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FEATURE PAC MEN Did Bob Perry use an influential lobbying firm to circumvent judicial campaign caps? BY JAKE BERNSTEIN Among the Texas lobby elite, HillCo Partners stands apart. It has an influence and reach stretching from the statehouse to the state Supreme Courtthat almost gives it the status of a shadow government. Its partners are involved in nearly every big issue facing the state, from water policy to tort reform to changing the school finance system. In addition to lobbying, HillCo also performs public relations and campaign work. HillCo’s success in recent years has come in no small part from its extraordinarily close relationship with Texas’ Republican leaders, in particular, House Also, it hasn’t hurt that the GOP’s number one contributor, HillCo client. \(During the 2002 election cycle, Bob Perry and his wife Doylene invested almost $4.1 million in state candidates, mostly Republicans, making the Perrys together far and HillCo represents a new trend in lobbying at the Capitol that started about a decade ago. Bill Miller, one of HillCo’s principal partners, calls it the “collective team concept.” In the past, trade associations dominated the profession. The influence of these trade associations waned for a variety of reasons, and in their stead arose independent lobbyistsusually former legislators who had occupied leadership positions. Under the new scheme, these “superstar” lobbyists have banded together to form partnerships like HillCo. But HillCo is more of an innovator than simply part of a trend. Its participation in every aspect of the political process, from picking candidates to raising campaign cash to helping with elections to fashioning public policy, sets it apart. Another area where HillCo appears to be ahead of the pack is in the operation of its political action committee. According to records from the Texas Ethics Commission, from 2000 until late 2001, most of the individual contributions that came into the HillCo PAC were from the partners in the firm. During this period, the campaign fund operated like a traditional lobby PAC where donations primarily came from employees or membership. Among the PAC’s largest donors was HillCo partner Neal T. “Buddy” Jones, who signed the campaign reports. As the principal rainmaker for HillCo, Jones has 47 different lobby clients ranging from school districts to drug companies, according to filings with the Texas Ethics Commission. Between 2000 and 2003, Jones gave more than $50,000 to the HillCo PAC. The closest contributing partner after that was Miller, who gave just over $31,000 during that time period. The expenditures from the PAC went primarily to incumbent representatives and senators from both political parties, cutting across the ideological spectrum. On December 3, 2001, the HillCo PAC contribution pattern changed. On that date, HillCo client Bob Perry gave the PAC $5,000, the single largest contribution from a non-HillCo partner. Three months later Perry gave the HillCo PAC $30,000. On June 14, 2002, Perry, whose company, Perry Homes, is the ninth-largest homebuilder in Texas, gave the HillCo PAC $15,000. Later that summer, he gave another $10,000, and in November yet another $40,000. In total, between 2001 and 2003, Perry would donate about $200,000 to HillCo’s PAC. Why would a man, who gives millions in direct campaign contributions to political candidates, donate to a lobby shop’s political action committee? \(Bob Perrydespite his oversized role in Texas’ political systemseldom gives interviews to the press. Calls to the media-shy Perry for this story were 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 6/4/04