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Top Bush supporter funds attacks on Kerry's war record

Homebuilder is longtime force in Texas GOP

NASSAU BAY, Texas -- Robert J. Perry, the main financier behind the effort to discredit Senator John F. Kerry's military record, is the most prolific political donor in Texas.

A homebuilder who lives lakeside in this Houston suburb, Perry has helped bankroll the widespread success of Republican candidates here, has long-standing ties to many close associates of President Bush, and has contributed to Bush's last four campaigns. According to interviews and campaign documents, he has given a total of more than $5 million to scores of political candidates.

''And the vast majority of those people have never laid eyes on him," said Court Koenning, executive director of the Republican Party in Harris County, which includes the Houston metropolitan area.

Despite the enormous influence of his money, Perry, 71, is reticent and guarded, and remains something of a mystery in Texas. But his largess has now crept onto the national stage.

A group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth launched television ads last week accusing Kerry, a Massachusetts senator and the Democratic presidential nominee, of lying about his military record. A $100,000 check that Perry wrote to the group this year represented about two-thirds of the money in its accounts as of June 30, according to financial documents.

The Bush campaign says it has no ties to the group.

The advertisements, running in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Ohio, and West Virginia, are part of a multimedia campaign questioning Kerry's fitness as a leader and commander in chief. A book written by one of the group's leaders, Houston lawyer John E. O'Neill, is scheduled to be released today.

''Bob Perry is a very generous guy with his political donations," Koenning said. ''His primary interest is good government. . . . Everybody agrees that John Kerry's service to this country is admirable. But if he lied about it, that speaks to his character."

Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star for his service in Vietnam. Upon his return, he became a leader of a veterans group that declared the war a mistake. His military service is a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, one his advisers believe contrasts sharply with Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.

None of the veterans featured in the advertisements served on the river patrol boats Kerry commanded during Vietnam.

Several of Kerry's crewmates have condemned the advertisements, and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, once a prisoner of war in Vietnam, called them ''dishonest and dishonorable."

''Bob Perry pulls the strings and never gets his hands dirty. But even by his standards, this latest deal is just over the top," said Charles Soechting, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

Perry declined to comment through his spokesman, Bill Miller, an Austin political consultant.   Continued...

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