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Conservative donor Bob Perry gives big to Pawlenty, Romney -- and Rick Perry

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One of the most prolific Republican money men, Bob Perry has played a critical financial role in elections from Houston mayor to the presidency. For the 2012 cycle, the conservative Texas home builder started giving early and often --and is hedging his bets in the wide-open GOP presidential primary.

Perry is one of the major backers for Restore our Future, a Mitt Romney aligned "Super PAC" that raised more than $12 million through the first six months of 2011, according to a filing Sunday with the Federal Election Commission. Perry donated $500,000 to the committee.

Romney isn't the only presidential contender to benefit from Perry's largesse. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty received $60,000 last September from Perry and his wife, and in 2006 Perry was instrumental in aiding Pawlenty's gubernatorial campaign by helping flood Minnesota with attack ads in the final days of a tight race.

Perry has also been a major financial supporter for Texas Gov. Rick Perry (no relation), having kicked in an estimated $2.5 million over the last decade to his campaigns. Speculation that Rick Perry will enter the 2012 presidential race has picked up steam over the past month--as well as what happens to Bob Perry's support of Romney and Pawlenty if the governor throw his gallon-sized hat into the ring. (The AP has reported that Rick Perry will decide by the end of August.)

"Without Bob Perry, there would be no Rick Perry," says Andy Wilson, a Texas-based campaign finance analyst for Public Citizen.

Make no mistake: Bob Perry is a contributor who campaigns will fight for. The Texas Tribune estimated Perry has given at least $38 million to national candidates and groups since the start of 2000. That's in addition to the $28 million he has funneled into statewide races in his native Texas. Perry, whose fortune comes from his construction firm Perry Homes, has at times defied the conservative orthodoxy -- he recently hired a Texas lobbyist to help kill a bill supported by Gov. Perry that would restrict immigration in Texas and has occasionally given to Democrats in state races-- but the candidates he supports all share similar qualities. They tend to be pro-business and in favor of limited government. Tort reform is a particularly important issue for Perry, who has used his influence to make it almost impossible to bring lawsuits over homes bought in Texas.

Wilson describes Perry as a savvy donor. When Perry breaks with Republican orthodoxy, Wilson believes it's only because he's "thinking about his bottom line, and about what is good for Bob Perry and Perry Homes."

"He's very, very strategic in who he gives to," says Wilson.

Other experts agree that Perry is a knowledgeable donor, who puts the ability to win above the party line. Perry "thrives on the idea that he has shaped the results" of the country, says Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

Famously media shy, Perry routinely declines to comment on stories about himself, his company or his politics. Even Fred Malek, a longtime ally of both Bush presidents who hailed from Texas, said he has never met Perry personally. Malek praised Perry as "a most generous contributor for all the right reasons--his core belief in center right principles."

Perry Spokesman Anthony Holm declined to comment for this story. But Perry's official bio emphasizes his working class background and charity work, including the funding of an orphanage in Mexico. While it makes no mention of political activities, it does offer a paragraph outlining his beliefs, which includes "promoting free markets, strengthening our domestic security, and promoting tax relief." At the same time, he continues his breach with Republican orthodoxy by describing himself as an "advocate for affirmative action." His website, designed by a Russian firm, features only his bio and picture.

Reporter Peter Stone contributed to this story.

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