Perry Homes builder is largest U.S. political donorBuilder puts $16 million into election process
Bob Perry is nation's biggest campaign donor
Dec. 6, 2006
By CLAY ROBISON
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
AUSTIN — Houston home builder Bob Perry poured $16 million into state and federal races during the recent election cycle, apparently making him the biggest individual political contributor in the country for 2005-06, a money-tracking group reported Tuesday.
A legislator from San Antonio hopes the report will boost his proposal to place limits on big donors, but similar efforts have failed in the past.
Perry has been a leading political donor in Texas for several years, but the $6.7 million he gave to state candidates, mostly Republicans, and political action committees over the past two years was a 44 percent increase over 2003-04, according to Texans for Public Justice.
Additionally, he put $9.3 million into federal elections, mostly through conservative groups that bought ads attacking Democratic congressional candidates throughout the country, TPJ reported, citing Congressional Quarterly's PoliticalMoneyLine.
"Texas is the Wild West of money in politics. Texas needs limits," said Andrew Wheat, TPJ's research director.
Wheat said Perry's total contributions may be the largest ever by an individual donor from Texas, other than what a wealthy candidate has given to his own campaign. Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez spent about $60 million of his own money on his unsuccessful race for governor in 2002.
Nationally, New York billionaire George Soros gave $23.5 million, mostly to liberal organizations, in the 2004 election cycle. Soros spent less this year.
Perry spokesman Anthony Holm said the home builder gives to Republicans and "pro-business, pro-jobs" Democrats because they support governmental policies promoting job creation.
"Bob Perry's political donations are all transparent and spent in public," Holm said.
"TPJ operates in the shadows. TPJ is funded by secret donors," including plaintiffs' lawyers, he added.
Texans for Public Justice says it is nonpartisan, but it frequently draws fire from conservatives for its periodic reports criticizing the role that large donations play in the electoral process. TPJ Director Craig McDonald said his group receives some funding from plaintiffs' lawyers but gets most of his support from philanthropic and other foundations.
85 biggest givers
About a month before the Nov. 7 election, the group released a report listing the 85 biggest donors to Texas candidates and committees, up to that point in the election cycle. Perry and his wife, Doylene, topped that list, which also included a number of other business people and several prominent plaintiffs' lawyers, including Fred Baron of Dallas, Mikal Watts of Corpus Christi, Walter Umphrey of Beaumont and John Eddie Williams of Houston.
Perry was singled out in this follow-up report because he's "the biggest donor in Texas," McDonald said.
Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, has prefiled HB111 for the legislative session, which convenes in January, to limit total political contributions by one individual in state races to $100,000 per election cycle.
Villarreal sponsored a similar bill in 2005, but it died in a House subcommittee.
"I think there is more public clamor for change," he said, noting that another mega-contributor, San Antonio businessman James Leininger, a leading advocate of spending tax dollars on private school vouchers, also received much attention this year for large political donations to legislative candidates.
Under Villarreal's bill, a person could give the entire $100,000 to a single candidate or committee but would be unable to donate to anyone else.
Among candidates this year, Perry gave 92 percent of his money to Republicans and 8 percent to Democrats, TPJ reported. HillCo PAC, the political action committee of an Austin lobbying firm that represents Perry's company, Perry Homes, received $545,000.
HillCo partner Bill Miller said money has been part of the democratic process since time immemorial.
"What's the difference between him giving his money and John O'Quinn giving a seven-figure contribution?" he asked.
O'Quinn, a plaintiffs' lawyer from Houston, gave Democratic nominee Chris Bell $1.5 million in the recent gubernatorial race.
After contributing $3.8 million to state candidates and committees in the 2002 election, Perry was instrumental in the Legislature's creation in 2003 of the Texas Residential Construction Commission, an agency criticized by consumer advocates as a builder-protection agency.
WINS AND LOSSES
Some recipients of Bob Perry's giving in the 2005-06 election cycle and how they fared in the campaign:
• Republican Party of Texas: $780,000
• Texans for Lawsuit Reform: $601,000
• HillCo PAC: $545,000
• Gov. Rick Perry: $380,000
• Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: $285,000
• Sen.-elect Dan Patrick,
• Rep. Sylvester Turner,
• Sen. John Whitmire,
• Joe Nixon, R-Houston : $262,500
• Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston: $95,000
• Martha Wong, R-Houston: $59,500
Sources: Texans for Public Justice, Chronicle research