Texans don’t like the government interfering with their business, especially campaign donations, where state laws allow contributors to fork over unlimited cash. No one has benefited more from this arrangement than Rick Perry, who has raised $100 million over the last decade, nearly half of which came from just 204 ultra-wealthy donors.
You’re going to be hearing a lot about those donors over the next few weeks, for a couple of reasons. One is that Perry has a reputation for being especially friendly with his most loyal backers: separate analyses by the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times concluded that large percentages of his top donors received some benefit from the state during his tenure as governor. Perry’s camp told both papers, as they’ve told the Texas press for years, that they were doled out on the merits.
But the second reason is that the same gang is going to have a chance to contribute to Perry’s presidential ambitions in a big way. And not just at the $5,000 max donation level either, or even by bundling hundreds of other maxed out donors together. This year the major candidates, including President Obama, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and even Jon Huntsman have Super PACs backing them up that can collect unlimited donations from individuals and corporations alike to run ads. Perry’s former chief of staff Mike Toomey has already set one up and, according to NBC, its goal is to spend $55 million on the primaries — likely more than Perry’s own campaign.
So where do all these big bucks come from? To get you up to speed on Perry’s money machine, here’s a sampling of the major players.
You may not know Bob Perry (no relation), but you certainly are familiar with his work. The Texan home-builder provided the seed money for the infamous Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ads that helped tear down John Kerry’s 2004 campaign. He’s dropped millions on Republican candidates around the country, but has a special spot for the Texas governor, who he’s handed $2.5 million over the last decade, according to the money tracker Texans for Public Justice. Perry has also donated over $11 million to the Republican Governors Association, money that is currently the subject of a lawsuit by former Perry opponent Chris Bell, a Democrat who lost a bid for governor in 2006. Bell’s suit alleges that Bob Perry routed a $1 million donation to Perry’s campaign through the RGA, writing them two $500,000 checks only days before the organization committed similar amounts to the governor’s re-election.
Dubbed “the most influential Republican in Texas” in 2002, James Leininger has donated tens of millions of dollars to various conservative causes and founded the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right wing think tank that’s been generally supportive of Perry’s agenda. Leininger, who acquired a vast fortune through his medical supply company Kinetic Concepts, has been accused of being too cozy with Perry a number of times over the years. He and his wife have donated nearly $240,000 to his campaigns, a fact that the Dallas Morning News noted with interest last year after an Emerging Technology Fund championed by Perry awarded a $1.75 million grant to a company he invested in. A staunch social conservative, he hosted a meeting between Perry and evangelical leaders at his ranch last month.
The telecom giant, or at least its political action committee, is a longtime friend of Perry, having donated over $500,000 since he took office. In May, Perry sent a letter to the FCC urging them to approve a merger between AT&T and T-Mobil, a deal that’s been thrown into question this week after the Department of Justice moved to block it as an alleged violation of antitrust laws. After state Democrats accused him of “pay to play politics,” Perry spokesman Mark Miner defended the move, calling it “good for consumers, good for technology innovation, and good for American job creation.”
Harold Simmons’ $1.1 million in campaign contributions to Perry may sound like a lot, but given that the Texas industrialist is worth $5.7 billion by Forbes’ estimate, it’s relatively small change. His donations have been drawing attention over the last several years, however, as Perry, Texas legislators, and the relevant state agencies have signed off on a plan to construct a massive dumping ground for nuclear waste from around the country. Environmental groups are not happy and some engineers have complained to the press that the location isn’t suited for the task, but the project is moving forward as planned. The Los Angeles Times notes that in receiving a green light to build his nuclear waste site, Simmons’ is “poised to gain perhaps the most” of any major Perry donor who has dealt with state government under his administration.
Billy Joe “Red” McCombs
A co-founder of Clear Channel Communications, billionaire Billy Joe “Red” McCombs has also dabbled in sports as a former owner of both the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets and the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. He and his wife have donated nearly $400,000 to Perry’s various campaigns. Now he’s looking to bring Formula One racing to the state with the help of $25 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies per year.
He denies any connection between the funding and his donations, and explained to the Washington Post last month that the Formula One money was approved through the state comptroller’s office and not by Perry. “There’s no question he is a business-friendly governor,” he said. “But I don’t think there is any direct connection.”
All campaign figures are provided by Texans for Public Justice
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Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.