Major GOP donor Bob Perry dies

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Once in a rare interview, the Texas tycoon who gave at least $75 million in political contributions over his lifetime argued that writing big checks didn't buy big influence.

"It is my view that government is not owned by anyone, least of all wealthy contributors," Bob Perry told the Houston Chronicle, his hometown newspaper, in 2002.

Perry was remembered yesterday by friends and foes alike for his prolific bankrolling that gave him both stature and notoriety. Republicans chiefly benefited from the wealthy Houston home builder, who became a titan of spending in modern American politics.

Perry died at age 80 Saturday night "peacefully in his sleep," said former Texas state Rep. Neal Jones, a close family friend. Public word of his death didn't spread until late the next day -- perhaps a final victory for Perry and his aversion to the spotlight. He rarely spoke to the press, skipped fancy fundraisers and was a mystery to even some of his benefactors.

That top was blown off that low profile in 2004 when Perry spent $4.4 million financing the famous 2004 Swift Boat Veterans campaign against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, which remains among the most famous political television ads in history.

Critics sought to highlight the buying power Perry's largesse afforded -- particularly as the issue of campaign finance and the role of big money came before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2000s and vaulted to new levels of public consciousness.

Bob Perry was a fixture of GOP fundraising in Texas -- and nationally -- dating back to former President George W. Bush's Texas gubernatorial races in the mid-1990s.

Last year alone, Bob Perry gave more than $18 million to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and organizations that backed his candidacy.

Calculating exactly how much Perry donated in his lifetime is difficult. Since 2004, Perry has given a total of at least $45 million in federal contributions -- excluding direct donations to candidates, according to Federal Elections Commission records, a 2012 AP analysis and figures tabulated by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

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