Bob Perry's $500,000 contribution to "A Stronger America" is just a fraction of his donations during the last campaign cycle. In fact, several groups that track political spending say Perry spent more money than any other single person. One estimate says he spent at least $16 million over the past two years.
Some political watchers, like Bill Hogan with the Center for Public Integrity, say Perry's spending dwarfs most other political donors.
"He's the 800-pound gorilla," according to Hogan. "He's the guy who can pour millions of dollars into a political effort. He's got the wherewithal and the will to do it which a lot of other donors don't have."
Many of the politicians who have benefitted from Perry's donations have never met him. The campaign manager for Gov. Pawlenty says Pawlenty doesn't know him. And Joe Weber, the local spokesman for "A Stronger America" never met him either. And yet, Perry donated $500,000, the most money of anyone, to his group.
"It may sound strange, but it literally appeared out of thin air one day," Weber says.
Weber's group ran TV ads, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, criticizing DFLer Mike Hatch in the last two weeks of the campaign. Weber says his organization is a part of a much broader group. He assumes that political watchers in Washington contacted Perry and told him Pawlenty was locked in a close race in Minnesota. He says no one in Minnesota talked to Perry before he made the donation.
"We never got any advanced notice and I simply received a phone call from the folks from the national office of A Stronger America notifying us that the funds have come through for use in Minnesota," he said.
Perry has spent his money to influence elections around the country. A documents search of independent special interest groups shows that he spent $11.1 million on various House and Senate campaigns for 2006.
Sheila Krumholz, acting director of the Center for Responsive Politics, says Perry targets races where he thinks he can have an impact.
"It may be surprising to Minnesotans that Bob Perry has delivered that kind of cash to a gubernatorial race in Minnesota when they have never heard of him," she says. "But he has heard of the competitive candidates in a wide variety of state and national races. And he has tapped into the network that knows where the money is most needed to deliver for the conservative cause."
Perry's political profile has been growing since 2004. That's when he helped bankroll "The SwiftBoat Veterans for Truth" ads that criticized then Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's military record.
Perry has been a key financial backer of President Bush, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay and other Texas politicians. White House political director Karl Rove says he's known Perry since 1978.
Perry is also heavily interested in the Texas Legislature. Craig McDonald, with the watchdog group Texans for Political Justice, says he gave $6.7 million to Texas politicians who are running for statewide office and the Texas Legislature.
"He's kind of a reclusive character when it comes to interaction with the public and the media," according to McDonald. "But one thing is for sure: he has a checkbook and he's willing to spend it. He has been the top individual donor in Texas politics for each year that we've been tracking donations, going back some 10 years."
Perry, who lives in a suburb of Houston, was born in a small town in West Texas. He taught high school before he started a home building company in 1968. The Houston Chronicle says Perry Homes had a gross revenue of $593 million in 2005.
In a rare interview, he told the paper that he gained financial strength in recent years and will be more involved in campaigns that he thinks are important. Perry could not be contacted for an interview.
Perry's spokesman Anthony Holm says he doesn't know why Perry took an interest in Minnesota's gubernatorial race. He would not comment on Perry's involvement in A Stronger America. Holm says Perry has given to both Republicans and Democrats who support free markets and are pro business.
"Mr. Perry is really a lover of humanity and a patriot and believes quite passionately that the best thing to do to help the average American is for them to have a job. And he believes that government plays a very significant role through taxation and job opportunity and reasonable tort reform to do that and he supports viewpoints that help each worker gain a job," Holm said.
Holm says Perry has been unfairly characterized in the news media because he shuns the limelight. He also is quick to point out that his charitable contributions over the past two years are much higher than his political contributions.