The Austin Chronicle

Mystery Men Mysterious No More

By Richard Whittaker, October 5, 2007, 3:49pm, Newsdesk

Never heard of Dr. James Leininger or Bob Perry? Don't worry, you will, if Texas Dems have anything to say about it.

According to the Money in Politex report issued by Texans for Public Justice, these conservative ideologues were the two biggest donors during the '06 election. They dumped a combined $12 million into Republican campaign coffers, or rather, into the campaigns of hand-selected candidates that followed their conservative creeds. Amber Moon of the Texas Democratic Party called it "the Leininger effect," where increasingly radical Republicans were winning primaries and elections on the back of big-donor money. And now the Democrats are going to use that in the '08 campaign against every single GOPer that took their cash.

For election attorney and campaign finance expert Buck Wood, now it’s a campaign issue. “That money from the Leiningers of the world is going to be used against Republicans who take it. Because they’re buying this candidate who claims he’s representing you, but he’s representing Leininger or Perry.”

If the strategy pays off, Wood expects the money men to back away, or even be pushed away by candidates who realize their name association is a liability. That’s a big change from ’06, when their check-writing was almost brazen. “They threw a lot of money at campaigns very late last time around, and it’s kind of hard to counter that in a very short period of time. They can’t sneak up on anyone this time.”

So what's changed? Both men are perceived as kingmakers. But kingmakers work best in the shadows, and both men have had the spotlight shine on them in recent years. As the man that provided the seed money for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and their anti-John Kerry campaign, Houston building magnate Perry became synonymous with dirty tricks. Meanwhile hospital-bed millionaire Leininger, nicknamed the Sugar Daddy of the Religious Far Right, became a figure of debate when the Texas Department of Public Safety refused to release surveillance tapes purportedly showing him strong-arming and glad-handing legislators over school vouchers in the back hall behind the House back in '05.

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