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GOP Ag Commissioner Candidates Largely Self-Funded

Those who appear to be most interested in donating to the Republican candidates for Texas agriculture commissioner are — wait for it — Republican candidates for agriculture commissioner.

Republican candidates for Agriculture Commission (l-r): Tommy Merritt, J Allen Carnes, Eric Opiela and Sid Miller.

Those who appear to be most interested in donating to the Republican candidates for Texas agriculture commissioner are — wait for it — Republican candidates for agriculture commissioner. 

Of the nearly $2 million in combined cash on hand that the four Republican candidates in the race reported on Wednesday, $1.5 million was loaned to their campaigns, most of it by the candidates themselves. Some also donated money to their own campaigns on top of those loans. (The reports cover campaign finance activities between July and December of 2013.)

Eric Opiela, a lawyer for the state Republican Party, reported the most cash on hand of all the candidates, about $1.2 million. Nearly all of that appears to have come from Opiela himself: His campaign finance report shows several personal donations to his campaign totaling $600,000, along with three loans of $250,000, one of which is listed in an earlier report. 

Tommy Merritt, a former state representative who reported about $534,000 cash on hand, also lent his campaign $500,000, according to his latest campaign filing. Of the $37,350 in total contributions his report lists between July and December, $25,000 came from himself.

Farmer and Uvalde Mayor J Allen Carnes lent himself $50,000 in the latest campaign finance cycle, and reported $121,330 in available cash. His report is the only one of the four Republican candidates that lists significant contributions from agricultural interest groups, including $25,000 from the Texas Farm Bureau, which recently endorsed him, and $10,000 from the Texas Beef Political Action Committee, which is the political arm of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association. He also received a $15,000 donation from Janey Briscoe Marmion, Carnes' campaign treasurer and the daughter of former Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe.

Former state Rep. Sid Miller is being investigated by the Texas Ethics Commission for lending himself money during previous campaigns and then personally profiting from the interest he charged, a practice that was outlawed by Texas legislators in 2011. Miller says he did nothing wrong because it wasn't prohibited at the time.

His latest report shows $127,000 cash on hand, including nearly $32,000 in personal loans. His treasurer, Brad Allen, loaned Miller's campaign $100,000, and another campaign staffer, Todd Smith, donated $30,000 worth of consulting work, according to the report.

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