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I think the expectation is that naturally occurring links (even if as a result of a campaign to acquire them) will result in substantial variation in the text used to link to a site. Of course, common patterns will occur (such as the use of a page title or URL as link text) but generally speaking, people have the opportunity to choose the text they use for a link, and this means it is likely to be different from the next guy.
This is related to natural word usage, which will tend to arise whenever a reasonable number of people talk about the same subject. So, 'widget' pages get described as widgets, green widgets, turquoise gadgets and aqua-marine thingies.
As for penalties, I'd say think less about 'penalties' in particular and more about 'not performing well' in general ;)