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Monday, October 25, 2010

Bob Perry Spends Big Bucks On Politics

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Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press
Bob Perry, a longtime donor to Republican causes, has given $7 million since
September to American Crossroads, the conservative group the strategist Karl
Rove helped start.
“I’ve known him for 25 years,” Mr. Rove said on Fox News. Back when Republicans
were not so popular in Texas, Mr. Perry was one of the few wealthy Texans
“willing to write checks to Republican candidates,” Mr. Rove added.
Now Mr. Rove and his party are benefiting from his old friend’s largess once
again, as new federal disclosure reports this week showed that Mr. Perry has
given $7 million since September to American Crossroads, the conservative group
Mr. Rove helped start. Mr. Perry was the group’s biggest donor.
Mr. Perry, 77, has long been a major donor to Republican candidates, with
significant contributions to George W. Bush’s campaigns for Texas governor and
his presidential races, as well as to Republican groups and causes. But his
donations to American Crossroads, which has become a major force this election
season in pushing Republican candidates, along with $4 million to the Republican
Governors Association this year, put Mr. Perry in another stratosphere as a
conservative version of George Soros, the patron of liberal causes.
Mr. Perry, who lives in a 13,000-square-foot home in Houston, was not giving
interviews on Thursday. “We’ll let the donations speak for themselves,” a
spokesman said.
Even Republicans consider him something of a mystery. While many major donors
use their contributions to gain access to powerful politicians, Mr. Perry is a
perennial no-show at fund-raising galas.
“He never comes to anything,” said Fred Malek, a longtime Republican operative
who helps lead fund-raising at the Republican Governors Association. “I’ve never
met him or seen him at any of our events that feature our governors, so he
certainly is not seeking access,” he said. “I would love to meet him to thank
him for everything he’s done.”
Because donations to some politically active groups are anonymous, it is
impossible to know exactly how much Mr. Perry has given over the years, but an
associate who spoke on the condition of anonymity placed the figure at “well
over $20 million.”
Perry Homes, the high-end custom home company he founded 43 years ago, was the
third-biggest homebuilder in the Houston area in 2009, according to The Houston
Chronicle. The company’s home closings dropped 33 percent last year as the
housing market took deep hits, The Chronicle reported, but the downturn does not
appear to have affected donations from his personal fortune, which has been
estimated at over $600 million.
Mr. Perry and his wife, Doylene, have given nearly $400,000 to candidates and
party committees in the 2010 election cycle, with nearly $300,000 going to the
Republican campaign committees in the House and Senate, according to data
compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
In addition his donation this year, Mr. Perry gave $2 million to the governors’
association last year. He contributed $50,000 in September to the First
Amendment Alliance, an independent group that has spent at least $800,000
attacking Democratic candidates for Senate in Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky and
Nevada, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Including his most recent contributions to American Crossroads, he has given
more than $13 million to outside groups able to accept donations of unlimited
size in this election cycle.
Mr. Perry is atop a group of megadonors who have contributed $1 million or more
this year to Republican groups like American Crossroads and the Republican
Governors Association. Others include Robert B. Rowling, a Texas billionaire;
Wayne Hughes, the chairman and founder of Public Storage; Harold Simmons,
another Swift Boat financier; Jerry Perenchio, a former chairman of Univision;
Trevor Rees-Jones, a Dallas oil-and-gas billionaire; Paul Singer, a Manhattan
hedge fund manager; and Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate.
Andrew Wheat, research director for Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group
that tracks campaign finance and has researched Mr. Perry’s donations, said in
an interview that Mr. Perry’s financial clout had made him not only the single
biggest donor in Texas in the last decade, but an increasing national presence
as well.
“It’s not just Swift Boat, it’s not just Karl Rove,” Mr. Wheat said. “There are
a range of federal and state races. He’s a partisan who believes in investing in
Republican control at the state and federal level, and people around the country
are starting to get to know Bob Perry.”
Mr. Perry’s financial involvement in the Swift Boat campaign against Mr. Kerry
particularly rankled Democrats, who saw the effort as an unfair smear, and they
have tried to use the issue repeatedly to taint Mr. Perry.
Mr. Perry, as he often does, ignored the attacks and continued making donations.
In a rare interview in 2002, Mr. Perry said, “I have been fortunate to gain more
financial strength in recent years, and I made a decision to be more involved in
campaigns that I think are important.”
Mr. Rove and Mr. Perry worked together in the 1986 Texas governor’s race for
William Clements, with Mr. Perry as campaign treasurer and Mr. Rove as a
political consultant.
They shared a desire to secure tort reform to limit the liability of
corporations in civil litigation. Mr. Rove used the issue in Texas in the late
1980s as a way of galvanizing conservatives, particularly in the business
community, and Mr. Perry gave more than $2 million to promote the issue.
Mr. Perry’s company was drawn into a long controversy over the liability issue
when a couple claimed a Perry Homes house was defective.
The buyers won an $800,000 arbitration award in 2008. But the state’s Supreme
Court overturned the award, leading groups like Texans for Public Justice to
charge that Mr. Perry’s many donations to the court’s Republican justices had
tainted the ruling. The buyers took the case back to court for trial, and in
March a jury ordered Perry Homes to pay $58 million in damages.
Eric Lichtblau reported from Washington, and Michael Luo from New York.


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