In February 2007, Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order that would have required girls to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer.
The Texas Legislature promptly overturned the order. Still, it continues to haunt Perry's bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has become the leading critic of his efforts. During Monday's debate in Florida, Bachmann said it was not the government's role to require the vaccine.
She also implied the order was a favor to the vaccine's chief manufacturer, Merck.
"We cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there is a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate," Bachmann said. "The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?"
In a statement to reporters after the debate Bachmann called Perry's actions "crony capitalism." Bachmann's comments reflect broader criticism that Perry's actions as governor benefited donors. In this case, Bachmann's statement has some truth to it, but she doesn't give all the facts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease; some strains can cause cervical cancer. In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved Gardisil, a vaccine produced by pharmaceutical company Merck meant to protect against cervical cancer.
When Perry issued his executive order, critics said it took away parental rights and would encourage young women to be promiscuous.
Perry defended his effort, saying the vaccine wouldn't "promote sexual promiscuity any more than the Hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use," according to the Austin American-Statesman. "If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it, claiming it would encourage smoking?"
More recently, Perry has retreated on the issue and said he should have let the Legislature approve the mandate instead.
Perry's ties to Merck were as controversial in 2007 as they are now.
In the months after Gardasil was approved, Merck launched a lobbying effort in the states to make the vaccine a requirement. (The blitz ended in February 2007, shortly after Perry wrote the order, according to news reports).
In Texas, Merck doubled its lobbying budget, according to a 2007 Associated Press report. At the time, one of the company's lobbyists was Perry's former chief of staff, Mike Toomey. And Perry had ties to Women in Government, a separate group advocating for the vaccine.
Bachmann said Merck made millions of dollars as a result of the mandate. However, there's little proof to support her claim. The executive order would have gone into effect in September 2008; the legislature overturned it in April 2007. Effectively, the mandate disappeared before Merck had a chance to capitalize on it.
During the debate, Bachmann also said that Merck donated thousands of dollars to Perry's campaign. He responded by saying that he only received $5,000, which was the case in 2006, the year before he signed the order.
Campaign finance documents on the Texas Ethics Committee website show that Merck's political action committee has given Texans for Rick Perry a total of $29,500 over his 10 years as governor.
Perry is not the only candidate receiving money from the pharmaceutical industry. According to OpenSecrets.org, a group that tracks campaign dollars, during the 2010 election cycle, Bachmann received $2,000 from Pfizer and $5,400 from Bayer, among other pharmaceutical interests.