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Big Texas Green Flowing into Empire State Campaign

October 27, 2010

NEW YORK - Unlike water, campaign dollars can flow from the Gulf of Mexico up to New York - just like the several million dollars that have flowed from one wealthy Texas real estate magnate into ads taking aim at Kirsten Gillibrand and other Democrats nationwide.

His name is Bob Perry, and he was a driving force behind the 2004 "swift boat" campaign against Sen. John Kerry. This year, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the door to nearly unlimited campaign contributions, Perry has given millions of dollars to Karl Rove's political organization and other groups supporting Republican candidates. Jesse Zwick of the Washington Independent has covered Perry's political activism.

"Seven million dollars can definitely go a long way putting up ads in a state. That would almost be, you know, the advertising budget of a really strong seven-week campaign in a state."

At Syracuse University, Maxwell Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Stonecash says money is a factor in Sen. Gillibrand's race, although probably not the most important one.

"She just got thrust on the scene very quickly; she didn't have a lot of time to present herself, build up a record. It's a terrible year for Democrats – money is playing a role, but I don't think it's the determining factor here."

The groups behind much of this season's campaign advertising usually present themselves as representing a broad-based group of voters, but Zwick says that is often not the case.

"A donation from someone like Mr. Perry shows that a lot of groups can advocate that kind of support while in fact actually receiving its support from a very relatively small number of donors."

Zwick says ad spending might not go quite that far in a major market like New York. He also notes that, while the Swift Boat group was cited by the Federal Election Commission for not properly registering and collecting donations, the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision means big smear campaigns, largely funded by a few individuals or corporations, are now considered legitimate.

Mike Clifford/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NY