Texas legislators fall into four political tribes – Democrats, Liberal Republicans, Moderate Republicans, and Conservative Republicans. Interestingly, we found that the big money in Texas politics can also be categorized into the same four tribes. We examined the giving of the most prominent PACs in Texas and found that they consistently gave their largest gifts to members of the same tribe. We also looked at “character votes” of the top ten recipients of these PACs and found that their voting behavior belied their PAC membership as well.
|Prominent Texas PACs by Expenditures – 2016 Cycle|
|Texas Association of Realtors||$44,247,527||Liberal Republican|
|Texans for Lawsuit Reform||$4,810,893||Moderate Republican|
|Empower Texans||$2,615,823||Conservative Republican|
|Associated Republicans of Texas||$2,537,031||Moderate Republican|
|Texas Medical Association||$1,305,669||Liberal Republican|
|Texas Trial Lawyers Association||$1,155,156||Democrat|
|Texas Right to Life||$1,057,320||Conservative Republican|
|All Other Texas PACs||$160,826,244.90|
Transparency Texas has chosen to study these PACs because they are ideological, highly politically motivated, and well funded, but it is important to keep these numbers in context. Altogether these PACs gave $60,283,460 in the last cycle, but that is only 15% of the total amount of campaign expenditures, $400,819,967. And that amount, less than one half of one billion, pales in comparison to the money spent by lawmakers during the same time. According to Ballotpedia, during the same time frame, the Texas 2015 and 2016 fiscal year budgets were more than 246 billion. Given that much money at stake, it’s not surprising to see a well-funded fight over who will get to decide how it’s spent.
Moreover, while these PACs certainly “spend big” in each election cycle, it is worth noting that effectiveness is not a direct correlation to dollars spent. Some smaller PACs often have outsized influence due to efficiency and alliances.
We have grouped these prominent Texas PACs by their political affiliation:
Clearly the most liberal PACs, these organizations support Democrat candidates and occasionally team up with Liberal Republican PACs to oppose a conservative challenger. Even though Texas is a “red” state, Democrats wield significant power, particularly in the House, in large part due to generous funding by these PACs. Of course, there are openly Democrat PACs, such as the Texas Democratic Party PAC, the Turn Texas Blue PAC, and Battleground Texas, but we have chosen to examine Democrat PACs with less obvious names but more evident influence.
Liberal Republican PACs:
The hallmark of these PACs is their support for liberal House Speaker Joe Straus, his leadership team, and his allies. These PACs will not defend Conservative Republicans when challenged in a primary, as they often side with the more moderate-to-liberal candidate. These PACs are usually the most well-funded in the state and use that money to maintain and expand power.
Moderate Republican PACs:
These PACs tend to support candidates that make up what is often referred to as the “mushy middle” of the Republican caucus in the Texas House. These are the members that most often claim to be “conservatives who can get things done.” This messaging is used to appeal to both primary voters (conservatives) and Austin lobbyists (getting things done).
Members of this tribe don’t often cross the Speaker of the House or those in power, unless siding wth the leadership would require them to take significant heat in their districts. Primary opponents are what these legislators fear most, which is why, at times, some of them appear to play both sides — voting conservative on major bills that make headlines, while walking in step with Liberal Republican leadership on a majority of bills their constituents will never know about.
Typically, their loyalty isn’t to the Speaker or any particular politician, but to continuing to be elected so they can serve in office. This means they are susceptible to siding with the Conservative Republican tribe in high-visibility situations, but they default to listening to the existing power structure. The fact is, leadership in the Texas House is categorically more liberal than the average member of the Republican caucus. If that leadership were to change and become more conservative, it is likely legislators in this tribe would suddenly become more conservative as well.
Conservative Republican PACs:
These PACs consistently support the most conservative members of the Texas House as well as challengers to the more moderate and liberal Republican members. These PACs are often on the opposing side from the Liberal Republican PACs and Democrat PACs or a coalition of the two. Conservative PACs are clearly motivated by ideology as they prove time and again their willingness to fight the much more well-funded and well-connected liberal leaning PACs.
The Bottom Line:
We found that PACs fall into political tribes too. How do we know? First, we examined tough, character-defining votes where legislators were forced to choose a side – votes where legislators had to reveal which political faction is indeed their tribe. We looked at votes like these, across varying issue sets, to determine which tribes to place legislators in. Next, we looked at which PACs support these legislators. The results were consistent. Legislators vote consistently. Certain PACs give the most money to certain legislators. The logic isn’t hard. Legislators fall into political tribes and so do PACs.
Texas Trial Lawyers Association PAC: Democrat Tribe
An Easy Guide to the Big Money PACs in Texas Politics – In this Series: