Rick Perry needs to move fast in the presidential money chase to capitalize on his strong suit: the army of large donors who have raised more than $100 million for his gubernatorial campaigns since 2001.
Dozens of wealthy Texans who have been Perry’s top patrons in the state’s freewheeling, unregulated campaign finance landscape are being hit up for large checks by Super PACs supporting the governor. Simultaneously, many wealthy Perry backers and new prospects are being tapped by his campaign to help bundle scores of $2,500 donations, the legal limit per person.
The Republican governor is being backed by at least six Super PACs. The key group, called Make Us Great Again, has the closest ties to Perry and is expected to be a multimillion-dollar operation that will run ads to back him. It was set up this month by Mike Toomey, an Austin lobbyist and an ex Perry chief of staff. It will also benefit from the fundraising muscle of G. Brint Ryan, the CEO of a Dallas tax firm who with his wife has donated $563,000 since 2001 to Perry’s campaigns.
“I’d presume that the way for fellow travelers to compensate for a late start is to raise big money fast for a Super PAC. Mike and Brint have a wide range of contacts,” Austin-based lobbyist Bill Miller told iWatch News. His firm HillCo’s PAC contributed more than $253,000 to Perry’s earlier campaigns.
Other pro-Perry PACs are also revving up, including Americans for Rick Perry, which received a check for $100,000 from billionaire investor Harold Simmons and is run by Bob Schuman, a California based GOP operative. Schuman said he informed Toomey that “we’re going to stay out of his way in competing for Texas funds,” but adds that he still expects to raise $1.8 million by year’s end for grassroots and social media campaign to back Perry. Schuman says the PAC has already raised $400,000 and will likely launch a drive in Florida where a straw poll will be held in late September.
Schuman says he doesn’t know how much Toomey’s PAC is shooting to raise, but stressed that “they’ll want to do better than Romney’s,” which so far has raised $12.2 million.
The urgency to raise big bucks for Perry’s Super PACs stems from Romney’s fundraising prowess and his wide network of bundlers. To date the Romney campaign has raised $18.2 million, to lead other candidates by far.
Still, the Perry campaign and the Super PACs have lots of room to tap uncommitted donors and bundlers in Texas and nationwide. An iWatch News analysis of data from the subscription-only CQMoneyLine and FollowTheMoney.org tracked the top bundlers from John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. It showed that:
- Of 313 bundlers who roped in at least $100,000 for McCain, more than two-thirds of them had not donated to other campaigns as of June 30. This leaves a sizable opening for Perry’s campaign and the PAC to hit up those proven GOP bundlers.
- At least 37 of McCain’s bundlers donated to Perry in the past. Those bundlers have donated at least $1.03 million to Perry. Phil Adams, an old friend of Perry’s from their college days at Texas A&M, led these bundlers by giving at least $349,000 to the governor’s campaigns, and like many others he reaped some benefits. Perry twice appointed Adams a regent for Texas A&M, and Perry steered $2.75 million from a state tech fund to a company backed by Adams.
A further sign of Perry’s fundraising muscle: a study by Texans for Public Justice showed that Perry’s state campaign committee raised $102 million since 2001. Of that, $51 million comes from 204 mega donors who have given at least $100,000.
The same study found that Perry’s three most generous donors are: Homebuilder Bob Perry and his wife, who have donated $2.5 million; buyout billionaire Harold Simmons, who has given $1.1 million (and who won state approval to build a nuclear waste dump); and Gulf States Toyota owner Thomas D. Friedkin at $715,000.
(iWatch News recently profiled the links between Bob Perry and the Texas governor)
This loyal donor base explains why analysts see fundraising potential for Perry despite his late start. “I think he mitigates the disadvantage (of being late) by emphasizing the bundling operation. That means lining up not just his past bundlers but also the Bush and McCain machines and other proven fundraising operations,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.
Likewise, some uncommitted GOP fundraisers note that Perry has formidable assets as a sitting governor and former chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
“Many of the McCain and Bush fundraisers have committed to Romney, but I suspect Rick Perry will pick up a pretty good share of the uncommitted,” said Fred Malek, a veteran GOP fundraiser who has worked closely with Perry at the RGA. “I doubt he’ll have any problem being adequately funded.”
The Perry campaign has quickly lined up fundraisers from Aug. 29 through Sept. 1 in several cities including Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and New Orleans. Even before Perry’s Aug. 13 announcement, potential bundlers and key business allies flew into Austin for political briefings with his top strategist, David Carney, and his campaign manager, Rob Johnson. Afterward, prospective bundlers dined with the governor.
One well-known Southerner who was impressed after meeting Perry and his team was Henry Barbour, an RNC member from Mississippi, a state lobbyist and nephew of Gov. Haley Barbour. Henry Barbour told iWatch News that he’s signed up to raise $500,000 for the campaign— the top level of fundraisers that will earn them the title of “Patriots.”
“I’m excited,” Barbour said. “I came away convinced that Perry could raise a lot of money. They’re blessed because they’re already in a great position in the polls. I’m very optimistic.”
Perry fundraisers say that the campaign is hoping to raise at least $30 million by year’s end.
Still some GOP veterans say Perry’s late entry could hurt his fundraising potential. “Perry just got in the race and he’s getting in late,” veteran GOP operative Charlie Black told iWatch News. “There’s a lot of interest in Perry around the South. I’ve heard he’s not got much potential in New York and I don’t know about California.”
Given that uncertainty, the Super PACs loom large in giving Perry’s candidacy a boost.
There is already some controversy about Toomey’s fledgling PAC, which is legally supposed to operate separately from the campaign: critics have questioned whether his tight personal and financial ties to Carney could pose conflicts now that Perry is a candidate.
As iWatch News reported last year, Toomey and Carney are old personal friends and since 2005 they have co-owned with two others a luxury property on Parker Island in Lake Winnipesauke in New Hampshire.
Legal experts caution the relationship is potentially sensitive since federal law requires that Super PACs not coordinate their activities with the campaign.
“Those close ties are of course of concern,” Trevor Potter, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said. “The situation is rife with potential coordination. It presents a real opportunity for a violation to occur.”
But Potter stressed that because of loose FEC regulations about coordination, the ties between Toomey and Carney would “only be illegal if the two have conversations about advertising for the PAC.”
Separately, questions have been raised about a Toomey drug industry client who benefitted from a Perry decision. In a controversial move that shocked the state’s religious right, Perry in 2007 became the first governor to mandate that young girls get vaccinations to protect them from a sexually transmitted virus that is a cause of cervical cancer.
Toomey’s client, Merck, makes Gardasil, the vaccine in question. Toomey lobbied hard to have the vaccine mandatory after it won federal approval in 2006. Not long after Perry issued an executive order requiring vaccinations, the state legislature rescinded it.
Perry has defended the vaccine decision in the past. But on his first day of campaigning in Iowa, Perry voiced regrets during a radio interview, saying he “really made a mistake” on the issue.
Other key PAC players could get scrutiny because of their close ties with Perry. One is the Dallas CEO, Ryan, who has donated over $550,000 to Perry’s campaigns and won state appointments to the board of regents for the University of North Texas and a state taxpayer advisory group.
Neither Ryan nor Toomey returned calls seeking comment. Carney, reached by phone, declined to answer questions.
Mark Miner, a campaign spokesman, said, “There’s no coordination between the campaign and this organization (the Toomey PAC) or any other out there. Our campaign will follow the law.”
--Reporters Josh Israel and Alexandra Duszak also contributed to this story