Rick Perry's political rise fueled by Texas' wealthiest

AUSTIN — En route to becoming Texas' longest-serving governor, Rick Perry has forged a network of reliable big-money donors who could help fuel a Perry presidential bid and would be in position to exert expanded influence on the national stage if another Texan lands in the White House.

Years of Texas campaign finance reports offer insights into Perry's political alliances and his conservative, business-oriented style of governance.

His biggest contributors include Houston home builder Bob Perry, who made national headlines by helping finance a political attack on former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, and Harold Simmons, a Dallas multibillionaire who is developing a controversial nuclear waste disposal site in West Texas.

Those and other donors compile a roster that includes the elite of Texas business and industry.

Nearly half of the $102.8 million that Perry raised from 2001 through 2010 came from 204 "mega-donors" who contributed $100,000 or more, according to Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog organization that monitors state political contributions.

Perry's political opponents have charged that the big-money contributions have led to political favors and cronyism from the governor's office, assertions that Perry supporters adamantly dismiss.

Environmentalists say that Simmons' donations to Perry and state lawmakers helped fuel approval of the waste disposal site despite concerns over groundwater contamination, but a spokesman for the project said the application was rigorously vetted and approved only after added protections were included.

Unlike the federal government and many other states, Texas permits unlimited individual donations in state races, allowing sky's-the-limit contributions across the political spectrum. Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, a financier of Democratic causes, has donated millions in state races and is an outspoken Perry critic.

The 2010 Texas governor's race generated more than $77 million in contributions over a two-year period, including nearly $38 million for Perry, $25 million for Democratic challenger Bill White and $14 million for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry's main rival in the Republican primary.

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