The elections are over. Campaign fundraising is not.
If anything, it is surging.
State officeholders — the re-elected and the newly elected — are raising money before a Dec. 13 deadline that prohibits them from accepting political contributions until June 22, a period that includes the regular legislative session every other year and a three-week veto period that follows it.
The ban prevents lawmakers from taking money while they are casting votes that could affect contributors. It protects the lawmakers from unsavory donors who might want to buy votes, even as it protects potential contributors from unsavory officeholders who might put their votes up for silent auction. It also quiets the fundraising machines during the holiday season in even-numbered years (but not in the odd-numbered ones).
The rules keep Austin fundraising venues hopping during the weeks between Election Day and the December cutoff. It is a period when donors are hoping to mend relations with candidates they opposed in the elections — called getting on the late train. Officeholders are trying to build their accounts, both as a show of strength to ward off competitors and to cover expenses during the legislative session. Those costs include travel not paid by the state and salary supplements for their high-paid employees and political staff.
That last use often goes unmentioned. But Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick’s fundraisers put it front and center last month in notes to potential donors, telling them that Patrick’s goal was “to raise enough money to supplement staff salaries and conduct the office of the lieutenant governor with decorum until he can build up his reserves again over time.”
Patrick’s campaign is $1.8 million in debt — money the Republican state senator lent to his campaign — and hopes to pay that back. For now, however, he is leading with office expenses.
The Austin Club is often an interesting place to watch the comings and goings of politicians, lobbyists and others who are busy giving or receiving.
Not all of this happens there, however, or even in Austin.
Patrick had a fundraiser this week featuring Gov. Rick Perry at The Crescent in Dallas, followed by one the next day in the capital city, where the giving levels ranged from “friend” at $1,000 to “underwriter” at $50,000.
Steakhouses, hotel meeting rooms and even lobbyists’ offices fill the bill. The Republican House speaker, Joe Straus, held a reception this week at an Austin hotel, with fundraising slots for “Team Straus MVPs” — those giving or raising $50,000 through the year — down to $500 a person. The invitation listed a baker’s dozen in the first group, and 39 more for the $25,000 apiece “Team Straus All-Stars.” Those are big numbers, relatively speaking: Unlike statewide elected officials, Straus was elected as a state representative and then chosen as the speaker by members of the House.
Some politicians travel in packs for fundraising purposes, as Reps. Dwayne Bohac and Dan Huberty, and Rep.-elect Mike Schofield did this week, holding an Austin fundraiser with three hands out in place of just one.
It does not seem to matter whether a candidate had a tough race; for instance, Marisa Marquez, an El Paso Democrat, easily beat a primary challenger and an independent opponent in the general election, but she has an Austin fundraiser scheduled before the deadline.
In the case of Sen. Carlos Uresti, Democrat of San Antonio, it does not matter that he had a race at all. Uresti, in the middle of a four-year term, was not on this year’s ballot, but he is on next week’s dance card, with a fundraiser in Austin.
The fundraising deadline also applies to political committees set up to “support, oppose or assist a statewide officeholder or member of the Legislature,” and to legislative caucuses. The deluge of come-ons includes pleas for noncandidates like the Young Texans Legislative Caucus, the Texas House Farm-to-Table Caucus and the Texas Legislative Study Group.
The deadline does not apply to officeholders running in elections during the legislative session — House members running for open Senate seats, for example — or to those running for federal office, even if they are legislators actively working on proposed bills and other business.
Everybody else is in a fever. Their deadline is a week away.