Give political donors an opportunity to say no, and they'll almost always accept it.
Delays in the primary dates aren't enough reason to hit the brakes — sooner or later, there will be an election. But the uncertainty over political lines — and which maps will be used for this year's elections — is dampening some candidates' ability to raise money.
"It would be a whole lot better if we knew who to ask," said Steve Ray, a Republican political consultant with several clients in districts that change dramatically from one map to the next.
Court fights over Texas redistricting maps have left the state's political world in limbo. The primaries, already moved from March 6 to April 3, could be moved again if the courts can't produce maps by the end of the month. For candidates, that's minor compared with the doubts over where those lines will fall. They've seen two sets of maps — one drawn by the Legislature, the other by a panel of federal judges in San Antonio. Those are different enough. But chances are good that the courts will produce a third set of maps for congressional and statehouse races.
Candidates aren't sure where the lines are, which incumbents will be defending which districts or which voters they ought to be talking to. Potential contributors don't know, either. For candidates, that means slogging along and hoping for the best. For donors, it's a reason to leave the phones off the hook.
"We've put a halt on everything. Contributions, everything, right now," said Mark Lehman, who runs the political action committees affiliated with the Texas Association of Realtors. "We don't know who's running and what districts they're running in."
That group has two huge PACs, with balances in the last week of December of $7.2 million and $6.1 million, respectively, according to filings with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Lehman said local boards of Realtors across the state "are interviewing anyone who walks in" about their races, and those boards will make recommendations to the state group. The candidates aren't waiting for the wheels to turn, either, calling the state association constantly. With the exception of a few candidates who had the group's endorsement early, they're getting the same answer: no endorsements, no contributions.
"The candidates call nonstop. But until we know exactly what the lines are, we've got an obligation to the people that invest in the PAC," Lehman said.
State Rep. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills is running for a promotion to a state Senate seat in Tarrant County. On one map, he'd be in a primary with fellow state Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth. On another, he'd be in a primary with fellow state Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie.
He's running for the seat no matter how the map is drawn, and that certainty, he said, has negated some of the risk of changing the lines. "They'll joke with me about it," he says of potential contributors. "But then they'll say, 'We're with you.' I don't take that for granted. I'm hearing the same thing you are about donors and maps."
His aim has been to show some financial strength when he files reports with the Texas Ethics Commission today. "You don't have to lay all five cards on the table, but you have to lay three down," he said.
Kyle Kacal, a Republican from Brazos County, is running for the Texas House. In both the map drawn by legislators and the one drawn by federal judges in San Antonio, he's in an open seat; the only change is the number of the district.
At one point in his campaign, he was talking to a crowd and his political consultant had to run up and whisper that he was running in House District 57 and not in House District 12. The maps had changed.
He's had pretty good luck raising money, but not what he'd hoped for. He has also picked up a couple of endorsements, including one from the political action committee of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (He has a cow-calf operation on his property and also some bird hunting.) "We have had some success," he said of his fundraising. "Has [the map delay] hindered us? Absolutely."
Republican Jim Pruitt, a former state district judge from Rockwall and the husband of Rockwall County's district attorney, is running for the Texas House in an open seat. The fundraising was going fine after the San Antonio judges released their map, but then the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the state's challenge to that map. The resulting uncertainty over the lines gave donors a reason to close their wallets. "A lot of them are just waiting to see what's happening," Pruitt said. "A lot of people are sitting back, sitting and waiting."
Some candidates don't have to fret. Pruitt would rather be raising money than not, but said he can self-fund his campaign for now. Republican Dave Garrison, a retired executive — he worked for USAA, Halliburton, and Aetna, among others — has taken contributions from his family and close friends, but not from others. He can self-fund, too. He'd be running in a congressional district that runs from south of Austin all the way to Tarrant County if the Legislature's map prevails. Under the court map, he'd be running in a district that runs from south of Austin to south of his native San Antonio.
"I had a fundraiser up in Burnet County and had almost every elected official there show up as a host," he said. "I told them to keep their money in their pockets until we know what these districts are going to look like."
Garrison wants donors to see that he's investing in himself first, and said he would be giving back money that came into his accounts from people who end up in other congressional districts. And his ability to self-fund might actually turn this to his advantage. Other candidates will still be raising money after he's spending all of his time campaigning. That's particularly true, he said, if the time between the release of the maps and the primary elections is short.
As for candidates who either cannot self-fund or don't want to do so, qualms over the maps have given donors a reason to say no — at least for the time being.
"If they're looking for an out, this is one," Kacal said.