- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

DALLAS — A Houston trial lawyer’s huge political contribution may tighten the Texas gubernatorial race in the final weeks.

John O’Quinn, 65, said yesterday he had donated $1 million and would give or raise an additional $4 million toward the campaign of Chris Bell, a Democrat challenging Gov. Rick Perry in the Nov. 7 election. The $5 million would be the largest single donation ever in a state race.

Texas does not limit individual donations to statewide candidates.

“Chris is not going to lose because he doesn’t have the money,” Mr. O’Quinn said.

Mr. Perry, a Republican, and independent challenger Carole Keeton Strayhorn have been spending heavily on television ads. Mr. Bell and independent candidate Kinky Friedman have not had the campaign money to keep up the pace.

Most polls show Mr. Perry leading by several points, receiving the support of 36 percent to 38 percent of those surveyed. He needs only a plurality of votes to win the election.

Mr. Bell, a former congressman who represented Houston, had been struggling to get out his message with little money.

The O’Quinn injection immediately energized the Bell campaign. Spokeswoman Heather Guntert said the Democrat already had placed more television ads in Houston and planned to buy heavily in other major markets this week.

Mr. Bell is revising his schedule so he can create new ads, his media chief said.

Even with Mr. O’Quinn’s largess, Mr. Bell still trails Mr. Perry and Mrs. Strayhorn in funding.

Campaign finance reports filed yesterday showed Mr. Perry with $9.2 million in cash on hand and Mrs. Strayhorn with more than $5 million.

Fort Worth lawyer Hedley Cochran said Mr. O’Quinn’s support for Mr. Bell is a jab at the governor.

“[Mr. O’Quinn] is just trying to get back for the needed tort reform Perry and the other Republicans pushed for in recent years,” he said. “They’re all incensed at Perry.”

Mr. O’Quinn is said to be a billionaire. In 1998, he was one of six lawyers who won a $17.3 billion verdict for Texas from tobacco companies.

He has endowed millions of dollars to hospitals and libraries and reportedly has collected more than 600 classic cars, worth more than $100 million. He bought former Pope Paul VI’s 1975 Ford Escort at auction for $680,000.

Mr. O’Quinn did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday, but he told the Austin American-Statesman he would ask nothing of Mr. Bell if he won the election.

“There will not be a piece of legislation introduced to benefit me or my business,” he said. “The facts are the facts. Abraham Lincoln could not be elected president today if he didn’t have a bunch of money.”

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