Noriega gave to charity on John Kerry's advice, but would still like GOP donor's supportBob Perry of Houston intends to stick with Sen. Cornyn, spokesman says.
By W. Gardner Selby
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
State Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, says he donated $8,000 in political funds to charity last month to address heartburn in the Democratic establishment over a reported $9,500 in donations that his House campaigns accepted over the years from Houston home builder Bob Perry.
Perry, who gives to many causes but puts most of his political contributions into Republican coffers, is known nationally for helping pay for the so-called Swift Boat commercials that attacked Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004.
Still, Noriega, a fifth-term House member, said that he would welcome Perry's support in his current bid to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. In the Democratic primary, Noriega faces Corpus Christi teacher Ray McMurrey, who has questioned Noriega's acceptance of donations from Perry, and perennial candidates Rhett Smith of San Antonio and Gene Kelly of Universal City.
"I'd hope to have Mr. Perry's help during the general election," Noriega said.
Perry spokesman Anthony Holm said such support will not be forthcoming from the builder, whom Holm called a staunch Cornyn supporter.
Like Noriega, other Democratic officeholders might be balancing the pressures of campaign fundraising against the risk that Democratic opponents will cast donations from Perry in a negative light. Challengers to at least three Democratic Texas House members — Dawnna Dukes of Austin, Kino Flores of Palmview and Aaron Peña of Edinburg — have brought up campaign money that they have each fielded from Perry.
Dukes, Flores and Peña said Monday that they had never met or talked to Perry or taken his direction on an issue.
Dukes said, "Campaigns cost a lot of money, and when your opponent continues to make negative attacks, you have to raise and spend a lot of money to counter their mistruths."
Flores said Perry is nothing more than a home builder to him. "There's no taint to him in my campaign," he said.
Peña said he won't take money from noncitizens or corporations, which would be illegal. Otherwise, he said, campaigns are war: "When you're in the middle of a war, someone hands you bullets, you take them and use them."
Texans for Public Justice, which tracks campaign fundraising and expenditures, favors passage of a law limiting contributors to donations of no more than $100,000 total to all candidates for state office and state political committees per election cycle.
Perry gave nearly $7 million to state candidates and political committees in the 2006 election cycle, according to Texans for Public Justice. More than 90 percent of his donations to 146 state candidates went to Republicans. In 2007, Perry gave money to nearly 30 members of the Texas House and Senate, most of them Republican, according to Texas Ethics Commission records.
Craig McDonald, Texans for Public Justice's director, said Perry's donations are "slowly becoming more and more toxic to Democrats," perhaps, he said, because some Democrats getting Perry's money voted to elect Tom Craddick, R-Midland, as House speaker. "In politics," McDonald said, "you're often judged by who your friends are. You can get scorched by being close to Bob Perry."
But Democratic strategist Kelly Fero, said voters shouldn't judge Perry's donations the same way in all cases because in some campaigns, his money has not made a substantial difference. Fero suggested that Noriega's charitable donations and his desire for Perry's future support might reflect a deliberately mixed message.
"He wants to assure activists who do have heartburn over" Perry's past donations, Fero said. "And he wants to assure the donor who gave the money in the first place that he hopes to get more."
In an interview, Noriega said he donated the money from his state political account on the advice of Kerry, whom he visited in Washington in October. On Monday, Kerry referred to Noriega's role as a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army National Guard by calling him a veteran "who believes Swift Boat Republican money has no place in American politics."
Holm, Perry's spokesman, said, "Generally, attacks on Perry's political donations are a "disservice to an incredibly charitable individual and the candidates who are running. It is simply an example of the politics of personal destruction by the left."
Noriega agrees to debate
Rick Noriega and Ray McMurrey, two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, have agreed to debate Feb. 13 in Austin, their campaigns said. The location has not been determined, said Trey McAtee, a member of Keep Austin Blue, a group that intends to host the debate.
McMurrey had asked for a debate, but Noriega's campaign initially resisted.