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For Congress, Fundraising Can Never Begin Too Early

Members of Congress from Texas — and potential candidates for those offices — have raised more than $9 million in the first quarter of this year in advance of the 2012 federal elections, campaign records show.

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With the last congressional campaign barely over, another has already begun, and candidates in Texas are not wasting any time. Members of Congress from Texas — and potential candidates for those offices — have raised more than $9 million in the first quarter of this year in advance of the 2012 federal elections, campaign records show.

The speed at which Texas candidates are pulling in money to pay staffers, purchase advertising and spend on other campaign needs is on pace to surpass the last election cycle. In that election, which helped propel Republicans to a majority in the lower chamber, candidates and incumbents in Texas raised about $57 million in two years, records show.

The fundraising effort reflects the modern campaign cycle and the $2,500 limit on individual donations — both of which require candidates to perpetually seek campaign money, rather than only during the immediate run-up to an election.

“They have to do it year-round,” said Jason Stanford, a Texas-based political consultant who manages campaigns for Democrats across the country. “These races are unfathomably expensive.”

The fundraising this cycle is boosted by the competitive race for the U.S. Senate, in which at least seven Republican candidates are vying for the seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Those candidates have amassed more than $5 million, a figure higher than the money raised by the more than 40 candidates and incumbents in House races combined.

In the first three months of 2011, the various candidates for federal offices spent about $3.7 million, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that researches and reports on the effects of money and politics. Including sums raised in previous years, the various candidates now have about $24 million left in the bank.

Among House candidates, the fundraising leader is Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Dallas Republican who chairs the Republican Conference. He has collected more than $450,000, followed by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. He has raised more than $380,000.

[View an interactive map of U.S. House members' fundraising].

Leadership roles and committee chairmanships can make members cash magnets, allowing them to help their current and future colleagues financially, and also to fend off potential challengers in their own districts. “Those who are in leadership, and those who want to get into leadership, know that it’s part of their duty to help elect other members,” said Carla Eudy, a Washington-based political consulting fundraiser who served as finance chairwoman for former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas.

As for the Senate race, only Republicans have declared their candidacies so far. Tom Leppert, the former mayor of Dallas, led the way with more than $2.6 million raised, a figured boosted by a $1.6 million personal loan. Leppert is followed by Ted Cruz, a former state solicitor general, who raised just over $1 million with a $70,000 loan. Not including loans and other types of receipts, including investments with campaign funds, the candidates have raised a total of about $5.6 million from individual donors. Another $1.6 million has come from political action committees.

While political candidates need campaign money to run for election or perhaps to help their colleagues in vulnerable districts, some worry that the endless fundraising may distract legislators from doing the jobs they were elected to do.

“The more time you spend fundraising, the less time you have for governing, or meeting with your constituents,” said Dave Levinthal, a journalist and communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics. “At the end of the day, the job that they are being elected to do is becoming less of an overall part of what they are doing, for better or worse."

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