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Bob Perry Was Money-In-Politics Pioneer, Swift Boat Backer

Texas homebuilder Bob Perry was a behind-the-scenes political player who helped bankroll the Mitt Romney campaign last year, and who even before the era of superPACs spent tens of millions of dollars to influence the nation's politics.

Perry, who died this weekend at age 80, had a net worth of $650 million, according to the nonprofit investigative news organization The Center for Public Integrity. And over decades, he quietly spent huge sums supporting mostly Republican candidates and conservative causes in his native Texas, and nationwide.

In 2004, his $4.4 million financed the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack ads on Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, questioning the Vietnam War service of the Democratic candidate for president, who lost in a close election to President George W. Bush. While it's not clear what role the ads played in the outcome of the election, the Columbia Journalism Review says they "reshaped the campaign."

Perry had backed Bush as Texas governor and then as president, and was a strong supporter of current Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

In 2012, Bob Perry was among the largest individual donors supporting Romney, and gave more than $23 million to a variety of pro-Romney and Republican superPACS, the Center for Public Integrity reported.

He was a major out-of-state donor helping Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survive a 2012 recall election, and a big contributor to conservative causes in the 2010 midterms, which saw the rise of Tea Party Republicans.

A former schoolteacher, Perry founded Houston-based Perry Homes in the late 1960s. It is now one of the largest homebuilders in Texas.

He had close ties to Republican consultant Karl Rove, with whom he had been friends for more than three decades. His money helped turn some of Rove's ideas into reality, reports NPR's Peter Overby.

"I think you can track Bob Perry's influence in state and American politics kind of in parallel with Karl Rove's," Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the nonprofit Texas Tribune, tells Overby. "Rove was thinking up these things and trying these different deals, and needed money. And people like Bob Perry financed him."

In 2010, Perry gave $7 million to American Crossroads, the conservative superPAC co-founded by Rove. Last year, he gave it another $8.5 million, Overby reports.

In a story in March of last year, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reported:

"Republican political consultant Bill Miller says that over the last 30 years, Perry has used his money to build the Texas Republican Party. He's been the single largest donor at the national level, too.

"According to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, the National Institute for Money in State Politics and Texans for Public Justice, during the last decade Perry has donated $79,944,942 to various campaigns.

" 'He's been generous and he's been the go-to guy,' Miller says. 'The first and last to ask, for Republicans, as long as I can remember.' "

Before the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling and the advent of superPACs, wealthy donors like Perry relied in part on donating to nonprofit "527" groups, which are tax-exempt, but limited in what they can say for or against a candidate.

On Monday, the Houston Chronicle published a visual guide to some of Perry's political donations.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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