Skip to main content

Data App: Hey, Big Spenders

It's not only rich people and lobbyists and interest group activists who make political contributions. Texas congressional candidates gave at least $1.3 million to other campaigns and causes over the last 15 months, according to itemized records of campaign expenditures released for the first time by the Federal Election Commission. Topping the list of big spenders in the Texas delegation were U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, who contributed at least $240,000 — the highest dollar amount — and Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, who gave more than 60 contributions — the highest number. Search our database to see who gave what to whom.

Lead image for this article

It's not only rich people and lobbyists and interest group activists who make political contributions. Texas congressional candidates gave at least $1.3 million to other campaigns and causes over the last 15 months, according to itemized records of campaign expenditures released for the first time by the Federal Election Commission. That accounted for around 7 percent of their total spending.

Topping the list of big spenders in the Texas delegation were U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, who contributed at least $240,000 — the highest dollar amount — and Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, who gave more than 60 contributions — the highest number. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, gave about $220,000 in the period between Jan. 1, 2009, and March 31, 2010. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, was next on the list, with just under $200,000, followed by U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Conroe, who contributed more than $110,000 to other pols and causes.

Why did they do it? Protection. Friendship. Pack loyalty.

Listen to Harold Cook, a former executive director of the Texas Democratic Party who now consults for Democrats in the Texas Senate, who answered the question by e-mail: "Because the majority isn't just 'a thing' in Congress, it's the only thing. If you're in the minority, you ain't shit. Your first duty in the minority is to fund more candidates to join you, so you can get into the majority. Your first duty if you're in the majority is to fund endangered incumbents and promising challengers of your party, to protect your majority status."

The biggest recipients from the Texas delegation during the period — the first 15 months of the current election cycle — were the National Republican Congressional Committee, which got nearly $300,000; Campaign for Liberty, at least $220,000; and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $200,000 (all of it from Doggett, who had $3.1 million in his campaign account in March, more than any other Texas congressman).

Break it down another way (as you can do in our searchable database), and you can see some interesting things. For instance, Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, gave $60,000 to other campaigns and causes. Of that, only $6,000 went to Texas entities ($5,000 to the Dallas County Republican Party and $1,000 to fellow U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin). Just to be fair, throw in the Virginia-based Texas Republican Representatives Campaign Committee, which got $5,000. The other recipients of Hensarling's largesse? The list includes the New York Republican State Committee and congressional candidates all over the map: in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Maryland, California, Illinois, Louisiana, South Carolina, Minnesota, Washington and New Jersey.

Joe Householder, a consultant with the bipartisan Washington, D.C., public affairs firm Purple Strategies, says members donate to one another and the political parties to build relationships and loyalty with current and future colleagues.

"It's not only common practice — when you don't do it, it's grounds for criticism. Members who don't give enough to their colleagues are often singled out," says Householder, a former communications director to then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York. "If you want their help, and you want their attention when you need it, you might as well give them help when they need it."

Householder recalls that Clinton was generous with her campaign funds — but also her time and donor lists — to help congressional Democrats.

"She was very good at not only giving money to other members, but also helping them raise money, because she had high name ID," he says. "She could go into a member of Congress's district and be the marquee person at a fundraiser. There's nothing wrong with that. You're there, you believe in this Democrat or this Republican, and you want them to stay in office."

It doesn't hurt when you're running a national or a statewide campaign later on and are looking for friends to introduce you locally and help you put an organization together. And the back-scratching comes in handy when your friends rise to power and assign committees and other leadership jobs.

"Raising money from your future colleagues is part of almost every campaign finance plan," says David Beckwith, a consultant who now lives in Austin after years working in campaigns and as an aide to U.S. Sens. Dan Quayle, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn. "Everyone benefits when there's more of their party in the deal.

"That's part of a general trend that's been going on for 50 or 60 years, emphasizing individuals and de-emphasizing parties," Beckwith says. He calls the contributions a "tax" on members, who are encouraged to help party-building committees outside the parties themselves — groups like the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, now headed by Cornyn. Those committees, when looking for money, focus on legislators like Doggett with big bank accounts and non-competitive races. "A lot less of this would go on if everyone was in a competitive district."

The Texas Tribune Member Drive Fall 2021 banner

Support public-service journalism that’s always free to read.

Yes, I'll donate today