Governor Rick Perry has shown himself as a master of Texas-style campaign fundraising, collecting more than $100 million during his decade as the state’s chief executive, mostly from the deep pockets of rich Texans and corporations.
Now that he is running for president, Perry will need to find a way to raise that kind of money $2,500 at a time as federal law, unlike Texas, limits how much an individual can give to a presidential campaign and bans corporate donations.
Perry, 61, had 204 donors who gave him more than $51 million, which amounts to more than half the total he collected in 10 years as governor, according to data compiled by Texans for Public Justice. If all those donors give the maximum federal contribution for his primary campaign, it would generate $510,000. If they simultaneously give two checks, the maximum for the primary and general election campaigns, they would just break the $1 million mark.
“Mr. Perry is a very successful politician who has already beaten other successful politicians,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, a Washington-based research group. “He knows well he has to live within the federal contribution limits. He must know he’ll need a new kind of base.”
Perry officially announced his run Aug. 13 in Charleston, South Carolina, at a meeting sponsored by RedState.com, a self-described “conservative news blog.” He later flew to New Hampshire, site of the first 2012 primary election. He campaigned yesterday in New Hampshire and Iowa, where the nomination process begins with caucuses early next year.
“We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership,” Perry said in his announcement speech. “Washington’s insatiable desire to spend our children’s inheritance on failed stimulus plans has given us record debts and left us far too many unemployed Americans.”
While Perry is already reaching out to broader voting groups, including Tea Party activists who propelled Republican gains in the 2010 midterm elections, he also has been holding private sessions with potential fundraisers. In Los Angeles last month, the governor met with about 30 potential financial backers.
Perry’s campaign will ask major fundraisers, “Patriots,” to raise $500,000 from individual donors for his bid, Politico reported. “Entrepreneurs” will be asked to raise $250,000, “Explorers” $100,000. It’s a plan modeled after former President George W. Bush’s record fundraising in 2000 and 2004 that dubbed major bundlers “Pioneers” and “Rangers.” By contrast, Republican rival Michele Bachmann, 55, a congresswoman from Minnesota who outraised other Republican House members in 2010, has built a base of small campaign donors.
Perry also could turn to independent political groups to boost his campaign, several of which have already filed with the Federal Election Commission. Those committees can accept unlimited individual and corporate donations, just as Texas candidates can.
“Outside groups like Super PACs can raise unlimited sums of money to expressly advocate for Perry or urge voters to reject one of his rivals,” said Michael Beckel, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks money in politics.
Texas home builder Bob Perry was Perry’s biggest source of cash after the Republican Governor’s Association, contributing more than $2.5 million to the governor’s campaigns since 2000, according to data compiled by Texans for Public Justice.
Perry and Rove
Bob Perry, no relation to the governor, was a top donor in 2004 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that ran ads questioning Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s military record. The businessman is also a major supporter of American Crossroads, an independent political group advised by Republican strategist Karl Rove.
Bob Perry gave $500,000 to American Crossroads in the first half of this year after writing checks totaling $7 million last year, according to FEC reports.
He wasn’t the only supporter of the Texas governor who also backed the Rove-linked Crossroads group. Robert Rowling, chief executive officer of TRT Holdings Inc., in Irving, Texas, along with his wife Terry, has contributed $361,533 to Perry and given a total $3.5 million to American Crossroads.
Rove helped Perry win his first statewide race, as agriculture commissioner, in 1990. He was then elected lieutenant governor in 1998 in a campaign in which Rove and Perry disagreed over tactics.
Rove believed Perry had an adequate lead to avoid running negative ads, while Perry’s pollster, Mike Baselice, saw a closer race, Baselice said in an interview. Perry’s people took Rove’s advice and won the race by a slim margin, he said.
Rove backed Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in her 2010 Republican primary challenge to Perry. The governor defeated her by about 20 percentage points, and went on to win re-election in November with 55 percent of the vote.
Perry took over as governor in December 2000 after Bush, another Rove client, resigned in preparation for his swearing in as president in January 2001. Rove served as Bush’s chief political strategist in the White House.
American Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said the group doesn’t plan to be involved in the Republican presidential primaries and will instead focus on the general election.
Perry supporters already are mobilized to help or protect their favored candidate in the primary and the general election. In June, they founded Americans for Rick Perry, an independent political action committee that declares on its website a mission to “encourage the governor” to pursue the party nomination. The group raised more than $190,000 in a matter of weeks, according to FEC disclosure reports.
Harold Simmons, a Texas billionaire and Chairman of Contran Corp. a holding company that owns firms including a chemical producer, a waste management company and a manufacturer of ball bearings, has given more than $1 million to Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns. Simmons on June 27 gave $100,000 to Americans for Rick Perry.
Simmons was a bundler for Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, in his unsuccessful run against Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race. Simmons raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for McCain’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
A $10,000 check to Americans for Rick Perry came from Wareing & Co. Ltd., according to FEC filings. The company is listed at the same address as Wareing Athon & Co., a Houston private equity firm run by Peter Wareing, whose holdings include cement company Gulf Coast Pre-Stress Inc. Wareing, who is also on the board of electric utility CenterPoint Energy Inc., said in an e-mail he intends to help Perry raise money for his presidential bid.
Beyond Big Donors
Perry has begun to lay the groundwork to expand his support beyond the big-money Texas donors who have helped him stay in the governor’s mansion.
His fundraisers sent out e-mails appealing to donors to help them “very rapidly” collect the first $1 million to help the presidential campaign get started, the Washington Post reported Aug. 12. His spokesman, Mark Miner, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In addition to his wealthy donors, Perry has received about 70,000 donations of less than $1,000 over the same 10 years, according to a database compiled by Texans for Public Justice. Those donors could provide the start of a small donor base for 2012.
Just a week before his announcement, Perry hosted a prayer rally at Houston’s Reliant Stadium that attracted more than 30,000 people.
He read scripture and offered a prayer for the nation, its leaders and American military personnel killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The event included evangelical Christian leaders including James Dobson, founder of the Focus on the Family ministry, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. A website promoting the rally said it aimed to “call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.”
Perry has also won allies in the Tea Party movement, where he was an early hero because of his anti-Washington stance.
“He has this Tea Party-esque federalist appeal,” said Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Perry said in an interview last year that it was Tea Party members who inspired him to write his book, “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington.”
“I saw people who were really scared for the first time in their lives that their government was so out of touch with them,” Perry said in an interview at the Republican Governors Association meeting in San Diego on Nov. 18. “That was my Eureka moment.”