Following a predictable pattern for this Republican Presidential primary, Rick Perry is taking a lot of heat from his colleagues for having the right policy on Gardasil, the vaccine for the human papilloma virus. Perry mandated the vaccinations for young girls to prevent cervical cancer. Eventually the state legislature overrode him. Social conservatives like Michele Bachmann think that forcing Texas girls to take a vaccine that prevents them from dying of cancer turns them instantly into promiscuous sluts, because the only thing stopping this nation from one continuous orgy is the threat of venereal disease and death (and thank God for that, the theocons would say!). But Bachmann can’t really stress that point, so she’s making a different one – one that is actually accurate, and has implications well beyond the Gardasil debate.

LAUER: You questioned the motivation behind it, suggesting rather strongly, that this could have been an attempt to appease a big drug company Merck because they contributed to his campaign. So I want you to lay this out for me, is that what you are asserting?

BACHMANN: Well, it’s very clear that crony capitalism could have likely been the cause. Because the Governor’s former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company…. The governor chose by himself unilaterally to sign an executive order and put through the requirement that all innocent little 12 year-old girls or 11 year-old girls in the state of Texas would be forced by the government to take an injection of what could be a very dangerous drug… people have to draw their own conclusions.

Note the focus on the danger of the drug, which the Centers for Disease Control completely disputes, and not the fact that sex-crazed 12 year-olds would be liberated to start walking the streets and picking up dudes.

But Bachmann does highlight a legitimate issue. Rick Perry’s former chief of staff Mike Toomey did become a lobbyist for Merck, and suddenly Merck doubled its lobbying budget in the state of Texas. During last night’s debate, Perry focused on the small amount of direct donations from Merck’s PAC, saying that he wouldn’t sell out for $5,000. But not only were total Merck donations to Perry higher than that, closer to $30,000, but Perry officials met about the vaccine the same day the PAC gave money to the governor. Merck also became a big donor to the Republican Governors Association, with over $355,000 in donations, right when Perry became the head of it. And Toomey is now the head of a pro-Perry SuperPAC.

The financial ties are quite deep and longstanding. Bachmann is out to lunch on the underlying issue, but if Republicans want to talk about Rick Perry and crony capitalism – or really any politician, for that matter, check out John Boehner’s coal industry ties, or the revolving door between Congress and K Street – I’m not going to stop her. And on the particular case of Perry, there’s a lot more where Merck came from.

UPDATE: Sarah Palin’s been on this kick for a while, in an effort to rehabilitate her image, and she had some strong words for Perry last night.

UPDATE II: Perry fires back. The claim made by Bachmann that Gardasil causes mental retardation is particularly irresponsible, and baseless. She doesn’t want to come out and say that she prefers the threat of venereal disease and cervical cancer to be a check on female promiscuity.

David Dayen

David Dayen