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Politics, like farming or television, has its regular seasons. There’s the election season that just ended, and the governing season that follows.
In Texas politics, the season of groveling — it’s also known as “the late train,” “sack-dragging” and the more functional “fundraising” — comes in between.
Fundraising actually goes on most of the time. Candidates go through a yearlong stretch that begins in the last two months of odd-numbered years, in the lead-up to filing for office. It continues in earnest leading up to the March party primaries and, for an unlucky few, into May runoff elections. The visits and phone calls to donors continue through the summer and peak again in the fall, as candidates get closer to the November general elections.
And then there’s a last time to grovel.
Now is that time.
The general election is over. In the week after Election Day, state legislators and legislators-to-be begin filing bills in advance of the regular session that starts in January. In less than two weeks, they filed more than 600 proposals for new state laws and constitutional amendments.
More quietly (unless you’ve got money and a proclivity for giving to officeholders and office-seeking pols), state officials from the top of the ballot to the bottom are raising money.
The politicians are trying to beat a deadline — a fundraising blackout that begins Dec. 8 — a month before the legislative session — and continues through June 16 — 20 days after the end of the session.
During the blackout, legislators and elected officials in the state government’s executive branch are barred from raising money.
Some of that is for appearance’s sake: It would be unseemly to be able to raise money at the same time you’re voting on legislation that could affect the donors, wouldn’t it? The ban continues after the session to cover the period during which the governor can veto legislation. He — and others — aren’t allowed to raise money until the entire lawmaking machine comes to a stop.
Deadlines create rushes. At the moment, the state politicians have just over two weeks to raise money for their campaign accounts. Some are trying to pay off loans made to their recent campaigns — easier for the winners, who can still vote on legislation, than for the losers, who cannot. Some are trying to bank enough money to cover allowed spending during the legislative session. And many are raising money now because donors are accustomed to writing checks at this time of year.
There’s another money crunch ahead. In the last two weeks of June — between the end of the blackout period and a mid-year campaign finance reporting deadline — many of these same folks will be back. That one has a slightly different purpose, with incumbents trying to raise enough money for their mid-year reports to scare off potential rivals. For them, that will mark the beginning of the 2020 campaign season.
While the post-session finance rush is built around future campaigns — not to mention donors’ appreciation for whatever happened to their bills during the legislative session — the motives of a pre-session finance rush are different.
Making friends before a legislative session is an obvious benefit. Donors want to be able to call on people, and people who’ve given money often land in shorter queue, a kind of TSA PreCheck line for government attention.
But there is another reason: This is a good time to seek forgiveness. Lots of political donors who are interested in ongoing relationships with legislators and other pols bet on the wrong candidates in the general election. Coming around after the voting and before the session gives them a chance to, in effect, kiss and make up.
They call that “catching the late train.” There’s just enough time left.