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AUSTIN, TX - MAY 11: Texas Governor Rick Perry waits during his introduction before addressing Austin's largest naturalization ceremony at the Delco Activity Center on May 11, 2007 in Austin, Texas. More than 1,000 area residents representing 85 countries took the Oath of Allegiance to become United States citizens. (Photo by Taylor Jones/Getty Images)
A handful of 300 part-time workers paid to turn out voters who will support Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP primary have criminal histories, including one with a felony drug conviction, according to a newspaper report.
The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday that recruits under the "Perry Home Headquarters" program have criminal records that also include assault, criminal mischief and drunken driving. Under the program, campaign pays people to find others who will support Perry and promise to vote for him.
Critics say the revelations of misconduct suggest carelessness on the part of the Perry campaign, but Perry spokesman Mark Miner counters that there's nothing wrong with workers trying to change their lives. The campaign doesn't screen workers and said the program benefits both sides.
"People in life make mistakes," Miner said. "It doesn't mean they can't get a second chance and work hard. That's what these people are doing."
The Perry camp is gearing up for a March 2 Republican primary showdown with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Under the Perry campaign's program, recruiters get $20 for every new recruiter they bring in and $20 for every 11 voters that the new recruiter signs up for the primary.
Such straight cash reward programs are rare but legal. Most campaigns have a small staff of paid workers, including paid consultants who are responsible for signing up voters.
"Most consultants and large campaigns absolutely hate large numbers of volunteers just because it's complicated," said veteran Republican consultant Royal Masset, who is not involved with the campaigns of Perry or Hutchison. "It's so much easier just to have an organization that's basically all fundraising and media."
Miner said the program is running as planned.
"It's working well," Miner said. "We have a lot of people out there working hard on behalf of the governor. We've always said that this is going to be the largest grass-roots organization this state has ever seen."
A woman with a 2004 felony conviction of possession of between 5 and 50 pounds of marijuana was among the higher earners with $13,440 over the past six months. The highest earner pulled in $34,060.
Perry's report shows that the campaign has paid more than $360,000 to part-time employees. That's nearly 8 percent of the expenditures listed in his report, which covers the last half of 2009.
Opponents have criticized the program.
"Rick Perry's campaign finance reports prove real grass-roots movements cannot be bought," said Hector Nieto, a spokesman for the Texas chapter of Organizing for America, the Democratic group that grew out of Obama's campaign.