Campaign Finance Reports Shine Light on 2016 Texas Money Race

The first major wave of presidential campaign finance disclosures is offering the fullest picture yet of what role Texas is playing in the 2016 money race. And some of the takeaways may surprise you.

 Illustration by Jacob Villanueva

The first major wave of presidential campaign finance disclosures is offering the fullest picture yet of what role Texas, long known for its deep pool of political cash, is playing in the 2016 money race.

The takeaways are as numerous as the Republican candidates flocking to the state to fill their campaign coffers. Some are predictable — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry are leaning heavily on the state for campaign cash — but others are less expected, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's inroads with top donors despite having few ties to the state politically or personally.

Some allegiances are becoming clear, but the dash for cash seems far from settled, with some top givers splitting their loyalties and others sitting out for now, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of campaign finance records through June 30.

Under federal law, campaigns only have to provide detailed information about donors — including their home state — for those who give more than $200. That makes it impossible to measure the full involvement of Texas donors in each campaign, but nonetheless provides enough information to determine where a candidate's larger contributions are coming from. 

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Unsurprisingly, the Republican candidates receiving the highest share of these $200-plus contributions from Texas are the two from the state, Cruz (73 percent) and Perry (69 percent). But while the two are no doubt duking it out for dollars in their home state, the biggest threat to any candidate's fundraising in Texas appears to be former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush, the beneficiary of his family's vast political network in the state, has already reeled in some of the biggest whales, including Dallas oil billionaires T. Boone Pickens, Ray Hunt and Trevor Rees-Jones. He also has heavyweight bundlers on his side, including Tyler oil and gas attorney Gaylord Hughey and Houston beer distributor John Nau.

And even this early in the campaign cycle, Bush seems to have achieved a high degree of donor loyalty: He appears to have the exclusive support of most of his major Texas donors, very few of whom gave to campaigns other than his. 

Some major Republican donors in Texas are nonetheless hedging their bets, giving to multiple candidates. San Antonio car dealer and businessman Red McCombs donated to both Cruz and Perry; Houston Texans owner Robert McNair gave to U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rubio; Dallas investor Robert Rowling donated to Cruz and Rubio; former Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks contributed to Cruz and Rubio; and Dallas telecommunications executive Kenny Troutt gave to Perry and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. 

At the same time, some of Texas' most prolific GOP donors appear to be sitting on the sidelines so far in the presidential cycle. Notably, Dallas developer Ross Perot Jr. did not show up on any campaign finance reports for the second quarter. Neither did Fort Worth philanthropist Ramona Bass, though several other members of the influential family gave money to Bush, Cruz, Perry and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. 

They could be funneling money into the race through other avenues, like super PACs that can raise unlimited sums and do not have to publicize their finances until the end of this month. Or they could be backing a candidate who started his or her bid after June 30, the most recent filing deadline for campaign finance reports.

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Perhaps one of the biggest surprises from the disclosures involves Rubio. He has nowhere near the longstanding Texas ties shared by some of his GOP foes, but his donor list indicates he has had no problem making inroads with some of the state's top GOP moneymen. Several of the bold-faced names on his report: Harlan Crow, Lowry Mays and L.E. Simmons, all top bundlers for 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, as well as major givers such as Hicks, McNair and Rowling.

Annette Simmons, the philanthropist widow of GOP megadonor Harold Simmons, also gave to Rubio's campaign, her only contribution to a presidential bid during the second quarter. She has previously donated to a political action committee supporting Rubio, though it remains unclear how involved she plans to be in the 2016 race.

Rubio's Senate colleague, Rand Paul, appears to have had a harder time finding deep pockets in Texas, though, like Cruz, Paul's fundraising strength has always been in his appeal to smaller-dollar donors. Paul, who grew up in Lake Jackson and went to Baylor University, nonetheless collected 20 percent of his $7 million haul from Texas — the fourth highest percentage in the GOP field. 

Several past and present state lawmakers also opened their wallets for GOP candidates. Bush received donations from House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio, former Sen. John Carona of Dallas, Sen. Kevin Eltife of Tyler and former state Rep. Vicki Truitt of Keller. Perry got money from Rep. Bill Zedler of Arlington and former state Sen. Robert Duncan of Lubbock. State Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas and Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford gave to Paul, Rep. Jim Keffer to Huckabee and Rep. Gary Elkins of Houston to Cruz. Former comptroller Susan Combs appears to have donated to the campaign of former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

On the Democratic side, the money race is shaping up to be more predictable. Front-runner Hillary Clinton raised tens of millions of dollars with the help of reliable allies in Texas, including megadonor lawyers Amber Mostyn of Houston and Marc Stanley of Dallas. Among the more recognizable politicos who gave to Clinton's campaign were state Rep. Ina Minjarez of San Antonio, Annie's List Executive Director Patsy Woods Martin and Henry Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio and a big booster of U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro's vice presidential prospects.

Clinton's campaign voluntarily released a list of her bundlers, so-called "Hillblazers" who have helped raise $100,000 or more in campaign cash for the primary election. Ten Hillblazers, or about 8 percent of them, hail from Texas, including Jose Villarreal, the San Antonio attorney who serves as her campaign treasurer, and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, whose twin brother is Julián Castro. 

Under federal law, candidates are only required to release the names of their bundlers if they are lobbyists. The only bundler-lobbyist from Texas disclosed for the second quarter was former U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler, who is raising money for Bush. 

Disclosure: T. Boone Pickens, Red McCombs, Robert Rowling and Amber Mostyn are major donors to The Texas Tribune. Ross Perot Jr. and Vicki Truitt are donors to the Tribune. The Harold Simmons Foundation is a major donor to the Tribune, as is the Sid Richardson Foundation — the philanthropic arm of Ramona Bass's family. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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