The 2,694 political committees and campaigns that filed mid-year reports with the Texas Ethics Commission together held $167 million in their accounts, and the reports offer a glimpse at who's competitive and who's not — at least in a financial sense — four months before Election Day.
Most of the money is in just a few of those accounts. Only 274 of them (see our interactive chart) had more than $100,000 on hand at mid-year; they've banked a total of $136.2 million, or 82 percent of the money reported by all of the filers, even though they represent only 10.2 percent of the PACs and campaigns that filed. If the past is the guide, some of those big shots won't do anything with their money this cycle. And many candidates who aren't now on the list will pop up before the election with money, mail, ads and all the glitz of a big-time campaign.
The race for governor, as we've written before, is financially competitive, with challenger Bill White getting to the mid-year mark with a $3 million advantage over incumbent Republican Rick Perry. Other statewide races? Not so much. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott have far more money than their Democratic opponents, Linda Chavez-Thompson and Barbara Ann Radnofsky. Comptroller Susan Combs has a Libertarian opponent, Mary Ruwart, but no Democrat in the race, and she's got a game-over financial edge. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson had $822,401. His challenger, Democrat Hector Uribe, had $7,289. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, a Republican, had $1.1 million in his account at mid-year to Democrat Hank Gilbert's $90,700. In the race for railroad commissioner, the only open spot at the top of the ballot, the money is thin on both sides: Republican David Porter had $74,727 and Democrat Jeff Weems showed $17,258.
Campaign money in big races comes in all the time. Gubernatorial candidates who don't show some financial prowess at mid-year are in dire trouble, while it's not unusual for a statehouse race to look anemic in July and suddenly roar to life with donations that come in between then and the next reports (which are due in October, about a month before Election Day).
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Some general notes:
- Three hundred of the filers reported no money on hand. Zip. Zero. Zilch.
- Fewer than half — 1,031 — had $10,000 or more. And $10,000 is chump change in a Texas political season.
- Only 459, or less than 20 percent, had more than $50,000.
- Just 48 of the filers had more than $500,000, and they held $90 million at mid-year — more than half the money in all the political accounts.
- The top tier — those in the million-dollar-plus club — numbers 25. Those accounts had dibs on $73.4 million, or 44 percent of the total.
The elite include Texans for Greg Abbott, which led candidates, PACs — everybody — with $11.2 million in its account. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White was next, at $9 million, followed by the Texas Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC, with $7 million; Texans for Rick Perry, with $5.9 million; the Texas Association of Realtors PAC, at $5.1 million; Friends of Susan Combs, $4.6 million; [Sen.] John Whitmire, $3.6 million; [Lt. Gov.] David Dewhurst Committee, $3.6 million; Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, $3.3 million; and [Sen.] Kirk Watson, $1.6 million. Only a few of those are in competitive races: White and Perry, of course, are battling for the state's top political job, and Dewhurst has a challenger in Democrat Chavez-Thompson, who had $136,421 in her account at mid-year. The Realtors contribute to members from both parties, tending to favor incumbents over challengers, and their two PACs regularly land at the top of the money rankings. Texans for Lawsuit Reform supports some Democrats but gives most of its money to Republican incumbents and challengers.
The next 10: [Rep. and former House Speaker] Tom Craddick, $1.5 million; Texans for [House Speaker] Joe Straus, $1.5 million; Joe Straus [a separate committee], $1.5 million; [Sen.] Rodney Ellis, $1.4 million; [Sen. Troy] Fraser for Texas Senate, $1.3 million; [former Sen.] Kip Averitt, $1.2 million; Texans for [Rep.] Dan Branch, $1.2 million; [former Rep.] Steven Wolens, $1.2 million; Texas Dental Association PAC, $1.2 million; and [Sen.] Royce West, $1.1 million. Almost everyone in this bunch is home free in election terms, either with no opponents or in a contest that's generally not considered to be competitive. Averitt has already resigned from the Senate and declined the GOP's nomination for another term. Wolens, a Democrat sometimes talked about as a potential statewide candidate, left the Legislature in 2004 and has been sitting on that bank account since then. Branch will face a Democrat and a Libertarian in November in a district that is, on paper, competitive but doesn't appear on most of the partisan target lists we've seen from the Democrats and Republicans. And Straus is a special case, with no race at home but a lot of incumbent Republicans in the House who'll need his help getting reelected.
The rest of the top 25: Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, $1.1 million; Border Health PAC, $1.1 million; Texans for Todd Staples, $1.1 million; [Sen.] Kevin Eltife, $1 million; and the North Texas Leadership PAC, $1 million. Associated Republicans of Texas, or ART, is an old-line Republican PAC that's been revivified this year to support Republicans challenging Democrats in statehouse races. (While PACs associated with Speaker Straus focus on protecting Republican incumbents, ART, among others, sends help to Republicans who are challenging incumbent Democrats. That keeps the speaker — who got into office with more votes from Democrats than from Republicans — a step away from efforts to unseat people who helped him. The Democratic members don't completely buy that; a recent memo from state Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, to House Democrats accused Straus of coordinating with ART and others to beef up his slim majority in the House.) The Border Health PAC — associated with South Texas businessman and hospital exec Alonzo Cantu — has been bipartisan with a Democratic lean. And the North Texas Leadership PAC is a new creation financed almost entirely by Dr. David Alameel, who started a chain of dentistry clinics in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and who has given almost exclusively to Democrats.
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