Texas Congressional Delegation's Members Build, Share War Chests

Newly filed federal campaign finance reports telegraph which federal House members are worried about re-election, which are eager to ingratiate themselves to colleagues in Washington and who might be in legal trouble.

 Illustration by Todd Wiseman

WASHINGTON — How a member of Congress raises and spends campaign money can speak volumes. 

Newly filed federal campaign finance reports telegraph which federal House members are worried about re-election, which are eager to ingratiate themselves to colleagues in Washington and who might be in legal trouble. 

And for those who hope to oust an incumbent, a fundraising report can reflect not just a capacity to spend money on mail and television advertising — it can also indicate how serious of an organization the candidate is running. 

Here's what caught our eye from the second-quarter reports that were due last week from Texas candidates and incumbents: 

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The Battleground Republican

Thanks to his competitive district, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, is the most vulnerable incumbent in the delegation – and he’s fundraising like he knows it.

He raised more than $450,000 during the quarter, a solid sum compared with incumbents elsewhere in the country. He does, however, have a fairly high burn rate this early in the cycle. He spent $287,000, most of which went toward travel and fundraising fees. But also, his disbursements went toward debts to his media consultant and a personal loan — both outstanding costs from successful 2014 campaign.

Hurd is unique in that he is the only African-American GOP incumbent in election trouble. The national party is open about its aim to increase diversity in its ranks, and party leaders have telegraphed that keeping him in the 23rd Congressional District is a priority.

As such, at least 12 Republican delegation members donated to Hurd’s campaign this quarter, including U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions of Dallas and Roger Williams of Austin.

Other noteworthy donors include Sarah Palin and Right to Rise PAC, which was founded by presidential candidate Jeb Bush

Hurd reported $686,000 in cash on hand. 

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The Democrat Who Wants His Seat Back

Hurd’s expected opponent, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, trailed the incumbent by a 2-to-1 margin in fundraising for the quarter, Gallego's first as a declared 2016 congressional candidate.

Typically, the first quarter a candidate is in the race is one of a candidate’s strongest in fundraising, because of the low-hanging fruit available when donors are excited about a nascent campaign. 

While Hurd has built-in advantages as an incumbent, national party operatives say that Gallego — who lost his seat to Hurd in 2014 — has a tendency to amp up his fundraising later in the cycle.

If there were any doubts that his party is invested in the race, they should be put to bed with this report.

At least 19 members of his former caucus donated to Gallego this quarter, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and many of his former colleagues from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Texas Democratic Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio,Lloyd Doggett of Austin, Gene Green of Houston, Rubén Hinojosa of Edinburg, Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Filemon Vela of Brownsville also contributed to Gallego.

Gallego also had a low burn rate, spending only about $50,000. He reported $174,000 in cash on hand.

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The Republican Who Shouldn't Be in Election Trouble — But Is 

The other vulnerable incumbent, U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, continued to increase his quarterly haul, but he burned through more than half of it, much of it on legal costs related to a sexual harassment lawsuit against his office.

Farenthold spent $121,000 of the $180,000 he raised in the second quarter. But $38,000 worth of legal fees to a Washington, D.C., law firm heavily cut into his total.

"Congressman Farenthold is incredibly grateful to his supporters for standing with him and delivering an incredible second quarter that has exceeded all expectations,” his spokesman, Kurt Bardella, said in a statement. “It's a clear demonstration that Blake's level of support is both genuine and enthusiastic and demonstrates that he isn't taking anything for granted."

Much of the money he raised came from Corpus Christi-area donors and from aviation companies and trade associations. Farenthold sits on the House Transportation Committee.

At the end of June, he had $176,000 in cash on hand. Under normal circumstances, the 27th Congressional District is a safely Republican seat.

Presidential Campaign Donations

  • U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith’s leadership PAC gave U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign $5,000 in May. But the San Antonio Republican has not issued an endorsement of Cruz.
  • U.S. Rep. Joe Barton’s leadership gave Rick Perry's campaign $1,000 this quarter, foreshadowing his endorsement Friday for the former Texas governor.
  • Castro and fellow Democratic U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Al Green of Houston and Gene Green of Houston donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Cuellar and Gene Green endorsed Clinton in 2008, while Al Green was a superdelegate for then-Sen. Barack Obama. Castro was not in federal office at that point. 

Lots of Work Left for Challengers

Ousting a federal incumbent is no small chore. Besides Gallego, no other House challenger can boast of a well-funded, organized campaign. It is still early in the cycle, so there is still time for candidates to announce and build their campaigns.

  • Texas' 27th District: Farenthold may have campaign struggles, but there is little evidence that anyone is mounting a serious challenge at this point. Tea Party operatives pointed to ammunitions businessman John Harrington as a possible contender. He filed his statement of candidacy in May, but the Tribune was unable to locate his second-quarter fundraising report. Attempts to reach Harrington’s campaign were unsuccessful. Additionally, former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., a Democrat weighing a challenge, has yet to file paperwork for a possible campaign.
  • Texas' 21st District: Smith is not taking his re-election for granted. His Republican primary rival, Matt McCall, raised $41,000, spent $11,000 and has $32,000 in cash on hand. In comparison, Smith raised $251,000 and reported $864,000 in cash on hand. He is actively spending his money on campaign infrastructure, including $24,000 on a Wilson Perkins poll.  
  • Texas' 15th District: Former Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal, a Republican, announced in April his intent to challenge Hinojosa. But Villarreal did not officially declare his candidacy until last week, after the second-quarter fundraising period concluded. If Hinojosa feels threatened, it does not show in his report: He raised $5,000 and spent $20,000 — small sums for any House incumbent. He has about a quarter-million dollars in cash on hand. This has been a safely Democratic seat. 

Texans Who Are Team Players

The Texas map strongly favors the incumbent parties in each district — meaning most members of the delegation do not have to spend time worrying about re-election. But the national parties expect all members to contribute to the their House campaign arms and to vulnerable colleagues' campaigns. Doing so ingratiates one to leadership and to fellow members — which can translate to coveted spots in leadership and on choice committees. 

Some highlights of Texas Democrats sharing the wealth:

  • Castro gave $35,000 to the House Democratic campaign arm to help with races across the country – a reflection of his increased fundraising responsibilities since he moved up the leadership ladder in March. He donated to other Democratic campaigns around the country, including a donation to former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte’s unsuccessful San Antonio mayoral campaign.
  • Doggett gave $25,000 to the House Democratic campaign arm, while Al Green contributed $5,000. U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso also donated $500. 

On the Republican side, U.S. Reps. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, Pete Olson of Sugar Land and Sam Johnson of Plano donated to the campaigns of Republican members in competitive districts.

Also, a number of Texas Republicans also contributed to the House Republican campaign arm. Members who are committee chairmen have especially high fundraising expectations to meet. Among the donations:

  • Brady gave $22,000.
  • U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, gave $30,000.
  • U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, gave $60,000.
  • House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, gave $90,000
  • House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Austin, gave $10,000.
  • U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, gave $95,000. 
  • House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, gave $160,000. 

Other Odds and Ends

  • Sarah Palin donated $500 to U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler.
  • U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, gave himself about $2,500, paying back outstanding loans from his successful 2014 race against now-former U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall. U.S. Rep. Bill Flores paid himself back $25,000 for loans from his 2010 campaign, when he ousted Democrat Chet Edwards.
  • U.S. Reps. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, and Veasey accepted donations from the NFL’s “GRIDIRON PAC.” 
  • U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, loaned his campaign $50,000.