Wealthy Texans are big spenders in 2012 elections

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 16, 2012 

— Texas may not be considered a presidential battleground state, but it's still a leader when it comes to campaign contributions.

It's home to the big spenders, the biggest contributors to SuperPacs, the no limits vehicles for political contributions, with four of the nation's top 10 biggest donors from the Lone Star State, according to the latest federal election data, including a 22-year-old student who has already spent $2.8 million of his inheritance promoting libertarian candidates.

Texas mega-donors on the 100 top donors list tabulated opensecrets.org who have given at least $1 million include Fort Worth hedge fund honcho John Kleinheinz, who gave $1 million to a pro-Romney political action committee, Restore Our Future.

"Texas is definitely one of the ATM states," said Bill Allison, a SuperPac expert at the Washington-based watchdog group the Sunlight Foundation. "Texas has an 'anything goes' campaign culture so you see so many Texans contributing to SuperPacs in both parties."

SuperPacs emerged after a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2010, Citizens United, which lifted corporate contribution limits for political action committees that operated separately from a candidate's campaign or party.

Four Texans are on the top 10 mega donor list, right behind the number one slot, Nevada casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, who have given $36.25 million.

The second largest contributor in the nation is Robert Perry of Houston's Perry Homes, who has given $16 million so far this election cycle to Republican groups, including $2 million to Restore our Future and $2 million to American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-created GOP political action committee.

Right behind Perry at number three is Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who got a lot of attention earlier this year for one of his companies that operates a controversial nuclear waste disposal site near Midland. He gave $15.74 million to conservative groups according to Federal Election Commission reports and IRS filings released in early October.

The third top Texas contributor, and number eight on the overall top 10 list of givers, is a Democrat, Houston personal injury lawyer Steve Mostyn, who, with his wife, has given $3.2 million to pro-Democratic groups.

Likes Libertarians

And 10th on the top 10 list is Austin student John Ramsey, 22, who has channeled $2.8 million into the Liberty for All SuperPac, which got its inspiration from the presidential candidacy of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson.

Ramsey, according to the political action committee's spokesman Preston Bates, inherited money from his grandfather, a banker. Ramsey, who started the political action committee in early spring, has directed the spending to libertarian minded candidates.

The committee has helped two Republicans win U.S. House races and spent $400,000 promoting Republican candidate U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake in Arizona's hot U.S. Senate race. Paul, once the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee in 1988, is a Republican with strong libertarian views of personal liberty and limited government.

"John decided he wanted to put seed money into a group to effect liberty," said Bates, who met Ramsey when both were volunteering for Paul.

In an e-mail to the Star-Telegram, Ramsey, who is a few credits shy of an economics and finance degree at Stephen F. Austin University, said, "I don't regret for a second the $3 million investment I made in Liberty For All. In fact, I'm confident that our track record of success will continue to attract new investors all over the country."

Fort Worth's Kleinheinz made the top 100 mega-donor list with his $1 million donation in April. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Fort Worth's billionaire Bass family, usually prominent players with their political contributions, are not that active in SuperPacs.

Of the four Bass brothers and their wives, only Lee Bass is a major SuperPac contributor, giving $250,000 to American Crossroads in July.

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