AUSTIN, Texas — George W. Bush stunned the political world last month by announcing that he had raised a record $36 million in his race for the Republican presidential nomination.
It wasn't the first time the Texas governor set new standards for campaign cash. In two statewide elections, Bush raised $41 million--more than any candidate for governor in history.
An examination of Bush's fund-raising in Texas for the 1998 and 1994 gubernatorial campaigns found that much of the money came from contributors with major stakes in state regulation.
The computer-assisted analysis, the most extensive of its kind, provides a detailed look at Bush's leading donors in Texas, including oil and other large industrial companies trying to avert mandatory pollution controls; businesses seeking relief from expensive civil suits, and conservatives advocating state-paid vouchers for students in private schools.
These longtime alliances with major Texas corporate interests are significant: Many of the large donors continue to back Bush as he pursues the presidency. Indeed, Texans donated more than half of the $7.6 million Bush raised for his presidential campaign during the first quarter of this year.
Moreover, Bush's ties to donors have prompted other Republican candidates to portray the governor as a candidate beholden to special interests--claims Bush denies. Steve Forbes said last month that Bush's presidential fund-raising proves that "he is inextricably tied to Washington lobbyists and special interests."
In Texas, where individuals and corporate political committees may contribute unlimited sums to politicians, big campaign money is a way of life. And for Bush, a pro-business Republican, turning to the economic powers in the Lone Star State was only natural.
"One of the reasons they give to him is that he gives in return," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a nonpartisan group that tracks political money. "His policies are very pro-business."
A Bush spokeswoman said that large donations in no way influence the governor's positions on policy issues.
"He has a set of principles from which he does not waver," said Karen Hughes, communications director for the Bush campaign. These core principles include limited government, local control, strengthening families and individual responsibility, Hughes said.
Bush declined to be interviewed for this article.
The skyrocketing cost of running for public office is not unique to Texas--or to Bush. Republican Pete Wilson raised $27 million in his 1990 and 1994 gubernatorial campaigns in California; his successor, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, raised a whopping $31.8 million last year, the largest amount for a single gubernatorial race.
Bush's fund-raising success is due to a number of factors: his political brand name, far-flung family and business contacts, engaging personal style and appeal to longtime Republican donors, including nontraditional sources drawn by his message of moderation. Bush's White House bid also is seen by many Republicans as the party's best hope for regaining the presidency.
In the last six months alone, his front-running presidential campaign has amassed at least $36 million from 75,000 donors--more than all 11 of his Republican rivals combined. (Presidential aspirants are limited to individual contributions of up to $1,000.) Bush already has collected more money from individual donors than any primary candidate in history.
On Thursday, all presidential candidates must file reports disclosing donor information for the second quarter, ending June 30.
The analysis of the two gubernatorial races--conducted for The Times and CNN by the Campaign Study Group of Springfield, Va., a nonpartisan consulting firm--researched the backgrounds of more than 14,000 large donors and classified each by occupation and industry. This study is part of a Times effort to examine fund-raising by presidential hopefuls.
The analysis found that Bush had provided some of his most loyal contributors highly coveted appointments to the University of Texas Board of Regents. The university produces many of the state's leaders, and a regents post brings lifetime season football tickets--a desirable perk in gridiron-crazed Texas.
Among the appointees is Laredo oil executive A. R. "Tony" Sanchez, who gave $101,000, second highest among the regents. Bush officials said large campaign contributions have no influence in the selection of gubernatorial appointees.
The study found that Bush received $4.5 million from business, medical, real estate and other interests that waged a fight, supported by the governor, to make it more difficult to sue Texas firms. He also collected $1.5 million from companies whose aged oil refineries and power plants in Texas have come under pressure to reduce particularly high toxic emissions.