Hutchison slices into Perry's donor base
Governor retains most of his big backers.By W. Gardner Selby
Monday, July 27, 2009
Kay Bailey Hutchison, gearing up to run against Gov. Rick Perry next year, has chipped into Perry's rich donor base, taking in 21 percent of $6.7 million she raised from December through June from 35 of Perry's historically staunchest backers, a review shows.
All told, the big benefactors — most of whom previously gave to Hutchison's U.S. Senate campaigns — accounted for nearly $3.8 million of about $27.6 million Perry raised from givers of $25,000 or more from 2003 through 2008.
More than seven months out from the March primary, it's arguably premature and maybe even dicey to compare secretive jockeying for money between the Republican heavyweights poised to make history because of the rare spectacle of a sitting senator challenging a governor from her own party.
Besides, the early money — she has $12.5 million on hand and he has $9.3 million — indicates that both will have ample cash to stir voters.
Still, Hutchison has made inroads with Perry loyalists including former Gov. Bill Clements, Austin philanthropist Joe Long and some former Perry appointees to state boards, leading Bill Ceverha, a Dallas fundraiser on her side, to say: "Of course, it's meaningful. It's money he's not going to get."
But Perry, who raised $4.2 million in the nine June days that donors were permitted to give to state officeholders, retained a strong stake in high-dollar donors. They included individuals who have given to Hutchison's past campaigns and might be expected to consider her over him.
More than 40 previous donors to Hutchison's Senate campaigns stuck with Perry for governor in June; they'd given more than $5 million to his campaigns from 2003 through 2008, compared to less than $180,000 to hers since 1993. The gulf partly reflects that there are legal limits on donations to candidates for federal office but no caps for those aspiring to state offices in Texas.
Five big donors to Hutchison (including Houston Texans' owner Bob McNair) also gave to Perry, perhaps hedging or demonstrating fondness for both. For many Republicans, even discussing donations to the political powerhouses can prove ticklish.
Centerville rancher-businessman Richard Wallrath gave $10,000 to Hutchison and $12,500 to Perry, whom he gave nearly $160,000 from 2003 through 2008.
"Both these people are my friends, OK?" Wallrath said.
Clements was among seven donors who gave to Perry last year before ponying up for Hutchison this year. He was unavailable for comment. His wife, Rita, said: "We really don't want to get in the middle of this."
Ceverha and Hutchison's finance chairman, John Nau of Houston, said the Perry-to-Hutchison shifts were rooted in promises made to Hutchison when she bowed out of challenging Perry in 2006 and beliefs that she's a visionary leader equipped to guide the state toward improvements in education.
Nau, a former Perry appointee to the Texas Historical Commission, said he helped Perry backers dissuade Hutchison from challenging Perry in 2006. At the time, Nau said, Perry told him: "Next time is her time."
Nau said he was among activists who told Hutchison they would support her in 2010. "I gave my word," Nau said. "Obviously, I was surprised like everyone else when Gov. Perry announced that he was going to seek re-election" in 2010.
Similarly, GOP benefactor Louis Beecherl of Dallas, who gave Perry's campaign $150,000 from 2003 through 2008, told Hutchison he'd support her in 2010 if she bowed out in 2006, according to Ceverha, who advises Beecherl. Beecherl's wife still supports Perry.
"We all assumed Rick was not going to run" in 2010, Ceverha said. "He basically told us."
Many Republicans were surprised last year when Perry volunteered his intention to run again. Last week, Perry spokesman Mark Miner didn't directly comment on Ceverha's and Nau's recollections, but he said that he wasn't aware Perry ever said he wouldn't run a third time.
Perry's campaign noted that nearly 60 of his donors doubled their previous contributions to him, arguably an indication of intensified support.
And as of July, most of Perry's traditionally most generous donors — more than 300 individuals or groups that have given $25,000 or more since 2003 — hadn't written a check to Hutchison for governor.
San Antonio developer Gene Powell, a finance co-chair for Perry, suggested Hutchison's donors included people who felt obligated to the state's senior senator — some of whom have promised to give to Perry in the fall.
Nau said that since June, additional Perry backers have made hefty donations to Hutchison.
Powell said: "You never ever want to lose a major supporter, ever. But you're going to when you have two candidates who have worked essentially side by side."
Perry and Hutchison both won statewide office in 1990, when the political landscape was dominated by Democrats.
"It's just exactly like a divorce," Powell said. "Some of the friends end up with the husband; some go with the wife. All of the supporters can't go with one side or the other. We've lost very few."
Powell said that Perry has presided over a vibrant state economy and, like the winning coach of the University of Texas football team, deserves to be retained.
Fred Meyer, a former state GOP chair raising money for Hutchison in North Texas, said Republicans want Hutchison atop their ticket in light of recent Democratic gains in legislative races and in Dallas and Harris counties. Republicans "are in danger of losing control of this state," Meyer said.
Among Perry donors who shifted, investor Bill McMinn of Houston said that he believes in term limits and that Hutchison can help Texas more as governor than by staying in the Senate. With Democrats nationally ascendant, McMinn said, "we're going to be looking at a lot of government intrusion. Kay Bailey having friends (in Washington) and knowledge of how Washington works (would be) far more beneficial to Texas."
He said of Perry serving again: "I don't have an answer for that. We still have some of the same problems that we had the first day he was elected," such as with education and immigration. "Some of those seem almost insurmountable. I don't think it hurts to have some fresh blood."
Hutchison's inroads with Perry's biggest financiers were gauged by comparing donors of $5,000 or more to Hutchison this year with a compilation of Perry's biggest donors from 2003 through 2008 by Texans for Public Justice, a nonpartisan group that tracks the influence of money and corporate power in Texas politics. The crosshatch of Perry's big-dollar donors and Hutchison's Senate campaign donors involved a search of a database kept by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy.
MORE ON THIS STORY: PERRY DONORS WHO GAVE TO HUTCHISON