Donor profile: Robert Rowling

Quick stats on the biggest financial backers of Election 2012

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Ranking: 14

Total contributions to super PACs: $6.1 million*

  • $6 million to American Crossroads (pro-Republican), including $2.5 million from TRT Holdings
  • $100,000 to Restore Our Future (pro-Mitt Romney)
  • $35,000 to Texas Conservatives Fund (pro-David Dewhurst)

Federal hard money and 527 contributions:

  • $95,000 to the Republican National Committee

Notable state-level contributions:

  • $113,000 to Texas judges and politicians (2012)
  • $103,000 to former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas (2010)
  • $129,000 to Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry (2010)
  • $100,000 to Greg Abbott, Texas attorney general (2002)

Corporate name: TRT Holdings, Inc.

Corporate subsidiaries: Gold’s Gym, Tana Exploration Co. and Omni Hotels and Resorts

Robert Rowling, the president, chairman and CEO of corporate conglomerate TRT Holdings, reached super donor status in August 2012 thanks to two $1 million contributions to the conservative super PAC American Crossroads, co-founded by fellow Texan Karl Rove. He ultimately gave $6 million to the conservative juggernaut.

Rowling made his fortune when he sold his father’s company, Tana Oil and Gas, to Texaco for $476.5 million in 1989. The proceeds of that sale were used to create and develop TRT Holdings, which now owns the Omni hotel chain, Gold’s Gym and Tana Exploration Co.

The Dallas Morning News described his eclectic holdings in a 2008 profile, saying, “He has amassed a grab bag of hotels, fitness centers, oil and gas assets, financial and energy stocks, a fifth of downtown Corpus Christi real estate, even a chain of Mexican dollar stores.”

Forbes estimates Rowling's worth at $4.8 billion.

In 2010, TRT Holding gave three donations totaling $2.5 million to American Crossroads, sparking controversy within a San Francisco Bay Area Gold’s Gym franchise, which disaffiliated from the brand after learning of Rowling’s contribution. The source of the problem was American Crossroads’ support for candidates who are opposed to gay rights.

Rowling had already been active in the 2012 election cycle before attaining super donor status, with two other $1 million donations to Crossroads and smaller donations to Restore Our Future and Texas Conservatives Fund, the super PAC that backed Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in his failed bid for the U.S. Senate against tea party candidate Ted Cruz.

Rowling was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1953. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and his law degree from Southern Methodist University. Rowling and his wife have two adult sons and currently live in Highland Park, Texas.

In January 2012, TRT announced it would move its headquarters from Irving, Texas, to Dallas, home of campaign finance bigwig Harold Simmons. The move — to a site developed by campaign finance heavyweight and commercial real estate magnate Harlan Crow’s Crow Holdings — will be complete in 2013.

Last updated: Jan. 17, 2013

*2011-2012 election cycle. Source: Center for Responsive Politics and Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records. Totals include contributions from individuals, family members and corporations that are controlled by the individual super donor.