By ERIC LICHTBLAU and MICHAEL LUO
WASHINGTON — When Bob Perry, a wealthy home builder from Texas, emerged six years ago as a prime financer of the Swift Boat Veterans attack ads against Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, the political strategist Karl Rove was there to vouch for Mr. Perry.
“I’ve known him for 25 years,” Mr. Rove said on Fox News. Back when Republicans were not so popular in Texas, Mr. Perry was one of the few wealthy Texans “willing to write checks to Republican candidates,” Mr. Rove added.
Now Mr. Rove and his party are benefiting from his old friend’s largess once again, as new federal disclosure reports this week showed that Mr. Perry has given $7 million since September to American Crossroads, the conservative group Mr. Rove helped start. Mr. Perry was the group’s biggest donor.
Mr. Perry, 77, has long been a major donor to Republican candidates, with significant contributions to George W. Bush’s campaigns for Texas governor and his presidential races, as well as to Republican groups and causes. But his donations to American Crossroads, which has been become a major force this election season in pushing Republican candidates, along with $4 million to the Republican Governors Association this year, put Mr. Perry in another stratosphere as a conservative version of George Soros, the patron of liberal causes.
Mr. Perry, who lives in a 13,000-square-foot home in Houston, was not giving interviews on Thursday. “We’ll let the donations speak for themselves,” a spokesman said.
Even Republicans consider him something of a mystery. While many major donors use their contributions to gain access to powerful politicians, Mr. Perry is a perennial no-show at fund-raising galas.
“He never comes to anything,” said Fred Malek, a longtime Republican operative who helps lead fund-raising at the Republican Governors Association. “I’ve never met him or seen him at any of our events that feature our governors, so he certainly is not seeking access,” he said. “I would love to meet him to thank him for everything he’s done.”
Because donations to some politically active groups are anonymous, it is impossible to know exactly how much Mr. Perry has given over the years, but an associate who spoke on the condition of anonymity placed the figure at “well over $20 million.”
Perry Homes, the high-end custom home company he founded 43 years ago, was the third-biggest homebuilder in the Houston area in 2009, according to The Houston Chronicle. The company’s home closings dropped 33 percent last year as the housing market took deep hits, The Chronicle reported, but the downturn does not appear to have affected donations from his personal fortune, which has been estimated at over $600 million.
Mr. Perry and his wife, Doylene, have given nearly $400,000 to candidates and party committees in the 2010 election cycle, with nearly $300,000 going to the Republican campaign committees in the House and Senate, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
In addition his donation this year, Mr. Perry gave $2 million to the governors’ association last year. He contributed $50,000 in September to the First Amendment Alliance, an independent group that has spent at least $800,000 attacking Democratic candidates for Senate in Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky and Nevada, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Including his most recent contributions to American Crossroads, he has given more than $13 million to outside groups able to accept donations of unlimited size in this election cycle.
Mr. Perry is atop a group of megadonors who have contributed $1 million or more this year to Republican groups like American Crossroads and the Republican Governors Association. Others include Robert B. Rowling, a Texas billionaire; Wayne Hughes, the chairman and founder of Public Storage; Harold Simmons, another Swift Boat financier; Jerry Perenchio, a former chairman of Univision; Trevor Rees-Jones, a Dallas oil-and-gas billionaire; Paul Singer, a Manhattan hedge fund manager; and Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate.
Andrew Wheat, research director for Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign finance and has researched Mr. Perry’s donations, said in an interview that Mr. Perry’s financial clout had made him not only the single biggest donor in Texas in the last decade, but an increasing national presence as well.
“It’s not just Swift Boat, it’s not just Karl Rove,” Mr. Wheat said. “There are a range of federal and state races. He’s a partisan who believes in investing in Republican control at the state and federal level, and people around the country are starting to get to know Bob Perry.”
Mr. Perry’s financial involvement in the Swift Boat campaign against Mr. Kerry particularly rankled Democrats, who saw the effort as an unfair smear, and they have tried to use the issue repeatedly to taint Mr. Perry.
Mr. Perry, as he often does, ignored the attacks and continued making donations. In a rare interview in 2002, Mr. Perry said, “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.”
Mr. Rove and Mr. Perry worked together in the 1986 Texas governor’s race for William Clements, with Mr. Perry as campaign treasurer and Mr. Rove as a political consultant.
They shared a desire to secure tort reform to limit the liability of corporations in civil litigation. Mr. Rove used the issue in Texas in the late 1980s as a way of galvanizing conservatives, particularly in the business community, and Mr. Perry gave more than $2 million to promote the issue.
Mr. Perry’s company was drawn into a long controversy over the liability issue when a couple claimed a Perry Homes house was defective.
The buyers won an $800,000 arbitration award in 2008. But the state’s Supreme Court overturned the award, leading groups like Texans for Public Justice to charge that Mr. Perry’s many donations to the court’s Republican justices had tainted the ruling. The buyers took the case back to court for trial, and in March a jury ordered Perry Homes to pay $58 million in damages.
Eric Lichtblau reported from Washington, and Michael Luo from New York.
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