Like many Austinites, Susan Combs was outraged to learn how her local government prepared to welcome its first female-majority city council. The city manager’s office last March brought in a pair of speakers to lead a two-hour training session for staff on how to interact with women officeholders.
Among the insight they shared, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman: women are always asking questions, and they don’t much care for financial figures.
“That got me so angry,” Combs, who dealt almost solely with dollar signs during two terms as Texas comptroller, said in an interview. “I thought, what were we doing in 2015 if we treat women as second-class citizens?”
So she formed a 501(c)(4) nonprofit — called the The Anywhere Woman Project — that’s working on a multi-platform online space allowing women to ask questions and exchange ideas with each other.
To kick-start the project, which she is calling Herdacity, Combs is tapping her huge pile of campaign cash.
More than a year after retiring from her comptroller post at the beginning of 2015, the Republican still had roughly $5 million in her campaign account, donations accumulated during 15 years in statewide office and a briefly contemplated run for lieutenant governor.
Combs said she expects Herdacity to cost about $600,000, and by June the platform should be launched for beta testing across devices — computers, phones and tablets. It will consist of blog entries — some that Combs is writing — and a “virtual campfire,” a live forum where women would debate questions such as: Why is it hard to get ahead in your job?
“It’s going to have an online conversation — kind of like a weird mixture of LinkedIn, Facebook, et cetera,” Combs said. “I’m hoping this does something nationally for women.”
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Herdacity isn’t the only project benefitting from Combs’ leftover campaign cash.
The Republican is also underwriting a data project administered by Texas A&M University aiming to help Texans see which public schools are making best use of their tax dollars.
For several years, the Financial Allocation Study for Texas, better known as FAST, compares schools’ achievement with their spending — an effort to determine best practices. That effort began in Combs’ comptroller's office in 2009 when lawmakers directed it to study the issue. But the Legislature has since cut off its funding. The effort will continue under the name Texas Smart Schools.
Even after funding those projects, Combs should still have leftover campaign cash, and she’s continuing to contemplate where she might next pour it. Perhaps childhood obesity, a signature issue during her years as Texas agriculture commissioner (her job prior to being elected comptroller).
After leaving office, Texas elected officials must dispose of their campaign funds within six years.
“I really want to do things that are smart and beneficial to the public,” Combs said.