Two Texas billionaires are nation’s top Super PAC donors

June 27, 2012

San Antonio Express-News

Two Texas billionaires are now the largest donors to active federal Super PACs together giving more than $20 million in support of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the GOP since the fall of 2010 through May 31.

Harold Simmons of Dallas — owner of Contran Corp., a holding company — is the largest contributor nationwide to give to super PACs still active in the 2012 presidential election. Simmons and his company gave $13 million to pro-Republican group American Crossroads and $800,000 to pro-Romney Restore Our Future, federal campaign finance reports show.

House builder Bob Perry of Houston comes in second for GOP-related campaign contributions. Perry gave $2.5 million to American Crossroads and $4 million to Restore Our Future.

Such sizable donations are made possible by a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that eliminated the cap on contributions from corporations and unions in national elections and allows them to pay for political advertisements in the waning days of campaigns.

In a 2010 ruling, the Supreme Court decided it could not limit contributions to organizations that only made independent expenditures "uncoordinated" with a candidate’s campaign, leading to the rise of super PACs.

This is the first federal election with no cap since the early 1970s. Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said it would have a dramatic effect in the process, especially from Texas donors.

"Texas has long had a history of big money affecting Texas elections, and before campaign finance came in the 1970s, national elections," Jillson said. "Oil money has always played a large role."

In state elections, Texas has not had a cap on donations, so Perry, Simmons and San Antonio donor James Leininger have historically given hundreds of thousands to campaigns and causes, Jillson said.

Leininger has donated to other campaigns, but has not contributed to the federal election this year, aside from a $2,500 donation to Rick Santorum in March.

Although there are several other states that have no donor limits, they have not yielded the same effect.

President Barack Obama opposed the 2010 decision, calling it a major victory for powerful interests, including big oil.

Although Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC, has now raised more than $14.5 million, super PACs still are primarily utilized by the right.

"Republican super PACs likely will outspend Democrat-related super PACs by a multiple of four or five to one," Jillson said.

Jillson said GOP operative Karl Rove‘s group, which organizes American Crossroads and other Republican PACs, set a goal to raise $600 million this election and will spend most of the money on negative advertisements.

Campaigns, on the other hand, will spend most of their money on voter registration and turnout.

So far, American Crossroads has raised almost $35 million, with more than $19 million from Texas donors, including $50,000 from two San Antonio donors.

Restore our Future has raised more than $60 million, with more than $8 million from Texas donors, $50,000 of it from San Antonio donor James Cowden, who is self-employed.

Robert B. Rowling of Irving gave $2 million to American Crossroads, half of it from his company, TRT Holdings.

Jillson said big donors might also plan on giving more money right before the election or right after it, known in Texas as "the late train."

Calls and emails to Simmons, Perry, American Crossroads and the Obama campaign were not returned.

In March, Simmons told Politico he planned to spend $36 million total during this campaign.

This is not Perry’s first time as a super PAC contributor at the federal level. In the 2003-04 election cycle, Perry contributed almost $8.1 million to 527 groups, according to

In 2004, he was the largest donor to the Swift Boat group, which challenged Sen. John Kerry‘s Vietnam War record when he was the Democratic presidential nominee, according to a 2010 New York Times article.

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