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Perry Lost, but His Donors Are Still Ahead

A lot of Gov. Rick Perry's most reliable supporters didn't show up in his fourth-quarter campaign finance report. But it's not because they were no longer interested in his campaign.

Gov. Rick Perry during the final pitch of his Iowa bus tour at a campaign rally at Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa, on Jan. 2, 2012.

Some names were missing from Rick Perry’s fourth-quarter campaign finance reports.

It’s not that the hapless presidential candidate failed to disclose something he was supposed to disclose, but that some of his most reliable backers were nowhere to be found.

Bob Perry. Harold Simmons. People who have been important financiers during the governor’s political career in Texas. It was a little jarring to see a campaign ledger without those regulars on it.

Perry, who has relied on the Republican base vote in Texas for years, had hoped the national Republican base would respond to him in the same way.

They didn’t. He’s home. Next chapter.

But there’s another base that Perry has relied on for the last two decades, a dependable and steadfast crew willing to finance his political career.

And as it turns out, although he didn’t find the voters he needed, Perry’s financial base of support was with him all along.

Those missing names were listed in another report, having given generously to the Make Us Great Again “super PAC” set up to support the governor’s presidential bid. Some Perry supporters turned up on both lists. And a fair number of people with what you might call a professional interest — lobbyists and business people, for instance — were listed, too.

Remember Make Us Great Again? Its organizer was Mike Toomey, who served in the Legislature with Perry and also — between stints in the lobby — served as the governor’s chief of staff. He and some buddies own an island property in a lake in New Hampshire; one of the owners is Dave Carney, who was the governor’s campaign manager. They are approximately as foreign to one another as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the agents provocateurs backing a jokey campaign for president with the Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow super PAC. In both cases, it seems clear that everyone knows, more or less, what everyone else is up to, but there’s no “coordination” of activities in the legal sense.

Toomey and Brint Ryan, a Dallas tax consultant who helped form Make Us Great Again, were among its big donors, giving $100,000 and $250,000, respectively. Robert McNair, owner of the Houston Texans, and the homebuilder Bob Perry, a longtime supporter of the governor (they are not related), are on the list. The grocery wholesaler and former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. is there, too. Tony Buzbee, a Houston trial lawyer, gave $250,000. Harold Simmons’s Contran Corporation donated $1 million. Chesapeake Energy was in for $125,000, and the company’s federal political action committee matched that. Paul Foster, chairman of El Paso’s Western Refining and a regular backer of the governor, gave as well.

The average donation to that super PAC — it raised nearly $5.5 million in 65 transactions — was $84,387. Most of the money came from Texas, most of it from names familiar to anyone who has pored over the governor’s campaign finance history.

It’s probably true that all of those people wanted Perry to win the Republican nomination and beat President Obama in November. They put their money on it, and it’s right there for you to read.

That’s a side of campaign finance disclosure that doesn’t come up in conversation very often: the people who gave, both to the super PAC and directly to Perry’s campaign, put their names down for anyone to see.

The customary take is that disclosure gives the rest of us a chance to see who is trying to bend our government in their direction. But it doesn’t make sense to give to a candidate who does not know who’s giving, as in cases where you are giving to a super PAC that’s not in the candidate’s control.

It helps — and it’s the purpose of political giving, really — if the ultimate beneficiary can see the names of the donors, and the level of support. They want credit.

Perry’s lists have a lot of Texans. Those are the people who know him best, the ones most likely to be asked for support by a Texas candidate. They were also making safer bets, in a way, than their counterparts in other states. If he wins, he’s the president. If he loses, he’s the governor of Texas.

Heads, you win. Tails, you win.

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2012 elections