Friedman leads in number of Texas donors, out-of-state moneyBy KELLEY SHANNON, Associated Press
AUSTIN - Comedic candidate Kinky Friedman has far and away the most individual donations in the governor's race this year, collecting campaign cash from thousands across Texas and across the country.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry leads in total money, followed by independent Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn - both piling up millions of dollars and benefiting from some large contributions of $100,000 or more.
With Perry and Strayhorn holding that strong financial advantage entering the Nov. 7 election, Friedman will be working to capitalize on what appears to be a grassroots bloc supporting his rebel campaign. The election outcome should answer the question of whether Friedman has broad backing among voters or whether some people are merely enamored with his unorthodox candidacy.
"I think he's (Friedman) tapping into the anti-politics, anti-incumbent crowd in Texas and beyond," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a non-profit that tracks money in politics.
The joke-cracking mystery writer had more than 17,000 individual donations from Texans from January through June, including online sales of his campaign memorabilia, according to a review of campaign funding by The Associated Press. In that same period, Perry had about 3,300 in-state donors, while Strayhorn had about 1,200. Democrat Chris Bell had about 1,400 individual Texas donations in the report he filed in July, but his report covered the period Feb. 26 through June 30, instead of the full six months. Friedman also leads the candidates' pack in out-of-state contributions.
Donors seem to like the novelty of Friedman's candidacy and appear to be giving because of that, often through his Internet fundraising and merchandising, McDonald said.
"Many have probably rarely, if ever, given to candidates," he said.
Friedman's online campaign store accounted for about one-third of his $1.5 million in contributions the first half of the year. The store sells inexpensive items, like bumper stickers for $3, caps for $20 and Kinky Friedman talking action figures for $29.95.
Friedman said in an AP interview this week that his supporters aren't buying his merchandise "the way Britney Spears' fans buy stuff."
"I think it's that we have given people hope. They think we can do it. The young people are inspired now and inspiring me," Friedman said.
Perry collected the most money during the six months, $4.7 million, followed by Strayhorn with $3.1 million. Bell reported raising $1.3 million in his mid-year report, from Feb. 26 through June 30. That, combined with money he raised in January and February, put his fundraising total at about $1.6 million for the year. The other candidates besides Friedman also have been raising money on the Internet.
Both Perry and Strayhorn had money socked away from previous years to use this election, and both collected this year from powerful sources.
"The governor is the biggest vacuum cleaner in the race. He's sucking up all the traditional, what we call, money from the lobby," which means corporate and trade group interests, said McDonald, whose group has been studying gubernatorial campaign reports separately from the AP review.
Strayhorn, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent, got large sums from trial lawyers, who typically support Democrats. She also received big contributions from principals of Ryan & Co., a tax and accounting firm that represents clients before her state agency.
Strayhorn received $250,000 each from trial lawyers Walter Umphrey of Beaumont and John Eddie Williams of Houston in June after it was confirmed she had collected enough voter signatures to make the ballot as an independent. She also got four other six-figure donations.
Perry had a $100,000 donation from poultry magnate "Bo" Pilgrim of Pittsburg. From other donors he got five $50,000 donations and received a total of $1.9 million from 76 contributions for $25,000 each.
Bell's biggest single donation reported mid-year was $100,000 from Aubrey Smith of Smith Energy in Houston.
All the gubernatorial candidates collected sizable amounts of cash from the state's major metropolitan areas. And all had donors from the glitzy ZIP codes of River Oaks in Houston and Highland Park in Dallas.
Perry led in fundraising in those exclusive enclaves, with $135,765, compared with Strayhorn's $77,758, Bell's $50,825 and Friedman's $21,817, based on their mid-year reports.
Friedman, who lives on a Hill Country ranch, collected the most money of all the candidates in nearby Kerrville, bagging a total of $11,521 there.
Bell pulled in his biggest contingency of contributions from his residence city of Houston, with a $698,522 total in his mid-year report filed in July. Perry raised $1 million in Houston and Strayhorn had $758,484. Friedman collected $190,792 in Houston.
When it came to large individual donations, Perry and Strayhorn were the king and queen.
There are no limits on how much one can give a state political candidate in Texas, but some campaign finance advocates want to change that.
State Rep. Mark Strama, an Austin Democrat, said he will team with Democratic Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio in the coming legislative session to push a bill that would limit one person's total campaign contributions to $100,000 per election cycle. The proposal died in the 2005 Legislature.
Strama said large gubernatorial contributions from both Democrats and Republicans, such as those in the current governor's race, and the $3 million San Antonio businessman James Leininger poured into GOP legislative primaries in the spring are reasons to renew the effort.
"A hundred thousand dollars is enough," Strama said. "The logic is that nobody needs to have more influence than that on the political process, and most people can't have that much influence on the political process."
Strama said it isn't fair to everyday voters who are just starting to feel they can have an effect on politics through the Internet.
Through the Web and traditional methods, out-of-state money also has trickled into the governor's race, but in relatively low amounts.
Friedman leads in total out-of-state donations with $269,324 reported so far this year, or about 17 percent of his total. His biggest concentrations of money from other states came from New York, California and New Mexico. He also has a few overseas donations.
Perry's out-of-state money amounted to 4 percent of his total for the six months. Strayhorn's was 2 percent, and Bell's was about 3 percent.
The out-of-state giving to Friedman doesn't indicate any outside interests trying to influence Texas government, said McDonald of Texans for Public Justice.
Most likely, he said, it comes from fans who find him funny.