Farewell to Bob Perry, the Man Who Brought You the Swift Boat Vets

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 15 2013 11:15 AM

Farewell to Bob Perry, the Man Who Brought You the Swift Boat Vets

The Texas Tribune reports that Bob Perry, known forever in campaign finance articles as "Texas millionaire homebuilder Bob Perry," has died at age 80. "According to the Center for Public Integrity," writes Ross Ramsey, "he gave $23.5 million to super PACs in the last election cycle." That he did; it's a shame, but he went out a loser.  Perry threw $10 million at Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney PAC, and $8.5 to American Crossroads, the Rove group that's been kicked around postelection for its horrible win-loss record.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

But it wasn't always thus. Perry emerged as a national mega-donor in 2004, when he single-handedly made Swift Boat Veterans for Truth into a relevant group. It launched in April of that year, struggling for attention. From April to June, according to the New York Times, it raised $158,750 from 11 people. Perry was responsible for $100,000 of that. Once the group took off, he made it rain with $4.35 million more, funding a national ad campaign.

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Why did he do it? Perry never explicitly said. He'd been giving millions to Texas Republicans for years, with little national interest. Once the Swift Boat story took off, Perry Homes told reporters that by "company policy" the big guy would stay silent.

And he did. Over the next eight years, Perry would give $5 million to the Economic Freedom Fund (in the bad GOP year of 2006) and $7 million to American Crossroads (its largest-ever donation). He gave $500,000 to Scott Walker's 2012 recall-fighting campaign, taking full advantage of a loophole that allowed Walker to raise indefinite sums of money for (the start of) the race.

Perry wasn't the first silent tycoon to single-handedly make PACs and candidates relevant, but he damn near perfected the art. If only the actual politicians hadn't let him down.

Of course, now that the limits on corporate contributions have been relaxed, parties don't have to hold everything and hope that a multi-millionaire decides to blow through his account.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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