Governor Greg Abbott made headlines this week when he literally defunded the Texas legislature. But lawmakers still have options, namely your campaign donations.
Abbott declared election integrity a priority item for lawmakers to tackle in this year’s legislative session, which ran from January through Memorial Day. Proponents of election integrity efforts claim changes are needed to curtail voting fraud, while opponents condemn such efforts as voter suppression.
After the Texas Senate passed election reform bill SB7, it stalled in the House. With only hours to go before the session would end, Republican Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan allowed a group of Texas Democrats to leave, which effectively broke quorum (the minimum amount of lawmakers required to be present in order to do business). When those Democrats left, any chance for the election integrity legislation left with them.
The event garnered national attention when Vice President Kamala Harris met with 16 Texas Democrats in the White House and praised them for thwarting what she described as a law designed to make it “more difficult for people to vote.” She used the occasion to call for the U.S. Senate to pass the For the People Act, which would federalize elections.
In contrast, Abbott condemned those lawmakers, and vetoed Article 10 of the Texas budget, which funded lawmakers’ salaries as well as their office overhead and staff salaries.
“Texans don’t run from a legislative fight, and they don’t walk away from unfinished business,” Abbott said. “Funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session. I therefore object to and disapprove of these appropriations.”
Lawmakers will be called back to Austin for at least two special sessions, which are additional 30-day meetings in Austin to handle unfinished business. It’s rumored that Abbott will put election integrity measures on the list of items that lawmakers must tackle during one of those sessions. The idea is that if they pass an election reform bill, they could also pass a bill to restore their salaries and funding, and Abbott would, in turn, sign both.
The potential kink in the plan is that Democrats are threatening to walk out again. On Father’s Day at the Texas Capitol, Texas Democratic lawmakers and their supporters gathered to protest election reform measures, and several of them have indicated they would leave the state rather than sign any proposed legislation.
So how will lawmakers function without funding? One way is to use their campaign money. And some of them have quite a lot to use. While Texas House Rep. Michelle Beckley last reported $47,010 cash-on-hand, for example, State Senator John Whitmire reported a whopping $9.8 million.
While they cannot use it to pay themselves per se, they can use any money donated to their campaigns to pay their staff, fund their office expenses, pay for their own food, housing and other expenses while in Austin. In addition to room and board, Texas lawmakers have been known to use campaign money to pay for their car washes, drycleaning, even salon appointments and floral arrangements.
Donations are likely to increase. The moratorium on campaign donations that happens during the regular legislative session ended June 20. There is no ban on campaign donations during a special session, so expect to see sympathetic donors filling the campaign accounts of favored lawmakers to help them survive until one side or the other caves.
Want to see how much lawmakers have in their accounts? Click on any candidate to see the amount of cash-on-hand they last reported. You can also explore Texas data by searching for keywords like “hotel” to see how much politicians are actually spending from their campaign accounts on these categories. New reports will be available by mid-July. At Transparency USA we’ll be posting the latest cash-on-hand, along with who’s donating to candidates’ accounts, and how candidates are spending that money. Join us.