Top Texas Donor's Influence Far More Visible Than He Is
Robert Perry is behind an ad attacking John Kerry's war record and many GOP
By Scott Gold
Times Staff Writer
August 8, 2004
NASSAU BAY, Texas - Robert J. Perry, the main financier behind the effort to
discredit Sen. John F. Kerry's military record, is the most prolific
political donor in Texas.
A homebuilder who lives lakeside in this Houston suburb, Perry has helped
bankroll the widespread success of Republican candidates here, has
long-standing ties to many close associates of President Bush and has
contributed to Bush's last four campaigns. According to interviews and
campaign documents, he has given a total of more than $5 million to scores
of political candidates.
"And the vast majority of those people have never laid eyes on him," said
Court Koenning, executive director of the Republican Party in Harris County,
which includes the Houston metropolitan area.
Despite the enormous influence of his money, Perry, 71, is reticent and
guarded, and remains something of a mystery in Texas. But this week, his
largess crept onto the national stage.
A group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth launched television ads
Thursday accusing Kerry, a Massachusetts senator and the Democratic
presidential nominee, of lying about his military record. A $100,000 check
that Perry wrote to the group this year represented about two-thirds of the
money in its accounts as of June 30, according to financial documents.
The Bush campaign says it has no ties to the group.
The advertisements, running in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Ohio
and West Virginia, are part of a multimedia campaign questioning Kerry's
fitness as a leader and commander in chief. A book written by one of the
group's leaders, Houston lawyer John E. O'Neill, is scheduled to be released
"Bob Perry is a very generous guy with his political donations," Koenning
said. "His primary interest is good government.. Everybody agrees that John
Kerry's service to this country is admirable. But if he lied about it, that
speaks to his character."
Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for
his service in Vietnam. Upon his return, he became a leader of a veterans
group that declared the war a mistake. His military service is a cornerstone
of his presidential campaign, one his advisors believe contrasts sharply
with Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.
None of the veterans featured in the advertisements served on the river
patrol boats Kerry commanded during Vietnam. Several of Kerry's crewmates
have condemned the advertisements, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), once a
prisoner of war in Vietnam, called them "dishonest and dishonorable."
"Bob Perry pulls the strings and never gets his hands dirty. But even by his
standards, this latest deal is just over the top," said Charles Soechting,
chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.
Perry declined to comment through his spokesman, Bill Miller, an Austin
Perry has been a political donor for years, working with White House
political director Karl Rove during Rove's Texas years, contributing to
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's rise in politics and giving $20,000 to Bush's two
campaigns for governor in the 1990s.
But Perry, no relation to the governor, began increasing his donations in
2000. Today, campaign documents and his representatives confirm that he has
given more money to campaigns and political organizations in the last four
years than any other Texan. A few of his donations have gone to Democratic
candidates, but most have gone to Republicans and conservative causes.
He has given nearly $1 million to the Texas Republican Party. He has donated
at least $200,000 to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, one of the most successful
"tort reform" organizations in the nation.
In the 2002 election cycle, he also provided about $700,000 for the GOP's
effort to dominate Texas politics. That included $165,000 given to Texans
for a Republican Majority, an offshoot of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom
DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority, formed to help conservatives
The election that year of a slate of DeLay-backed Republicans - all
supported by Perry - gave the GOP control of the state House for the first
time in 130 years. That paved the way for passage of a host of conservative
measures, such as abortion restrictions and limits on medical malpractice
cases. The GOP also redrew congressional maps for Texas, a move designed to
shore up Republican control of Congress.
Perry is largely unknown outside of campaign finance databases and a small
group of political leaders, shunning social activities often embraced by
major donors. Many of the politicians who have received Perry's money say
they have never met him. One who has, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan
Combs, said he wanted to know just one thing before supporting her: "Are you
a straight-talking, straight-shooting person who is going to represent Texas
"I just think he's an unassuming guy," Combs said.
Born in a tiny ranching community in Bosque County, Texas, Perry attended
Baylor University and then taught high school for awhile, like his father
before him. In 1968, he started a home-building business in Houston.
Today, Perry Homes does business across central and eastern Texas. The
company's website lists 48 communities in the Houston area alone where the
company is building or selling houses, which range from $110,000 to more
Perry and his wife, Doylene, have been married since 1961. They have four
The Perry home is less than a mile from Nassau Bay Baptist Church, where the
couple attends services each weekend, said Senior Pastor David Fannin.
"Bob is the most kind, gracious and giving man you will ever meet," Fannin
said. "He is a man of strong conviction."
Perry donates generously to the church, Fannin said, but never asks anything
in return. His supporters also cite that trait.
"He has never asked me for a single thing," Combs said. "He is one of those
rare individuals who is just interested in people being honest and ethical."
His detractors say otherwise.
Like many prominent building companies, Perry Homes has been sued dozens of
times. Last year, Perry was among several developers watching as the
Legislature imposed strict limits on civil lawsuits, particularly claims
brought by homeowners alleging shoddy construction.
Critics called the seats where he and other builders watched the legislative
debate the "owner's box," because much of their money had gone to advocacy
groups fighting for limits on the civil court system, as well as politicians
who supported those efforts. During that debate, the governor put a Perry
Homes executive on a panel established to put in place new restrictions on
claims against builders.
Perry's backers also say he works hard to reach out to Houston's Latino and
African American communities. But some leaders of those communities accuse
him of aggressively buying land in inner-city areas, then building expensive
homes that gentrify those neighborhoods and drive out low-income families.
"I think he fancies himself as a person who can manipulate politics for his
own gain," Soechting said. "Politics and money are one and the same to him."
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"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so
long as I'm the dictator." - GW Bush 12/18/2000.
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop
thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do
--George Bush. Aug. 5th., 2004
"For us to get bogged down in the quagmire
of an Iraqi civil war would be the height of foolishness."
---Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, 1991