalf.

We made note of her efforts in this story, but interest in the potential scandal has waned with Perry’s diminished standing in the polls.

Haley’s Texas fundraiser was sponsored by Ethos Group, an automotive insurance outfit, but one source who received an invitation told FITS that follow-up calls for the event specifically referenced the fact that Kitzman was orchestrating it.

“We were told that the Commissioner would be there and we needed to pony up,” the source said.

Kitzman may have even made phone calls herself encouraging insurance officials to attend the event and give money to Haley.

Texas law forbids any elected official to “intentionally or knowingly solicit, accept, or agree to accept any benefit for having exercised the officer’s or employee’s official powers or performed the officer’s or employee’s official duties in favor of another.”

Did Kitzman violate that law to raise money for Haley? And if so, why? Also… was she doing it at Perry’s request? Possibly as part of some deal for an endorsement?

Democratic operative Tyler Jones raised these questions – and others – in an email analysis of Haley’s third quarter fundraising totals.

“Haley’s former Budget and Control Board Executive Director Eleanor Kitzman began her new job as Texas Insurance Commissioner in late August,” Jones wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by FITS. “After a couple weeks of getting settled into her new position, big insurance checks from Texas started flowing into Governor Haley’s campaign account.”

Jones notes that in one two week period in September, Haley received 18 contributions came from the state of Texas – most of them from insurance executives. Here’s a list of several of those large dollar contributions:

09/07/2011 – Prasad Thotakura 3952 Larkspur Drive Fort Worth, TX 76137 – Business Owner – $1,500.00
09/07/2011 – Indian American Friendship Council, TX Chapter P.O. Box 610865 Dallas, TX 75261 – $3,500.00
09/12/2011 – Paul Wood 1901 N. Highway 360 Grand Prairie, TX 75050 – Insurance – $1,000.00
09/19/2011 – David Snyder – 2611 Overbrook Lane Prosper, TX 75078 – Requested – $3,500.00
09/19/2011 – Jeffrey Lukash – 4230 Spy Glass Hill Lane Irving, TX 75038 – Insurance – $3,500.00
09/19/2011 – David Terek – 2947 Thomas Avenue Dallas, TX 75204 – Insurance – $3,500.00
09/19/2011 – Ethos HR Online Corp. – 5215 N. O’Connor Blvd., Suite 1200 Irving, TX 75039 – Insurance – $3,500.00
09/19/2011 – Ethos Group, Inc. – 5215 N. O’Connor Blvd., Suite 1200 Irving, TX 75039 – Insurance – $3,500.00
09/20/2011 – Prasad Thotakura – 3952 Larkspur Drive Fort Worth, TX 76137 – Business Owner -$205.85
09/20/2011 – Gary Clare – 6130 Joyce Way Dallas, TX 75225 – Insurance -$1,128.21
09/20/2011 – Kerry Muller – 1413 McCrae Trail Grapevine, TX 76092 – Insurance – $3,466.17
09/26/2011 – Kimberly Yelkin – 600 Congress Avenue, Suite 2900 Austin, TX 78701 – Attorney – $500.00
09/26/2011 – Brian Pearson – 3508 Far West Blvd, Suite 360 Austin, TX 78731 Sr. – VP – $500.00
09/26/2011 – Bob Perry – Post Office Box 34153 Houston, TX 77234 – Homebuilder – $3,500.00
09/26/2011 – Doylene Perry – Post Office Box 34153 Houston, TX 77234 – Retired – $3,500.00

“What business (do) Texas insurance companies have in South Carolina?” Jones asks. “Why are they giving so much money to Nikki Haley? Is Eleanor Kitzman using her position as Insurance Commissioner to raise money for Nikki Haley?”

Those are good questions …

In our recent post on Haley’s fundraising haul, we noted another interesting connection between Haley and Perry’s campaign – her decision to hire Perry’s South Carolina consultant Walter Whetsell. According to Haley’s report, she paid Whetsell’s firm $13,700 over the past three months for “printing” expenses.

Why does a sitting governor with no announced primary or general election opposition – who is more than three years away from her next election – need to spend $13,700 on printing expenses in one quarter?

It doesn’t add up …

Needless to say, if Perry’s campaign continues its downward trajectory none of this will matter. And let’s face it – with a 41 percent approval rating among Palmetto state voters, Haley isn’t quite the endorsement draw she once was.

Still, there’s something fishy going on with these contributions … which obviously wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened when it comes to Haley’s donations.

Pic: via Daylife