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Twenty Who Gave Plenty

Houston homebuilder Bob Perry tops the list of the biggest donors to Texas candidates in the last half of 2009. McAllen developer Alonzo Cantu and Dallas businessman Ross Perot Sr. also gave large sums.

McAllen developer Alonzo Cantu, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and Dallas businessman H. Ross Perot were among the largest donors to Texas candidates and officeholders during the second half of 2009, according to state campaign reports.

If you've been paying attention to Texas politics, you know that candidates collected millions in campaign cash during the last six months of 2009, and that the men and women at the top of the ballot — the ones running for governor — are at the highest point on the political food chain. 

Who's feeding them? Who wrote the most — or the largest — checks? We looked at the latest Texas Ethics Commission filings, filtered out contributions to PACs and trade groups and came up with a list of the top 20 donors to elected officials and other candidates from July to December of last year.

Bob Perry: $1,070,850

Among the top donors to Republicans nationwide, the Houston homebuilder made most of his contributions to the GOP. But he also gave about $175,000 to Democrats, including state Sens. Mario Gallegos, John Whitmire and Rodney Ellis. Perry donated to Democratic Reps. Al Edwards, Carol Alvarado, Sylvester Turner and Patrick Rose, too. Perry has given more than $15 million to candidates and officeholders since 2000, ethics records show. He's also a major donor to the Republican Party of Texas. "Bob Perry makes donations to Democrats and Republicans who support job creation, better schools and a healthy economy in Texas," said his spokesman, Anthony Holm.

Texans for Lawsuit Reform: $291,517

This political action committee — whose leadership includes businessmen Dick Weekley, among others — advocates for tort reform in Texas. The group has donated more than $12 million to candidates across the state since 2000, and its donors include many of the individuals on this top 20 list, like Bob Perry, Peter O'Donnell and Harlan Crow. The group gave more than $50,000 to Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra, a Democrat and South Padre Island dentist, but most of its money went to Republican lawmakers. 

AT&T PAC: $282,597

This Dallas-based telecommunications company’s PAC, which typically donates heavily to officials in Texas, pools employee funds, often in small monthly donations. Since 2000, the PAC has received more than 200,000 donations — ranging from $1,000 to 92 cents — from executives and rank-and-file workers. It gave $50,000 to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and $35,000 to Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst

Border Health PAC: $275,000

The committee, whose donors are mostly employees at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg, has emerged in recent years as a large donor to members of Congress, especially Democrats. One of the hospital’s founders, Alonzo Cantu, told The New York Times last year that the goal of the fund is to protect the hospital’s interests. The hospital was featured in a New Yorker article last year about geographic disparities in health care costs. At the state level, the group gave mostly to Democrats, but also to Dewhurst.

Lester Smith: $250,000

The Houston businessman gave exclusively to former Houston mayor Bill White, a Democrat in the governor’s race. Smith, who made his wealth in the energy business, once headed the homeowners' association in White’s neighborhood in West Houston.

Michael Zilkha: $245,200

Zilkha, a close friend of White's, also gave exclusively to the former Houston mayor. Zilkha is the co-owner of a biomass company and co-founder of Horizon Wind Energy, which he has since sold. Zilkha is a longtime financial contributor to White’s political races. He hosted the party in 2003 at which White announced his intention to run for mayor.

Associated General Contractors PAC: $242,850

The committee represents the interests of more than 900 highway and heavy construction companies in Texas. It has been a generous donor over the years on behalf of the association, based in Austin, that bears the same name. The association's lobbyists also are among the top spenders on members of the Legislature. The group supports both parties, though its largest donation went to Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Dewhurst, who received $25,000 each.

H. Ross Perot: $238,000

Perot, one of the nation’s wealthiest businessmen, donated $160,000 to Hutchison's gubernatorial campaign. The Dallasite also sprinkled smaller donations to other Republicans, including $25,000 apiece to Dewhurst and state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson LLP: $205,475

The law firm does property tax and other collections for government agencies across the country. The firm splits its donations between Republicans and Democrats.

