When one discusses Gov. Rick Perry’s rise to power, the name Dr. James Leininger has to be part of the conversation.
Dr. Leininger, a hospital bed magnate from San Antonio with a historical willingness to use his wealth to influence elections in favor of far-right candidates and causes, has been termed the “Sugar Daddy” of the religious right in Texas. For years his money has been a big influence on the State Board of Education and at the Capitol. And in Perry’s case, Leininger’s influence helped deliver the 1998 lieutenant governor’s race to the man who would become the state’s governor upon the resignation of George W. Bush.
| More resources on Leininger from TFN and Texans for Public Justice are at the bottom of this post |
After seemingly fading into the background in the last few election cycles, there are rumblings that Leininger may be about to make a comeback. In a big way.
Case in point: This weekend, Leininger and his wife, Cecilia, will convene a select group of old-school religious right figures, including pseudo-historian (and genuine Republican activist) David Barton, at a confab in Fredericksburg to discuss the 2012 elections. Gov. Perry is reportedly taking a break from his Presidential campaign to attend.
So if this weekend does mark Dr. Leininger’s full re-entry into the political world, it’s a good time to revisit his history.
A Brief History of Leininger
By the 1990s, Leininger had become one of the biggest funders of Republicans and religious-right candidates in Texas. Records show that from 1997 to 2006, the Leiningers gave or loaned $10 million to candidates or political action committees in Texas, in addition to another $1 million to candidates for federal offices or candidates in other states. All of that money went almost exclusively to candidates who support Leininger’s far right agenda.
Perhaps Leininger’s top public policy priority has been private school vouchers. His push for a statewide school voucher program was nearly successful in 2005, an effort he reportedly became very personally involved in, in addition to bankrolling the cause. Unable to get the legislature to go along, Leininger funded his own voucher program, at a cost of $50 million, which was later shut down.
Leininger has also focused considerable attention on tort reform issues, abortion and his opposition to gay rights.
Around this time, Leininger was also busy bankrolling some of the State Board of Education’s most strident culture warriors. Leininger money has gone to former board member Cynthia Dunbar, and current members Terri Leo and chairwoman Barbara Cargill. More than any other donor, Leininger is responsible for turning the SBOE into ground zero for the culture wars.
Connection to Gov. Perry
Gov. Perry likely wouldn’t be where he is today if not for Leininger’s intervention in the 1998 election. Locked in a tight battle with John Sharp in the race for lieutenant governor, Leininger swooped in in the final weeks of the campaign with a $1.1 million loan for the Perry camp. Perry’s campaign used the loan for an all-out media blitz that likely made the difference in his narrow win over Sharp. That win put Perry in line for the governor’s seat that Gov. Bush vacated to become president.
Leininger’s financial support of Gov. Perry has continued since the 1998 election, totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
— TFN also profiled James Leininger as part of its 2006 report, The Anatomy of Power: Texas and the Religious Right in 2006 (PDF, chapter 2).