Houston builder donated $9 million to Republicans in 2004 electionsBy JOHN FRANK, Houston Chronicle
Dec. 26, 2004
WASHINGTON - As the largest political donor in Texas elections, Houston home builder Bob Perry and the pro-business measures he advocates get noticed in Austin.
After he pumped $3.8 million into the 2002 Texas elections, the Legislature approved several policy proposals that Perry supported.
With the 2004 presidential election, the Perry Homes founder surged onto the national political scene, becoming the nation's biggest Republican donor with $9.6 million in personal contributions to candidates, committees and political advocacy groups.
The question remains whether the political clout he enjoys in Texas will extend to national politics. But there is certainly harmonized thinking on the policy scene. President Bush is trying to breathe new life into what his supporters call tort reform — limits on damage awards in lawsuits. Perry has promoted the issue.
"Clearly, with this level of giving, he has instant access to any Republican member of Congress or member of the (Bush) administration, if he wants it," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a left-leaning campaign watchdog group. "Donations to the tune of $9 million will get you in the door at any political level."
Final numbers from the election show that Perry and his wife, Doylene, contributed more than $9.6 million during the two-year election cycle to mostly Republican politicians, committees and political advocacy groups at the federal level, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity and the Houston Chronicle. Nearly all Perry's contibutions were presented as unlimited gifts to 527 groups, political advocacy organizations so-called because of their designation in the federal tax code, the Center's analysis showed.
His rationale for dumping in such an unusually large sum is unknown. Perry declined a request by the Chronicle for an interview, instead directing calls to Bill Miller, his Austin-based spokesman and lobbyist.
"This was an anomaly and it was a product of George (Bush) being on the ticket and (responding to) the 527s being heavily used by the Democrats," Miller said. "I would be surprised if his participation continues at the level of this year. But he's always a man who will surprise you."
In the 2000 election cycle, Perry gave at least $400,000 to federal candidates, political parties and 527s. The 527s began reporting contributions in the summer of 2000, after some money may have been contributed. Miller said Perry, no relation to Gov. Rick Perry, usually focuses his political contributions at state and local levels.
In 2004, Perry gave at least $5 million to Republican candidates for the Legislature and judicial posts, according to preliminary numbers analyzed by Fred Lewis, director of Campaigns for People, an Austin-based campaign finance reform group.
It was Perry's involvement with the 527 groups that brought the publicity-shy Houstonian to the national political scene. His $100,000 check bankrolled the first Swift Boat Veterans for Truth TV ad questioning Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's Vietnam War military service.
The Swift Boat Veterans were co-founded by Houston lawyer John O'Neill, who this year called Perry a "casual friend." As the attention on O'Neill's group increased, so did Perry's checks. He gave more than a third of the total $17 million the group raised.
Just more than a half billion dollars was spent altogether by these unregulated 527 groups, a majority of which supported Democratic candidates, the Center reported.
Ultimately, four Democratic 527 donors, including billionaire financier George Soros and Peter Lewis, chairman of auto insurer Progressive Corp., topped the list. They spent more than $23 million each.
Some observers say Perry, though, remains one of the best-situated to capitalize on his role in these elections and benefit from his contributions.