State Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster against abortion legislation last month and the very public debate that trailed into a second special legislative session boosted donations to the Fort Worth Democrat and to a number of other political organizations during the last days of June.
Filibusters don’t usually get much attention, but this one did: The Tribune’s livestream of the proceedings in the Texas Senate peaked at 182,000 viewers, and commentary from all sides lit up Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels.
The filibuster was successful, but only delayed legislation that was easily approved by conservative lawmakers during a second special session and signed by Gov. Rick Perry last week.
But it gave Democrats across the country a rare red-state rallying point, and some of them responded by opening their checkbooks.
Davis' campaign raised nearly $1 million in the last two weeks of June — the overwhelming majority of it between her filibuster on June 25 and the end of the campaign finance reporting period on June 30.
She also reported an unusually high number of unitemized contributions — donations of less than $50 — that have to be reported but that don’t require candidates to collect names and addresses of donors. In Davis’ case, those totaled $271,000.
The financial effect of the filibuster and the Senate meltdown that followed is evident in some of the campaign finance reports filed by candidates and political groups last week. Donors also gave nonpolitical money to groups involved on all sides of the abortion debate — contributions that don’t have to be reported to the state.
And most of the money that rolled into political accounts at the end of the reporting period had to do with a quirk of the calendar. Texas officeholders are barred from raising money during a legislative session, and they had only two weeks to ask for contributions. Several, especially Republicans running for statewide office, raised huge amounts of money during the second half of June — and probably would have done so no matter what was going on in the Legislature. (See our interactive analyzer for a look at their reports.) Their financial hauls, in many cases, dwarfed those of the Democrats, and several reported seven-figure totals: Greg Abbott, $4.8 million; George P. Bush, $2.1 million; Dan Branch, $1.8 million; David Dewhurst, $1.2 million; and Todd Staples, $1 million.
The political contributions spurred by the filibuster, however, appeared to favor the left.
Battleground Texas raised $1.1 million during the first six months of the year, including almost $406,000 during the six days that began with the filibuster. That group was formed earlier this year with a long-term goal of organizing Democrats in Texas and making a solidly Republican state competitive in a way that it hasn’t been for almost two decades.
Annie’s List, which backs abortion-rights-supporting female Democrats running for the state Legislature, raised $85,259 during those last six days — more than 12 percent of what it raised during the first half of the year. The group began sending fundraising emails to supporters while Davis was still filibustering, raising $25,000 from donors during a four-hour online drive that started before the Senate finished its work that night.
The group’s fundraising push eventually included seven separate email pleas, according to Grace Garcia, the executive director of Annie’s List. “Some of it was generated not by a direct appeal from us, but by people who have worked with us before and were inspired by this,” she said.
Some of the money went to Davis’ own campaign. The group, which contributed some $450,000 to Davis’ 2012 re-election bid, gave $50,000 to campaign on the last day of the most recent period.
Some didn’t seize the opportunity. The Texas Democratic Party didn’t report a surge in contributions at the end of the filing period. And the Lone Star Project, a Democratic outfit based in Washington, decided not to capitalize on the drama. “Where the Lone Star Project benefits is from our early and vocal support for Wendy,” said Matt Angle, who heads the organization.
Others are just getting off the ground. “Stop Wendy Davis Now” was formed by Holly Turner, a former legislative candidate from Austin and the spouse of a Republican political consultant.
It didn’t report any contributions yet, but it hasn’t had much time: Turner sent in the initial paperwork on June 26 — the day after the filibuster.