Latest Campaign Finance Reports Shed Light Ahead of 2020 House Primaries

New campaign finance reports released this week by primary candidates for the Texas House show many of the hotly contested races remain competitive and some challengers to Republican incumbents getting a boost by conservative mega-donors. 

These pre-primary reports cover the first 23 days of 2020, except for those candidates that participated in the January special election runoffs for whom the report begins on January 19. 

Here are the highlights:

Big Spenders and Fundraisers

By far, the most money spent in this period by a primary candidate was Cisco businessman Jon Francis in the open House District 60 race to replace Mike Lang (R-Granbury). Francis spent $345,000 in the first three weeks of January, a majority of which was on making voter contact through media buys, digital ads, mailers and blockwalking. He also happens to be the son-in-law of North Texas fracking billionaire Farris Wilks. 

In the Republican primary, Francis faces Rick Perry-endorsed rancher Glenn Rogers. Rogers outraised him with $58,000, yet Francis retains the cash advantage by a factor of nearly four to one because of half a million dollars his in-laws gave him in December.

Several candidates raised six figures in campaign contributions in just the first 23 days of the year. They include businessman Bryan Slaton, who is challenging State Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) in the primary for House District 2 for the third consecutive time. Slaton raised $151,000 in the first three weeks of 2020 thanks to the help of two $75,000 checks from Farris Wilks and West Texas oilman and Empower Texans Chairman Tim Dunn. Both are behind the money of hardline conservative right. Incumbent Flynn only raised $50,000 and is lagging far behind in cash-on-hand, when comparing his $32,000 to Slaton’s $147,000. In the span of a month, this race has now become competitive.

Another six figure fundraiser in January is Jeff Cason, who is running in the open seat to replace Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) in House District 92. Cason raised $181,000, more than he raised in all of 2019. He was another beneficiary of Dunn and Wilks’ largesse. Each wrote a $75,000 check to Cason’s campaign while another Empower Texans donor, Darlene Pendery, wrote him a $25,000 check.

The third six figure fundraiser in January was former Brazosport ISD Trustee Troy Brimage, who is running in the open seat to replace Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) for House District 25. He was not helped by any mega donor but raised $193,000 through a combination of mostly four-figure contributions by individual donors and a plethora of in-kind contributions. There were 73 unique donors who gave an average of $2,000 in cash to Brimage’s campaign while another $45,000 was in-kind contributions by four dozen donors, some of whom also gave cash. 

The five-way Republican primary in House District 25 was one of many races Reform Austin identified as being competitive based on last month’s campaign finance reports and the likelihood of heading to a runoff.  Here’s how the other races are shaping up:

House District 59

The Republican primary race in House District 59 remains competitive. Previously, State Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) outraised his opponents but was outspent by one challenger, businessman Cody Johnson, in part due to him self-financing his campaign to the tune of $115,000. This happened again where Sheffield outraised both of his primary opponents with $37,000, but Johnson loaned his own campaign $800,000. Johnson has built a war chest with $829,000 and spent $125,000, whereas Sheffield only spent $36,000 and maintains $92,000 in cash-on-hand. The other challenger, Shelby Lawson, raised $13,000, spent $15,000 and maintains $50,000.

House District 45

The three-way Republican primary to challenge State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) in the general election remains competitive. Similar amounts of contributions were raised by the two fundraising leaders, Carrie Isaac and Kent Wymore. While Isaac outspent Wymore $3,000 to $59.45, both maintain over $83,000 and will spend more as the primary nears.

House District 47

In the five-way Republican primary to challenge State Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin), the race remains competitive. Attorney Jenny Forgey raised the most with $18,000. Meanwhile, former Austin city councilman Don Zimmerman spent the most with $41,000 to her $18,000. Nearing the primary, Zimmerman and Forgey maintain $53,000 and $62,000, respectively. The large number of candidates means there will likely be a May runoff.

House District 26 

In the four-way Democratic primary to replace Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land), the race remains competitive. Dr. Suleman Lalani and Rish Oberoi remain the fundraising leaders in the race with $9,000 and $5,000 raised respectively. Lalani outspent Oberoi with $17,000 to $10,000. Heading into the month of early voting, Lalani leads with $86,000 in cash-on-hand whereas Oberoi has $50,000. Both are expected to head into a runoff.

