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Political money follows political power, and in Texas that means it’s mostly going to Republicans, who scooped up almost 90 cents of every dollar that’s gone into state campaign coffers so far in the 2018 election cycle.
Put another way: Donors pumped a total of $67 million into state-level campaigns from the beginning of 2017 through Jan. 25, and a whopping $57 million of it, or about 86 percent, went to GOP candidates, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. The top 20 recipients of state campaign largesse in Texas were all Republicans.
Gov. Greg Abbott dominates Texas fundraising like no other candidate, pulling in an astonishing $20 million during that period, or nearly a third of all the political money raised in state races since the beginning of last year. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick came in a distant second with $6.8 million raised over the last 13 months.
The Tribune analysis did not count congressional races, in which a handful of Democratic candidates — including U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — have turned in some strong fundraising totals and in some cases have out-raised their GOP counterparts.
The $67 million total includes donations made to both judicial and non-judicial candidates, legislators, the State Board of Education and other candidates whose donations are reported to the Texas Ethics Commission. Donations made from one candidate to another are counted as new donations and go toward the $67 million total.
The Democrat who raised the most money for the period was CPA Mike Collier of Houston, a candidate for lieutenant governor, with $388,701, the analysis shows. He ranked 21st on the fundraising list behind Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, an incumbent seeking re-election.
One Texas Democrat can claim bragging rights to the state’s third biggest campaign bank account: state Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, the longest serving member of the Texas Senate, had $8.6 million, but that was a far cry from Abbott’s $43.4 million or Patrick’s $12.6 million in cash on hand.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said the numbers underscore the degree to which “the Democratic Party barely exists” as an organization with resources. Democrats haven't won a statewide race in Texas since 1994.
“This really puts a number on that,” he said.
“To the extent that there are some indications out there that at the national level there is a Democratic wave coming … it shows that there are also factors in Texas that make for a pretty good breakwater if you’re a Republican,” Henson added.
House races pull in big money
Texas donors spent heavily on candidates for the state House of Representatives, where retirements and highly spirited Republican primary contests are driving donors to open their wallets to the tune of more than $21 million — almost a third of the total contributions. House members serve two-year terms, so all 150 seats are on the ballot every even-numbered year.
The most expensive House race so far has been in District 99’s Republican primary, where state Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and his primary challenger, Bo French, brought in nearly $700,000 combined.
In the Texas Senate, where not every incumbent is up for re-election in 2018, donors have given a little under $10 million so far. The most expensive Senate race at this point is the open GOP primary in District 8, where two candidates with family members already in high office — Phillip Huffines, brother of Sen. Don Huffines; and Angela Paxton, wife of Attorney General Ken Paxton — are duking it out for the seat held by outgoing state Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano.
Out-of-state donations pour into Texas
Out-of-state donors have pumped more than $4.5 million into state campaigns so far, and Abbott unsurprisingly scooped up the lion’s share — 29 percent, or about $1.3 million.
Abbott received $100,000 from California billionaire Ed Roski — who also donated $50,000 to Patrick — and a combined $75,000 from Charles and Elizabeth Koch and Koch Industries PAC. Republican Jewish Coalition Florida Chair Jeffrey Feingold and Washington lawyer and former White House aide C. Boyden Gray each contributed $50,000 to Abbott.
The next highest recipient of out-of-state dough was GOP Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who pulled in more than $600,000, followed by Patrick with $342,000 and Ken Paxton with $158,000 — including $100,000 from the Republican Attorneys General Association. Paxton’s Democratic challenger, Justin Nelson, was No. 5 with $81,000 from outside the Lone Star State.
Central Austin is still donor epicenter
It will shock no political insider to learn that that the most prolific zip code for state fundraising — 78701 — sits in central Austin, home to the state Capitol and, more importantly, most of the major corporate lobbyists and big special interest political action committees. That zip code accounted for more than $6 million in donations; the next two highest (with less than $2 million each) were 75225, which takes in the wealthy city of University Park near Dallas, and 75201, which straddles uptown and downtown Dallas.
Top PAC donors
Speaking of political action committees, the conservative Empower Texans PAC, fueled by huge donations from Midland oilman Tim Dunn and known as relentless critics of outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus (as well as Republicans who embrace him or moderate positions), shelled out the most money among PACs for the period by spending $1.5 million.
Next was Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC ($1 million), followed by Texas Right to Life PAC ($508,385), tax consultant Brint Ryan-associated Ryan Texas PAC ($360,000), the Austin lobbyist firm's Hillco PAC ($339,000) and the Border Health PAC ($306,000).
Abbott’s campaign dominated the PAC contributions, too, getting $250,000 from Fort Worth investment banker Geoffrey Raynor’s QPAC; $150,000 from the Gulf States Toyota PAC and $100,000 from the Ryan Texas PAC. Patrick didn’t come close to Abbott, but still picked up $125,000 from the Border Health PAC, $100,000 from Ryan Texas PAC and $50,000 from the Texas Dental Association PAC.
Mega-donors flock to GOP
Of the 20 largest individual donations going to a Republican candidate, Abbott had 15 of them, including a $1 million donation from ranchers Michael and Mary Porter. The governor got 12 donations of $250,000 — two of which (for a total of $500,000) came from Midland oilman and Abbott appointee Javaid Anwar, and two others (also for $500,000) came from Texas road builder James D. Pitcock, CEO of Williams Brothers Construction.
Other Abbott quarter-million-dollar club members for the cycle so far include pipeline magnate and Texas Parks & Wildlife Commissioner Kelcy Warren, Texas Central (bullet train) chairman and former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane, and Iranian-American businessman and former diplomat Hushang Ansary.
Beyond Abbott, House District 99 candidate Bo French, challenging Rep. Charlie Geren, got $200,000 from Empower Texans PAC, as did Sen. Bob Hall. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick had the last three donations, all for $150,000, on the top 20 list: from Houston billionaire and Gulf States Toyota CEO Dan Friedkin, Drayton McLane and Pitcock of Williams Brothers.
Democrats lag in big donations
The largest donation going to a Democrat came from the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Native of El Paso, known as the Tiguas, who gave one of their own federally-recognized members, MarySue Femath, $100,000 for her primary race against incumbent Rep. Mary González in House District 75. The amounts drop dramatically from there, with four Democrats receiving $25,000 donations.
Donors gave $1 million to candidates for the Texas Supreme Court, 76 percent of which went to Republicans; $170,000 to Texas Court of Criminal Appeals candidates, 89 percent of it to Republicans; and just $51,000 so far to State Board of Education races, where Republicans received 55 percent of the money.
The Tribune's analysis covers contributions reported so far in the 2018 election cycle, which includes campaign receipts from Jan. 1, 2017 through Jan. 25, the last day contributions were reported in the most recent campaign filings. Loans were not counted.
Hillco Partners, Gulf States Toyota and the Texas Dental Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.