Gov. Greg Abbott's nine-day, $8.27 million fundraising demonstration last month not only dwarfed everyone else's — it astonished everyone else.
Other candidates and officeholders raised respectable amounts of money during the first half of the year — or what used to be respectable amounts.
Abbott might have changed the whole game.
This was a strange fundraising period, because it included a regular session of the Texas Legislature. Those sessions come with fundraising blackouts designed to prevent the appearance that political supporters were directly paying state officeholders for their votes and influence.
It’s hard enough for officeholders to avoid such appearances when the votes and the money are kept months or weeks apart. And there have been moments where the stench of influence-peddling was particularly strong, like when Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim, the northeast Texas chicken mogul, handed out $10,000 checks on the Senate floor during a 1989 special session on workers’ compensation legislation that had a potentially huge effect on his business.
Because of the campaign finance blackout, current state officeholders had only nine days of legal fundraising time during the first half of the year. After the governor’s June 21 deadline for considering bills, the gates opened, the fundraising arms of the campaigns were cut loose, and the money started to flow.
Abbott’s take, on average, was over $918,488 per day — or $38,270 per hour. That’s a damn good rate, even for a lawyer and former judge who occupies the state’s highest office.
He ended the first six months of the year with $17.8 million in the bank.
It would be fair for you to say that this is not news. Texas is a big state — a remarkably expensive place to run a political campaign or to keep a political operation alive between election cycles. But Abbott is taking things to another level. He cleared the post-Rick Perry field of gubernatorial candidates simply by displaying the size of his campaign treasury.
At mid-year 2012, Abbott had an $18 million bankroll. A year later, it was $27 million. One year ago, he had $35.6 million on hand.
No candidate for governor has ever had that sort of financial armory available to them, with the exception of Tony Sanchez Jr., the rich Democrat who spent tens of his own millions of dollars in a failed bid to oust Rick Perry in 2002.
With the big shots scared out of the race, three people you probably never heard of — and might not hear from again — challenged Abbott in the 2014 GOP primary, holding him to a scant 91.49 percent of the vote. He won the general election against Democrat Wendy Davis and three others with 59.27 percent of the vote.
The voters like him a lot. The money people like him even more. And here’s why that’s worth a look: Other prominent officeholders turned in really good numbers at mid-year, also working under that odd nine-day restraint. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick raised $2.1 million and has $4.9 million on hand. House Speaker Joe Straus raised a mere $282,385, but ended the period with $8.1 million in the bank. Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general, raised $395,821 and has $2.5 million on hand.
Perry, no slouch at campaign finance, typically did not show much in the mid-year fundraising reports in legislative session years. His best effort was in 2009, when he raised $4.2 million in nine days.
Abbott bested them all, but he also bested Greg Abbott. He has raised more money in a few of his reports, but not with those kinds of deadlines. During the second six months of 2013, for instance, Abbott raised $11.6 million. And he raised $11.1 million in the three and a half months between the 2014 primary and June 30 of that year.
Impressive, even for the then-attorney general who was an odds-on favorite to win four years of free housing in the Texas Governor’s Mansion.
But it’s even easier, the evidence would suggest, for the state’s best political fundraiser to bring in money now that he is also the state’s top elected official. The proof is in the numbers.