-By Patricia Kilday Hart
August 29, 2011- In the final week of Gov. Rick Perry's 2006 re-election campaign, his two biggest donors got out their checkbooks and into a gray area.
On the same day Houston homebuilder Bob Perry received three phone calls from someone at the Republican Governors Association, he overnighted a $500,000 check to the group.
Two days later, the executive director of the RGA personally handed Perry a contribution for the same amount.
Records of the phone calls between Bob Perry, no relation to the governor, and the RGA were contained in a lawsuit filed by Rick Perry's unsuccessful Democratic challenger, Chris Bell.
While Texas law allows for unlimited contributions, lawyers on behalf of Bell believe the contributions were routed through the RGA because the Perry campaign had attacked Bell for accepting a $1 million contribution from the late Houston trial lawyer John O'Quinn.
The phone records highlight a possible nexus between Gov. Perry's two largest campaign contributors. Since becoming governor, Perry has received $4 million from the Republican Governors Association and more than $2.5 million from homebuilder Perry, according to Texans for Public Justice. The RGA has denied that any of its donors earmark contributions for particular candidates.
The lawsuit by Bell claimed the Perry campaign and RGA violated Texas campaign disclosure laws by exchanging two $500,000 contributions in the final week of the campaign. In July 2010, Bell accepted $426,000 to settle the lawsuit against the Perry campaign, but later was awarded a $2 million judgment against the RGA by a Travis County Court. That judgment is pending a review by the Third Court of Appeals.
Found in IRS filings
In the judgment against the RGA, State District Court Judge John Dietz issued findings of fact that noted that "on October 30, 2006, someone from the RGA made three phone calls to Bob Perry, the last one at 4:05 p.m. Bob Perry sent a check of $500,000 that was received by the RGA on October 31, 2006. On Nov. 1, 2006 (RGA executive director) Phil Musser personally delivered a $500,000 RGA check to Rick Perry at the RGA's offices in Washington, D.C."
According to depositions in the suit, Perry campaign consultant Dave Carney solicited money from the RGA in early- to mid-October. The group responded with two checks: $500,000 delivered Oct. 27, and the $500,000 that was handed directly to Perry on Nov. 1.
Last August, Dietz ruled against the RGA, noting that the group did not file required reports designating a treasurer or disclosing donors as required by state law. The contributions came to light though subsequent filings by the RGA with the Internal Revenue Service.