Blackridge PAC: $170,532

Blackridge is prominent Austin lobbyist Russell T. "Rusty" Kelley's firm, which represents dozens of companies and groups, including American Airlines, Dell, AT&T and others. Its PAC gave $50,000 to Rick Perry and $1,000 to dozens of other lawmakers from both parties.

HillCo PAC: $167,943

HillCo, headed by Neal "Buddy" Jones and Bill Miller, both of Austin, is a prominent lobbying and consulting firm known primarily for its involvement in almost every big legislative fight of the last 15 years. Firm partners and some of their clients — notably Houston builder Bob Perry and Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones — give some of their money to candidates through the Hillco PAC, an efficient and legal way to make sure the people who represent you get in front of the people who make the decisions in government. The PAC gave Rick Perry (no relation) at least $35,000 but also devoted dozens of smaller donations to elected officials from both parties. 

ATMOS Energy Corporation PAC: $161,000

The committee, funded by employees of the Houston-based natural gas utility company, gave $25,000 to Rick Perry and Dewhurst, and numerous $500-$1,000 donations to state lawmakers from both parties.

Harlan Crow: $142,500

Crow is a Dallas investor, son of the late real estate developer and art collector Trammell Crow, and a generous donor to Republican and conservative causes. He's backed Rick Perry in the past, but his money has been with Hutchison in this race. The PAC also donated to Dewhurst and GOP Rep. Angie Chen Button of Richardson. 

Barry Andrews: $137,000

Andrews is president of a large beer distributor in North Texas. He donated $100,000 to Hutchison and made smaller contributions to a few lawmakers. 

USAA PAC: $130,769

The financial services company, based in San Antonio, has an employee committee that donated $40,000 to Rick Perry and $11,000 to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. It also contributed smaller amounts to a few dozen members of the Legislature. The company offers property, auto and casualty insurance and other services to military and veteran families.

Peter O'Donnell: $127,500

O'Donnell, a Dallas businessman and philanthropist, has been a reliable Republican donor for years, giving in the last six months to Attorney General Greg Abbott, Dewhurst and — in his biggest donation to a candidate, at $50,000 — to Hutchison. He's been a supporter of the governor in the past, as well as a Hutchison supporter. But this is a neighborhood deal as much as anything: O'Donnell and Hutchison live just a few houses away from each other.

Texas Association of Realtors PAC: $105,666

The statewide committee represents the interests of the association’s 80,000 members in Texas. It has more than $5 million in campaign money in the bank, according to the latest filings. The group gave most of its money to Perry and Dewhurst, but also some to Democrats, including Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio and Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth.

Texas Democratic Party: $104,950

The party got on the list for in-kind contributions of its statewide voter database to Democratic candidates, including Farouk Shami and White, the party's top contenders in the governor’s race. Some Democratic lawmakers with competitive races this fall, including Reps. Kristi Thibaut of Houston, Terri Hodge of Dallas and Diana Maldonado of Round Rock, also accessed the file.

Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas PAC: $104,430

The statewide committee, which endorsed Perry in the governor's race, gave small donations to dozens of state lawmakers. Straus received $15,000, and Dewhurst received $10,000.

Charles Butt: $104,000

Butt heads H-E-B, the San Antonio-based grocery chain, and is number 65 on Forbes' list of the 400 richest Americans. Politically, his focus is mainly on education through the Texas Parent PAC. He's a financial ticket-splitter, giving to Democrats and to Republicans. He's been a Perry backer in the past and has stuck with the incumbent in the governor's race. He also gives to Dewhurst and Straus.

Note: This analysis only includes direct donations to current officeholders and candidates, or their respective political committees. It doesn't include donations to political parties or other political action committees. It's also possible that the amounts cited here are lower than actual totals because the listing of names varies from campaign to campaign (Bob Perry; Bob J. Perry, Bob and Doylene Perry, etc.) We tried to normalize names, but 100-percent certainty is almost impossible when dealing with campaign-finance data that doesn't include street addresses.

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