News Flash

Rich folks give to Republicans

Nineteen Texans have landed on Forbes magazine's 2006 list of the world's richest people, and guess what? The majority of them are prolific contributors to Republican candidates and officeholders. Nevertheless, none of the 19 billionaires come anywhere close to matching the state's two largest individual donors – San Antonio pro-voucher conservative James Leininger and Houston homebuilder Bob Perry – in campaign dollars, which might explain why they're on the Forbes list and Leininger and Perry are not. Forbes reported a record number of 793 billionaires in 2006 compared to 476 just three years ago. Proving that the rich keep getting richer, Dell Computer founder Michael Dell climbed to the No. 12 spot this year with a net worth of $17.1 billion. All things considered, Dell is not exactly a high-roller in state politics. Texas Ethics Commission records show he gave under $20,000 in 2005 – $5,000 to ex-Dell exec and Austin resident Ben Bentzin, the GOP nominee for House District 48; $10,000 to Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott; and $5,000 to Democratic Rep. Mark Strama of Austin.

By contrast, Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, who ranks No. 20 on the Forbes list with $15.7 billion in the bank, generally contributes in the hundreds of thousands to GOP politicians, particularly those who support private-school vouchers. Gov. Rick Perry is one of those pro-voucher recipients, and Walton rewarded him last year with a $100,000 contribution. She also gave Abbott $50,000 and House Speaker Tom Craddick $25,000. The third richest Texan, Houston energy billionaire Dan Duncan, who ranked No. 100 on the list, is usually good for a couple hundred thousand each year, with Perry, Abbott and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst taking the top prizes in 2005. Oil, gas, and real estate tycoon Robert Rowling of Irving is one prolific donor who gets what he pays for. A UT regent and a member of Perry's Tax Reform Commission, Rowling gave Perry $100,000 in 2005. Rounding out the top five richest Texans is former presidential candidate Ross Perot who, for better or worse, is the least generous political donor, contributing a measly $3,500 in 2005, with most of that going to state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville.

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