Obituary: Bob Perry / Big backer of 'Swift Boat' ads that helped sway 2004 election

Oct. 30, 1932 - April 13, 2013

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Bob Perry, a homebuilder who became one of the largest Republican campaign donors in Texas and eventually the nation, gaining notoriety in 2004 as the top contributor to the "Swift Boat" ad campaign attacking John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, died April 13 at his home in Nassau Bay, Texas, near Houston. He was 80.

His death was confirmed by Neal T. Jones Jr., a former Texas state representative and a family friend. He said Mr. Perry had died in his sleep. No cause was given.

Mr. Perry was not much for fundraising galas, and he gave few interviews, but he spoke volumes through his political contributions.

"I have been fortunate to gain more financial strength in recent years, and I made a decision to be more involved in campaigns that I think are important," he said in one of those rare interviews, in 2002.

From 2000 to 2010, Mr. Perry contributed at least $66 million to candidates and causes, most of them Republican, according to The Texas Tribune. Early on he spent most of his money in Texas, but his federal contributions increased as regulations eased.

In the last presidential election cycle, 2011-12, he gave $23.5 million to the lightly regulated groups known as super-PACs. Of that money, $10 million went to Restore Our Future, a group that supported the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, and $8.5 million went to American Crossroads, the principal operation of Karl Rove, the former top aide to President George W. Bush, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Mr. Perry gave generously to the presidential campaigns of Mr. Bush and the statehouse bids of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas (no relation). Bob Perry was also on Mr. Romney's Texas Leadership Team beginning in 2007.

Mr. Perry attracted wide attention as a national donor during Mr. Bush's re-election campaign, in 2004, when he gave $4.4 million to a group known as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for its attack ads accusing Mr. Kerry of overstating his military accomplishments in Vietnam and discrediting his former comrades in arms.

Mr. Kerry, who was then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts and is now the secretary of state, had been awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for his combat duty.

The Swift Boat group's effort, widely criticized as misleading, significantly damaged Mr. Kerry's presidential campaign.

Mr. Rove's causes and candidates often benefited from Mr. Perry's money. They worked together in Texas in the 1980s on limiting the liability of corporations in civil lawsuits, an effort known as tort reform.

Mr. Rove once said Mr. Perry had contributed to Republicans in Texas when few others were "willing to write checks to Republican candidates."

"He plays big, and he plays often," Bill Miller, a Texas lobbyist, said of Mr. Perry in an interview with The Texas Tribune in 2010. "'Small' is not a word that's in his vocabulary."

Bobby Jack Perry was born on Oct. 30, 1932. His website says that he grew up in a small farmhouse in rural Bosque County, Texas, northwest of Waco, in a stretch of land known as the Blackstump Valley.

His father, W.C. Perry, rose from principal of an elementary school to become the dean of students at Baylor University in Waco. Bob Perry later earned a degree in history from Baylor. He taught high school and coached football for a decade after college, working construction on the side. In 1968, he formed Perry Homes after moving to Houston. The company told Builder magazine that it generated $485 million in revenue in 2012.

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