Our “Money Behind the Committee Chair” series spotlights the Texas lawmakers chairing prominent committees during the 87th Legislative Session, as well as the individual donors and PACs who have supported their campaigns leading up to this session.
In Austin, perhaps the most important structures within the Texas Legislature are the committees that influence the fate of key pieces of legislation. These committees have incredible authority to leave certain pieces of legislation on the sidelines, while other bills get fast tracked to a vote by the full legislature.
One of the most influential committees in Austin is the House Calendars Committee. Chaired by State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), this 11-person committee includes some of the most influential names in the Texas House and acts as the gatekeeper to a vote on the House floor. According to the House website, Calendars holds authority over the placement of bills and resolutions on appropriate calendars, the determination of priorities and proposal of rules for floor consideration of bills, and all other matters concerning the calendar system and the expediting of business.
In essence, even if another committee wants to push a bill through quickly, Calendars decides if that bill is a priority and when it will be presented for consideration to the entire House. (Read more about how Texas bills become law here).
For this influential role, Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan appointed Burrows in early February.
Burrows is an attorney from Lubbock who is currently in his fourth term representing District 83 in the Texas House. Despite some turmoil during the 2019 session, including a resignation as GOP Caucus Chair after allegations were made about his involvement with the Bonnen scandal, Burrows’ political career seems to have emerged relatively unscathed. Burrows earned his most recent term by cruising to reelection past Democrat Addison Perry-Franks in 2020 with 79 percent of the vote. Burrows has never won a general election with less than 77 percent of the vote.
A prolific fundraiser, Burrows pulled in $218,524 for the 2020 election cycle compared to the $7,084 raised by his opponent. Finishing the year with $105,293 cash-on-hand, Burrows has been aided largely by political action committees (PACs) in his fundraising.
Here are Burrows’ top ten donors for the 2020 cycle, as reported to the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC):
|$10,000.00||Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC|
|$10,000.00||Texas REALTORS Political Action Committee|
|$7,500.00||AFSCME Texas Correctional Officers PAC|
|$7,500.00||Texas Automobile Dealers Assn. PAC|
|$6,500.00||Lubbock Fire Fighters PAC|
|$5,000.00||The Chickasaw Nation|
|$4,500.00||Altria Group Inc PAC|
|$4,500.00||Texas State Assn. Of Fire Fighters Action Committee|
Of Burrows’ top ten donors, eight are political action committees or related entities. His top two donors of the cycle were Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC and Texas REALTORS Political Action Committee, both of which have been significant contributors to candidates across Texas.
The 2020 campaign finance cycle ended on December 31, 2020, before Burrows was tapped to become the House Calendars Chair. While this means no donor or PAC could contribute to Burrows directly as a result of his influential appointment, it’s also worth noting that $49,350 of his donations poured in after his general election victory. That’s roughly 23 percent of all contributions for a two-year cycle in two months, all of which came from PACs.
In fact, only 5.43 percent of Burrows’ financial support in the last election cycle came from inside District 83.
|Source||Amount||% of Total Contributions|
Even if every donation categorized as “unknown origin” came from within his district, out-of-district dollars would still outnumber those from District 83 nearly 4-to-1.
On the expenditures side of the equation, Burrows’ top payee for the 2020 election cycle was Berry Communications at $41,019.58. The list of customers for Berry Communications in 2020 included many prominent lawmakers, according to TEC reports, including State Reps. Mayes Middleton, Mike Schofield, and Drew Springer, among others. Additionally, statewide officials such as Ken Paxton and Wayne Christian are also present on the list.
The House Calendars Committee may be powerful, but its moment of influence on the current legislative session has yet to begin. In a session full of unusual delays and recesses, it is perhaps unsurprising that no bills have been presented to the Calendars Committee to be placed on the schedule for a floor vote. In fact, the committee has not yet met this session. Since the deadline to file bills passed last week, the Calendars Committee will likely begin meeting soon.
Of course, this does not mean that the lawmakers who make up the Calendars Committee are doing nothing. Each also serves on additional committees that are currently meeting to determine the fate of more than 5000 bills that have been filed. Burrows serves on the Corrections and Land & Resource Management Committees, both of which are actively meeting, in addition to authoring or co-authoring 29 bills this session.