It's a busy week at the Austin Club, a private downtown bar and restaurant three blocks from the Texas Capitol that's a favorite spot for political fundraisers. Candidates mingle every evening with donors — lobbyists, mostly — trying to raise money before midnight tonight, the reporting deadline for mid-year campaign finance reports.
It's a big deal for two reasons: Candidates who show healthy treasuries at mid-year get momentum and credibility for their campaigns, and the legally imposed reporting deadline gives them a convenient marketing tool, an excuse to ask supporters to give before the clock strikes midnight. Hurry, hurry, hurry! "It's the day the rich guys don't answer their phones and political folks don't open their e-mails," says Harold Cook, who consults for Democrats.
Campaign finance reports aren't due until July 15, when they become public. But they reflect contributions, expenditures, loans and cash on hand through the end of June, which is to say: today. Candidates who want to flash some cash have to have it in hand by midnight or wait until the next reports are due, in October. They don't want to show weak hands.
"Money tends to follow money," says Republican consultant Eric Bearse. A candidate who looks stronger than the opposition in the mid-year reports has an edge and can — and will — argue that the financial advantage is just a reflection of the candidate's electoral advantage.
"If you've got early money, it's a sign that people who do this are already investing," Cook says. "Money isn't everything, but not having money isn't anything."
With some exceptions, it's not crucial to show a lot of money at mid-year. The exceptions? The governor's race, for starters. To date, both Republican Rick Perry and Democrat Bill White have reported healthy amounts for that race. In down-ballot statewide races, the reports have been lopsided, with incumbents showing huge advantages over challengers. And the early-year numbers reflect different situations in primaries: For instance, Perry's February report came while he was in a bruising, though successful, primary battle against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina. White was, at that time, coasting to a primary win over Farouk Shami.
|36671||David Dewhurst||Lt. Gov.||$1,713,308||1/15/2010|
|66266||Linda Chavez-Thompson||Lt. Gov.||$39,097||2/20/2010|
|51153||Greg Abbott||Attorney General||$10,175,357||
|65578||Barbara Ann Radnofsky||Attorney General||$388,033||1/15/2010|
|20841||Jerry Patterson||Land Commissioner||$654,712||1/15/2010|
|14874||Hector Uribe||Land Commissioner||$4,620||2/20/2010|
|57503||Todd Staples||Agriculture Commissioner
|58313||Hank Gilbert||Agriculture Commissioner
|66261||David Porter||Railroad Commissioner||$11,251||2/20/2010|
|65818||Jeff Weems||Railroad Commissioner||$36,535||1/15/2010|
Statewide officeholders seeking re-election don't want to show any weakness — that's exploitable by their opponents. And those opponents suffer if they don't have much money on hand. It's hard enough trying to win support from donors who don't want to offend an incumbent. A lousy showing in the mid-year reports makes it that much easier for potential donors to bail out on a challenger.
"It's more lethal for a statewide candidate to show zero," Bearse says. Legislative and judicial candidates have a little more wiggle room, especially if they survived tough primaries or runoffs that forced them to spend money they'd otherwise have on hand for the November elections.
Candidates can survive mediocre mid-year reports, but they miss a chance to get attention. "It's an early sign to everybody that you're for real," Cook says. "Anybody in the money hunt at that point is clearly a serious candidate."
Not everything happens in private homes or in gathering spots like the Austin Club. Candidates increasingly are using e-mail, texting and social media to raise money. "There are more ways to appeal to small donors," Bearse says. Candidates try to raise money by creating a sense of urgency, or by pushing the idea of today as a deadline.
On Tuesday, Perry's campaign urged donors via texts and e-mails to contribute to a "money cannon" to raise $300,000 before the deadline. White's tweet had a similar bent: "Today I am headed up to office to make calls to help reach our goal of 5000 donations, June 22-30." In an e-mail tied to that, supporters were asked to give $5 or more to run up the number of donors by 6,000 names and to increase the kitty. Annie's List, a political action committee supporting Democratic women running for office, offered to match contributions made to its candidates in the last hours. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst aimed an e-mail campaign at smaller donors (up to $1,000) in the last 48 hours before the reporting cutoff.
In Austin, dozens of candidates have held fundraisers in the past 10 days — many to be held at the Austin Club, some simultaneously. Candidates elsewhere are raising money in their hometowns, using the deadline to push donors to write checks.
Large contributors still get personal calls, and those pick up in frequency and urgency as the deadline looms, Bearse says. "A lot of donors will be relieved when this is over."