Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Buoyed by a big-dollar donor and a favorable debate performance, Democrat Chris Bell began airing more television ads Tuesday as he tried to surge through a new momentum in the Texas governor's race. Read the article at the Dallas Morning News

Bell gets boost, governor candidates report contributions

By KELLEY SHANNON / Associated Press

Buoyed by a big-dollar donor and a favorable debate performance, Democrat Chris Bell began airing more television ads Tuesday as he tried to surge through a new momentum in the Texas governor's race.

Bell, after struggling to keep up in fundraising against Republican Gov. Rick Perry and independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn, got a $1 million donation Monday from Houston trial lawyer John O'Quinn, who pledged to increase that amount by another $4 million that he will either raise or donate.

That could make Bell financially competitive with Perry and Strayhorn. He is joining the advertising war in the final four weeks before the Nov. 7 election.

It takes about $1 million per week to blanket the state in TV commercials.

"We are going to be big time on TV to increase our name recognition," said Bell spokeswoman Heather Guntert.

The Bell campaign put more ads on the air in Houston Tuesday, and was adding to that purchase in markets around the state during the day, Guntert said. Right now the campaign is airing an ad that already had been shot and unveiled, but Bell is carving out more time to shoot new commercials, she said.

All the candidates, meanwhile, were required to report their latest round of campaign donations Tuesday covering a period from July 1 through Sept. 28.

Perry had $9.2 million in cash on hand by late September, and Strayhorn had about $5 million. Independent candidate Kinky Friedman had $827,830 in available cash, while Bell had about $62,000 on hand.

In fundraising for the three-month period, Perry led with donations of $3 million, followed by Friedman with $1.6 million, Bell with $1.48 million and Strayhorn with $1.2 million.

Bell's contributions and cash-on-hand report doesn't include the recent million-dollar O'Quinn donation.

There are no limits to donations from individuals in Texas state campaigns. That didn't stop Bell, however, from calling for limits after accepting the money from O'Quinn, best known for his work as one of five lawyers who shared a $3 billion fee for helping the state settle its lawsuit against big tobacco companies.

The O'Quinn donation is the largest single-check contribution from one individual to a gubernatorial candidate since at least 2000, according to an analysis by Texans for Public Justice, which studied contributions back to the year that candidates began filing electronically. Democratic candidate Tony Sanchez gave himself $17 million in 2002.

Perry's campaign criticized Bell for what it said were his "situational ethics" in taking a stand on limiting contributions while accepting such a big donation.

"Chris Bell appears to be advocating the 'do as I say, not as I do' leadership style that he must have learned during his one term in Congress," said Perry spokesman Robert Black. "That type of Washington D.C. style politics won't fly in Texas no matter how much Chris Bell's trial lawyer friends give him."

Bell said in a statement that if Perry, who holds a 10-to-one fundraising advantage over him, will limit his contributions, he will, too.

"Rick Perry is scared," he said. "This kind of attack is what happens in a race when an incumbent recognizes his biggest threat. It's official — this is now a two-person race."

Perry's biggest contributor was Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, a leading GOP donor who gave the governor's campaign $100,000. Next in line was Gordon Graves of Austin, who gave $60,000 to Perry and has had assorted business ties to the gambling industry. Perry also got $40,000 from The Chickasaw Nation, which operates casinos in Oklahoma.

Strayhorn, the state comptroller who is frequently criticized for receiving campaign contributions from the tax consulting firm Ryan & Company, which represents major clients before her agency, again got hefty donations from officials of that Dallas firm.

Ryan & Company's political action committee gave her $150,000, and key figures George Ryan and Gerald Ridgley gave her $150,000 and $75,000, respectively. Strayhorn also received $50,000 each from Beaumont lawyers Wayne Reaud and Glen Morgan and $10,000 from Graves, the Austin businessman with gambling industry connections who also gave to Perry.

And Bell got more than just money help from O'Quinn.

Bell, who along with Perry seemed to fare the best among the four major candidates in Friday's debate, got assistance from O'Quinn in preparing for the event.

Bell's performance appeared to bring in money from online givers. The Bell campaign said from the time of the Friday evening debate until Monday morning, its Web donations totaled $17,422, with an average contribution of about $110.


Kelley Shannon has covered Texas politics and government in Austin since 2000.