Remembering Bob Perry, Who Funded Political Attack Ads

Bob Perry became a billionaire putting up houses in Texas. He spent millions of his wealth helping Republicans and pioneering new ways to inject big money into politics. Perry died Saturday at the age of 80.

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The Texas multimillionaire Bob Perry died this past Saturday. Perry made his money building suburban homes. He then spent much of it in ways that changed American politics.

NPR's Peter Overby tells us more.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Bob Perry died at age 80. He never said much in public about his politics. The money spoke for him. In 2004, he plowed four and a half million dollars into the group that produced this ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: John Kerry betrayed the men and women he served with in Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: He dishonored his country. He most certainly did.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I served with John Kerry. John Kerry cannot be trusted.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is...

OVERBY: The ad crippled the Democratic presidential nominee. George W. Bush was re-elected president and swift-boating became a verb. Highly personal attack ads independently produced are now an essential element of campaigning. In 2010, Perry gave $7 million to American Crossroads, a superPAC that, like Swift Boat Veterans, works as an independent attack machine. Last year, he gave it another eight and a half million dollars.

A co-founder of American Crossroads is Texas GOP consultant Karl Rove. He and Perry have been closely allied since they met in 1979.

Ross Ramsey is executive editor of the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news organization covering Texas politics.

ROSS RAMSEY: These are rough but, you know, we've sort of clocked him putting about 26 million or 28 million into Texas races from 2000 to 2012, about 38 million into federal races.

OVERBY: Which made Perry one of a few dozen mega-donors nationally and one of two top givers in Texas politics.

RAMSEY: He never jumped up to explain himself. He was a guy who acted in politics without describing his reasons for acting.

OVERBY: But in the capital cities, Austin and Washington, Perry was never a prominent political appointee. Unlike some other major donors, he didn't serve on high-profile boards nor did he become an ambassador.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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