The Religious Right Sugar-Daddy Who Brought Us Rick Perry
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"Perry might never have been governor - nor now be a presidential candidate - but for James Leininger"
-- Texans for Public Justice (PDF)
These days, the emergence of Texas Governor Rick Perry as the frontrunner for the Republican Party's presidential nomination must be warming the cockles of Dr. James Leininger's heart.
Who is Dr. James Leininger, and why is he considered one of the Texas Governor's "most stalwart helpmates"?
Outside of Texas, Leininger is a relatively unknown multi-millionaire. Inside the second-largest U.S. state by both size and population, however, Leininger is known as the "Sugar Daddy" of the religious right.
'Well known to the state's political class'
A recent piece in The Texas Tribune described him as being "Well known to the state's political class," who "rose to political prominence for his work promoting school vouchers, the campaign to ban same-sex marriage in Texas and his sizable financial contributions to Perry and other conservative political candidates. He also founded the Texas Public Policy Foundation [TPPF], an influential conservative think tank that has worked closely with Perry."
"What makes Leininger one of the most powerful people in Texas politics is less the amount of money he has given over the years than the broad reach of his spending and his commitment to a conservative agenda," Karen Olsson reported in the November 2002 edition of the Texas Monthly. "By pumping tens of thousands of dollars into the previously ignored State Board of Education races, he turned an obscure committee of retired teachers into an ideological hornet's nest, whose debates over curriculum and textbook content have made national news.
"In addition to funding candidates personally, Leininger has launched several political action committees to support conservative judicial and legislative candidates and advocate for school vouchers. He has, moreover, established an entire politics and policy conglomerate [the TPPF] in Texas .... He has invested millions in private school voucher programs in San Antonio, the first of which he initiated in 1993. Some regard the state Republican party as an extension of his empire; its chair, Susan Weddington, is a former Kinetic Concepts employee, and the $475,000 Leininger donated to state party and caucus committees in the 2000 election cycle far exceeded the amount contributed by any other individual or organization in Texas, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity."
The Texas Tribune noted that Leininger "has had a somewhat lower profile in recent years," and that "His last contribution to Perry's state campaign fund appears to have been $25,000 in 2009, according to [its] database of Perry's donors from 2000-11."
'Rick Perry's Heavenly Host'
Leininger re-emerged recently as the host of a retreat that brought together Perry and several leading evangelical leaders including retired judge Paul Pressler, a Southern Baptist leader, Christian historian David Barton, East Texas evangelist Rick Scarborough and others who supported Perry's Christian prayer rally in Houston, at his ranch near Fredericksburg, Texas, the Dallas Morning News' Wayne Slater recently reported.
Just prior to the retreat, Texans For Public Justice issued a report titled "Rick Perry's Heavenly Host" which pointed out that "Perry might never have been governor - nor now be a presidential candidate - but for James Leininger."
According to Texans For Public Justice (TPJ), ("Tracking the influence of money and corporate power in Texas politics" Leininger and his vast hospital bed fortune may have been responsible for keeping the political career of Perry from going under in 1998. At the time, Perry was involved in a close race for lieutenant governor. Many observers believe that it was Leininger's $1.1 million that helped push Perry win that contest over Democrat John Sharp; Perry captured just 50.04 percent of the vote.