Deep pockets back presidential hopeful Perry

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 20, 2011 11:59 AM
Deep pockets back presidential hopeful Perry

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If Texas Governor Rick Perry jumps into the Republican presidential contest, the crowded field will get a formidable fundraiser competing for millions of dollars up for grabs from on-the-fence donors.

Perry, who is flirting with joining the 2012 race, has been traveling the country in recent years -- giving him a rapport with national Republicans. And as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he has ties to big party donors.

"He's got a pretty robust Rolodex," said Harvey Kronberg, who writes a report on Texas politics. He noted that Texas is one of the top money states in the nation for Republicans.

Perry told the Des Moines Register recently that he feels "called" to run for the presidency and said he would make a decision within a few weeks.

The three-term Texas governor reported $2.1 million in contributions through a group called Texans for Rick Perry as of June 30, according to a Texas regulatory filing.

As governor, he has raised $103 million since 2001, with nearly half of that coming from big donors giving $100,000 or more, according to Texans for Public Justice. During the last cycle alone, he raised about $39 million.

The funds cannot be used for a presidential run but is an indicator of his ability to garner support.

"He has held an amazing number of small group get-togethers in the key fundraising centers around the country," said a Republican fundraiser who has attended some of those meetings.

Backers in June formed a California-based group called Americans for Rick Perry - which can raise unlimited funds.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leads the money race among Republicans, reporting a $18.4 million haul in the second quarter. But less-than-robust fundraising on the Republican side suggests there is room for another candidate.

There is significant Republican money sitting on the sidelines. The current crop of candidates have raised only a third of the more than $100 million raised at this time during the 2008 election cycle.

"People are sitting on the fence," said Al Cardenas, president of the American Conservative Union, and former chairman of the Florida Republican Party. "They don't want to risk a mistake," that would get Obama re-elected.

Some polls show Perry has some momentum going into the race, despite taking his time to decide.

"He's not even said he's running but he hits double digits," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Perry averages support of nearly 12 percent against potential rivals, according to a compilation of polls by Real Clear Politics, behind Romney and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, and slightly ahead of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

MAJOR DONORS

A major donor to Perry is Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, of no relation, who has given $2.5 million over about a decade. Governor Perry's biggest donor has been the Republican Governors Association political action committee.

Bob Perry is a major funder of the national group American Crossroads, conceived in part by strategist Karl Rove, the former top White House adviser who also was an aide to George W. Bush when he was Texas governor.

Governor Perry has been president of the Republican Governors Association since November.

After changes federal law changes put limits on donations, Perry helped lure Republican cash to the group, said Cleta Mitchell, a Republican election lawyer who has represented Tea Party favorite Representative Jim DeMint and many others.

"Many, many conservative donors who used to be big donors to the RNC (Republican National Committee) have gravitated to the RGA and Perry's been a big part of that," Mitchell said.

Any Republican presidential nominee faces a financial juggernaut in President Barack Obama and national Democrats, who raised $86 million for his campaign in the second quarter.

"The president has a stronger fundraising base than any other candidate in this election or in history," said Jan Baran, former general counsel for the RNC. "Perry will have to demonstrate he has broad appeal to raise money."

Baran does not think Perry has done that yet.

In addition, Texas allows unlimited donations, while running for president limits individuals to giving $2500 each for the general and the primary elections.

In a state fundraising report filed Friday, many donations blew past that limit. One donor gave $150,000 alone. Several gave $25,000.

And Perry has not faced the harsh spotlight of an actual contender. A bad debate performance or a revelation about his record could depress support quickly. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suffered a collapse in backing after a series of missteps, for example.

(Additional reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Doina Chiacu)