As hard as it is to believe, the 2018 election cycle has begun. Candidates’ first finance reports were due to the Texas Ethics Commission on June 30. At Transparency Texas, we’ve cleaned up the data, removed duplicates and errors, and provided you with the easiest and most accurate source for understanding the money flowing through political hands in Texas. Here’s a quick look at the top ten recipients of campaign cash so far this cycle.
1. Governor Greg Abbott ($10,091,875) had quite the haul, raking in more than $10 million in campaign contributions in just twelve days, despite the fact that he has no likely Republican primary challenger or significant Democrat opponent in sight. And he certainly didn’t need the cash – Governor Abbott’s war chest was already one of the largest in the nation; it now registers over $41 million, more than double what he had when he first ran for governor in 2013.
So why would political donors give so much to a candidate who doesn’t really need it? A large percentage of Gov. Abbott’s contributions for this first reporting period came from first-time donors, possibly showcasing voter approval of his tough stance with the Texas House. Gov. Abbott has required lawmakers to return to Austin this summer for a Special Session to address an ambitious list of conservative issues.
With 37 donations in the $100,000 – $260,000 range, Gov. Abbott also raked it in from a host of political heavy-hitters including oil man Javaid Anwar, Baylor beneficiary Drayton McLane, and Ray and Nancy Hunt of Hunt Oil. Perhaps these more wealthy donors simply wish to stay on the good side of the man likely to lead Texas for the foreseeable future.
2. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick ($3,975,522) came in number two in fundraising, bringing in nearly $4 million. His strong financial showing is likely a reflection of his strong leadership in the Senate. Even though Lt. Gov. Patrick is considered by some to be the most conservative Lt. Gov. in Texas’ history, many of his biggest supporters are well-known moderate Republican donors. What does this mean? Even if a donor isn’t perfectly aligned with Lt. Gov. Patrick’s conservative politics, it doesn’t hurt to have the most powerful politician in Texas take your phone calls.
3. Attorney General Ken Paxton ($1,056,357) ranked third in donations received during the first half of 2017. In spite of (or perhaps because of) his legal battles, donors showed strong support for the sitting Attorney General. With 20 donations of $25,000 or more, General Paxton demonstrates the ongoing strength to raise significant funds from a plethora of donors across the state.
4. Phillip Huffines ($544,979), candidate for Senate District 8 and member of the Huffines family auto-dealership chain in North Texas, Mr. Huffines pulled in donations from some of the biggest political donors in the Metroplex including Andrew Beal, Darwin Deason, and Monty Bennett. Texas Senate District 8 is being vacated by Sen. Van Taylor who has announced his run for U.S. Congress.
5. Justice Don Willett ($529,675) of the Texas Supreme Court, raised an impressive sum for a judge who is not likely to have a serious challenger and might soon be headed for a federal appointment. Best known for his light-hearted Twitter account and his originalist approach to the law, Justice Willett made Trump’s list of possible appointees to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
6. Gary Gates, Jr. ($440,000) received only one donation during the first reporting period, from himself. Mr. Gates has run for political office seven times to date, and lost each time – most recently to Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian. The Austin rumor mill has been buzzing about another potential run by Mr. Gates. This time he allegedly has his eyes set on challenging sitting Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller. With millions in personal wealth, and a clear willingness to spend piles of money to win an elected office, Mr. Gates is one to watch in the 2018 election cycle.
7. Railroad Commission Chair Christi Craddick ($350,366) looks to be in good financial shape as she heads toward reelection. As the chair of the commission charged with regulating the energy industry in the state of Texas, Commissioner Craddick’s list of supporters is a who’s-who of those with interests in oil & gas. Prolific donors like Cody Campbell, Javaid Anwar, J.L. Davis, and Donald Wood are just some of the energy industry professionals on her donor list who apparently appreciate the job Commissioner Craddick is doing.
8. Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus ($340,955) came in lower on the top ten list than might be expected. Since a Special Session was looming at the time, some larger donors and special interests might have wanted to see what results he would deliver before ponying up. It’s also possible Speaker Straus simply didn’t feel the need to make a hard push to raise funds since he’s sitting on over $9 million in his campaign account. While this relatively low amount raised by a sitting Speaker isn’t necessarily a harbinger of things to come, it is worth keeping an eye on his fundraising moving forward.
9. Land Commissioner George P. Bush ($325,032) is often thought of as the least controversial of all Texas’ statewide officials. Around Austin he’s perceived as a man who goes about his work and doesn’t get involved in many of the political skirmishes that pervade the Capitol. His hands-off approach may have paid off this time by allowing him to raise large sums of money from people across the ideological spectrum, even without an apparent challenger in the primary or general elections. It could eventually backfire however, should Commissioner Bush seek a higher statewide office, as the largest donors to Texas politics usually require those they support to take a side.
10. Thomas McNutt ($320,862), the previous challenger to State Representative Byron Cook, has come back for more. After losing to State Rep. Cook by only 222 votes in the 2016 Republican Primary, Mr. McNutt – and those supporting him financially – clearly think 2018 will be a different story. The McNutt/Cook re-match is seen by many as a proxy war between moderate Republicans and grassroots conservatives in the Texas House.
Unlike the regular legislative session, when office holders are not allowed to accept campaign contributions, they are allowed to take money during the Special Session. As soon as that information is available, we’ll be bringing it to you in an easy-to-search format with insightful analysis. Stay tuned.