When I was in Texas last month reporting on, among other things, the remarkable fund-raising operation Rick Perry built for himself in that state, one of the lingering questions was whether he'd be able to duplicate it on the national stage. Texas has no limits on contributions, which is why Perry had, by 2006, 85 donors giving at least $25,000 to him every cycle. But presidential candidates can accept checks no larger than $2,500 (Super-PACs and their unregulated brethren are another story.) Would Perry be able to round up enough smaller donors to make up no longer being able to cash in the mega-checks?
Well, his first fundraising report seemed like a resounding rebuke to the doubters, as he raked in $17 million in barely more than half of a quarter. It is that pot of money that gives him any hope of mounting a serious challenge to Mitt Romney after an otherwise brutal debut. And now, thanks to some good reporting this week by the Huffington Post, we've discovered one reason why Perry was able to post such a big total under the new rules: kids! HuffPo found multiple instances where $2,500 contributions from Perry supporters -- in most instances, people appointed by Perry to state commissions -- were accompanied by big contributions from the other members of the supporter's family, all the way down to junior-high school students. This, um, raises red flags. As the article explains, the law states that any donation was "made knowingly and voluntarily; that the funds donated must belong to the minor in question; and that the parents may not reimburse the child for the donation." Now, it's quite possible that the teen-aged scions of Texas oil executives and the like have managed to save up a nice pile of dough after years of fat allowances and big birthday checks from Uncle Arthur, but do we really believe that these students would rather plunk down $2,500 on a presidential campaign than put it towards their next Honda CRV? If this money is given freely from the heart, then Perry needs to get these kids out on the trail for him, because they are as staunch a supporter as he can hope to find these days.