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Texas Governor's Race: Analyzing the Money

The candidates for Texas governor have been raising millions for their campaigns since last summer. The Tribune identified their top donors, famous givers and other noteworthy contributions.

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*Correction appended

A year can fly by when you’re raising millions of dollars, and that’s what Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis — the major party candidates for Texas governor — have been doing since last summer.

Abbott launched his campaign on July 14 last year. Davis didn’t make it official until Oct. 3, but for all practical purposes her campaign — particularly the financial component of it — began on June 25, the night she stopped (at least temporarily) a restrictive abortion bill during an hours-long filibuster on the Senate floor.

Their latest financial reports were turned in to the Texas Ethics Commission on July 15, and The Texas Tribune crunched the numbers, analyzed the data and researched the major donors to both candidates over the last year 

Abbott overall: Abbott has collected a staggering amount of cold, hard cash — enough to allow him to control the TV airwaves until November if he wants. First elected attorney general in 2002, Abbott has cultivated a network of fabulously wealthy Texans who helped him amass $20 million in his war chest before the race even began. Since his campaign launch, Abbott raised some $28 million and spent about $12 million. He had $35.6 million in the bank — the largest cash-on-hand figure ever reported in Texas. Abbott has raised $1.6 million from out of state (5.6 percent of the total). Only $886,114 (about 3 percent of the total) came in the form of noncash “in kind” donations, most of it for air travel and staging political or fundraising events.

Davis overall: Davis became an overnight political star when she launched her filibuster of a restrictive abortion bill on June 25 last year. Since then, she has raised $18.2 million and spent $9.7 million via her Senate and gubernatorial campaign committees. At last count, she had $8.8 million in the two accounts she exclusively controls. At least $5 million of the money came from outside Texas, much of it in small donations. Unlike Abbott, a large chunk of the money she raised (about $2.5 million, or 14 percent) came in the form of in-kind donations.

The Davis campaign also has a contribution sharing arrangement with Battleground Texas, a group of former Obama operatives working to make conservative Texas a competitive state. Davis splits proceeds 50-50 with Battleground from their joint Texas Victory Committee. The TVC has raised almost $10 million so far, and it had distributed about $2.5 million of it to the Davis campaign as of June 30, records show. The TVC had $3.2 million in the bank at the end of June.


Abbott’s famous donors:

  • New York billionaire Donald Trump, $35,000
  • Actor Chuck Norris and wife Gena, $15,000
  • Former Dallas Cowboy Troy Aikman, $10,000
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s political action committee, HUCK PAC, $1,000
  • Sarah Palin’s PAC, Sarah PAC, $5,000

Davis' famous donors (all contributions to Texas Victory Committee unless otherwise noted):

  • Musician Willie Nelson, $250,000 (in-kind donation of backyard concert to Texas Victory Committee)
  • TV producer Marcia Carsey, $100,000
  • Director Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw, $25,000
  • Film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and wife Marilyn, $25,000
  • Actress Jennifer Garner, $25,000
  • Singer James Taylor, $15,000 (to Davis campaign)
  • Actor Matt Damon, $5,000
  • Actor Leonard Nimoy and wife Susan, $1,250
  • Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, $1,000
  • Singer Barbra Streisand, $1,000 (to Davis campaign)
  • Actress Carrie Fisher, $1,000
  • Director Judd Apatow, $1,000
  • Actor Tom Hanks, $250 

Abbott’s noteworthy donations:

Gambling interests have donated at least $450,000 to Abbott, including a combined $99,500 from the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations in Oklahoma and $254,000 from restaurateur and Golden Nugget casino owner Tilman Fertitta.

Austin lobbyists, including longtime Perry friend and ally Mike Toomey, have donated at least $160,000.

Besides Hildebrand, current UT regents who have given to Abbott include board Chairman Paul Foster ($175,000), Alex Cranberg ($75,000), Steven Hicks and wife Donna ($50,000) and Gene Powell ($25,000). Former UT regent Robert Rowling gave $250,000.

His largest out-of-state donor was libertarian-leaning PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who gave $100,000.

Trial lawyer Tony Buzbee gave Abbott $110,000.

Abbott also received more than $2.2 million from special interest political action committees, including those advancing the interests of Texans for Lawsuit Reform ($113,000), Brint Ryan’s Dallas-based tax services firm ($100,000) and AT&T ($50,000).

Abbott received $100,000 from the billionaire Koch family and its related political action committee.

Davis’ noteworthy donations:

Davis received $200,000 from trial lawyer Walter Umphrey of Beaumont and his law firm. He is one of five lawyers who split $3.3 billion in fees from the state’s settlement with tobacco companies. (He also gave Battleground Texas — via the Texas Victory Committee — $100,000.)

William Austin Ligon, co-founder of CarMax and chairman of, gave the Texas Victory Committee $300,000. The money was undistributed as of June 30.

Davis says she has raised money from a record 140,000 contributors, but about 70 percent of them (representing $3.25 million of the money she says she raised) are anonymous, according to a San Antonio Express-News analysis. Reporting those contributions anonymously is legal, because the donations are so small they don’t meet the reporting threshold. 


About our analysis: The Davis campaign includes in its campaign numbers all of the money raised by Battleground Texas. In this analysis, the Tribune does not include money in Battleground’s account, because its funding is not under her exclusive control and its activities also benefit other Democratic candidates. The analysis does count in-kind contributions to Davis from Battleground and distributions made to the Davis campaign from the joint fundraising vehicle known as the Texas Victory Committee. 

Disclosure: The Harold Simmons Foundation, Javaid Anwar, Steve Mostyn, Lee Fikes, Paul Foster, Tony Buzbee, William Austin Ligon, Aimee Boone, Naomi Aberly, Steve Hicks, Robert Rowling and Richie Ray have been major donors to The Texas Tribune.  A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that Richie Ray was opposed to regulation of compounding pharmacies. A spokesman for Ray says he favors "responsible regulation."

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Campaign finance Greg Abbott Wendy Davis