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An Austin couple gave $2 million to Beto O’Rourke, making up his largest donations yet in his campaign against cash-flush Gov. Greg Abbott.
Simone and Tench Coxe each wrote O’Rourke’s campaign a $1 million check earlier this year, Simone Coxe said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. Both are philanthropists and investors who have long been politically active, with Tench Coxe supporting both parties over the years.
Their donations to O’Rourke and others are set to be disclosed on a campaign finance report due Friday and expected to be posted Saturday.
“We believe that state government is really important and we believe in good governance, and we believe good governance requires some checks and balances on the system,” Simone Coxe said in an interview. “Looking at the way [Texas] is structured in terms of the gerrymandering … the only real opportunity to put a check on the state Legislature is through the statewide race, and we think Beto is an extraordinary candidate.”
The Coxes’ donations are part of a historic $27.6 million haul that O'Rourke announced Friday morning. The figure covers late February through June, and it bested Abbott's fundraising for the same period, which totaled $24.9 million, according to his campaign.
Abbott has his own donors who have contributed seven figures at a time, especially in recent years. They include people like Dallas pipeline billionaire Kelcy Warren, whose $1 million donation to the governor after the 2021 power grid failure has proven especially controversial. O’Rourke has assailed it as bribery, and Warren has sued O’Rourke for defamation over the attacks.
For O’Rourke, though, the two $1 million checks are much larger than any donations he has ever received in his political career. O’Rourke, a former congressman and presidential candidate, has previously been bound by federal election rules that cap contributions. In fact, some of O’Rourke’s biggest donations until now were from the Coxes, who each gave him $50,000 shortly after he announced his candidacy in November of last year.
Simone and Tench Coxe moved to Austin from Palo Alto, California, in January 2021. Simone Coxe co-founded the public relations firm Blanc & Otus, where she served as CEO for 15 years, and she more recently co-founded CalMatters, the California news nonprofit. Tench Coxe is a former venture capitalist.
Simone Coxe has been a prolific political donor in her own right, mainly giving to Democrats, including O’Rourke when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2018. Her husband, however, has a more bipartisan giving history, especially prior to the 2016 presidential election. For example, he gave to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, as well as the Republican National Committee that year.
“We’re pretty middle of the road,” Simone Coxe said. “We’re moderates, and I’m more of a liberal moderate than he is probably. But I think that’s how we would both describe ourselves. We need commonsense solutions.”
She said the couple has been drawn to O’Rourke’s positions on public education, health care and the economy. They support abortion rights, but Simone Coxe acknowledged O’Rourke would have a hard time reversing the state’s stringent abortion restrictions with a Republican-led Legislature. Still, she expressed hope that he could be a “moderating influence” on those kinds of issues as governor.
This is O’Rourke’s first campaign at the state level, where there are no contribution limits. While O’Rourke has long crusaded against big money in politics, he said when he launched his campaign he would take advantage of uncapped donations, saying he did not want to “run this campaign with a hand tied behind our backs.”
In a statement on the Coxes' donations, an O'Rourke spokesperson, Chris Evans, said the campaign was "going to do everything necessary to ensure our organizers and more than 78,000 volunteers have the resources" to win the race.
“I would make a distinction between special-interest large contributions and kind of general-people public interest,” Simone Coxe said. “We have no agenda other than debate and dialogue.”
“No strings attached,” she added. “Nothing we want out of anything other than good leadership.”
Disclosure: Tench and Simone Otus Coxe 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.
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