House District 142

The four-way Democratic primary in House District 142 remains competitive. Previously, State Rep. Harold V. Dutton (D-Houston) was outraised by sitting Houston City Councilman Jerry Davis by $113,000 because Davis transferred funds from his City Council campaign account. In the latest finance report, Dutton outraised and outspent Davis. The incumbent raised $34,000 and spent $46,000, while Davis raised $16,000 and spent $22,000. However, Davis retains his cash-on-hand advantage with $109,000 in his war chest compared to Dutton’s $58,000.

House District 66

In the Democratic primary to challenge the vulnerable State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), Sharon Hirsch again outraised neurologist Aimee Garza Lopez with $11,000 to $2,000. However, Hirsch got outspent by $1,000 and maintains less than half the contributions as Lopez does. Lopez had loaned herself over $100,000 in 2019.

House District 67

In the Democratic primary to challenge the vulnerable Chairman Jeff Leach (R-Plano), Tom Adair and Rocio Gosewehr Hernandez both raised $2,500. However, Adair outspent Hernandez 9 to 1 and has a cash advantage of $30,00 to her $9,000.

Texans: Don’t Fear the Census

By Jef Rouner

This year is not only a monumentally important election year, it’s also when one of America’s most sacred constitutional duties is carried out. The United States Census happens every ten years and is used to determine a number of critical factors. In addition to providing the government with important data on the population, it is used to determine how many seats in the House of Representatives each state is allotted, as well as the number of Electoral College votes it gets in each election (the latter will not affect this election in November). 

That’s big news for a growing Texas, which is slated to add three seats at a time when the state is becoming regarded as a key swing vote.

That said, a lot of people fear and distrust the census. There is a general anti-government sentiment that the process is invasive and possibly being used for sinister purposes. For instance, before the last census a popular conspiracy theory promoted on InfoWars was that the workers using GPS-enabled handheld computers would be used to mark dissidents’ locations so they could be targeted by drone strikes or perhaps rounded up by President Obama’s secret police.

A less unhinged fear of the process is that Americans of Latin heritage fear the census might be used to round up and deport immigrants. This fear came to light after the Trump Administration said it planned to include a question about citizenship on the census. That move was ultimately defeated in a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, but the Department of Homeland Security recently announced that it would provide citizenship information to the census. In the current, heavily anti-immigrant environment it’s no wonder that polls have shown some distrust in the process.

Unfortunately, the Texas government has not exactly gone out of its way to ensure a smooth census by alleviating fears or even adequately preparing for the enormous task. In the last legislative session, several bills that would have brought the state in line with other states preparing for the census were defeated, and now there will be no time before the process starts.  

Texas Counts, an organization dedicated to improving the census, has some dire predictions about the process. They estimate that a quarter of Texans live in neighborhoods that are hard to poll, which usually means they are in remote locations with poor access or involve populations that are more reticent to interact with the government or are homeless. Their estimates also show as much as a one percent undercount in the census could cost the state $300 million in federal funding that is tied to the count.

Despite the actions of the legislature, it appears that Governor Greg Abbot has mobilized some efforts to improve the process. 

In a statement sent to CBS Austin his office announced, “Governor Abbott chose Secretary of State Ruth Hughs to spearhead 2020 census efforts in Texas. Her mission is to ensure an accurate count in the upcoming census. To achieve that goal, the Secretary of State’s team is coordinating with state and federal agencies and working to ensure that Texas will enhance participation in the census process. The Governor’s office is working closely with Secretary Hughs to ensure every Texan is counted.”

For now, though, it appears most of the outreach work trying to get an accurate census count has been outsourced to nonprofits and local governments. Groups like Texas Counts are taking the lead and are partnered with many local governments to make a difference where the census is concerned. The total price tag for another undercounted census could be as high as $3 billion, in addition to the loss of possible congressional seats. In 2010, in which Texas also failed to allocate sufficient state funds for the census, undercounting led to caps on many social programs aimed at children. Whatever a person’s political alignment might be, the census is an important function of society that in Texas is going to rely on individual citizens pitching in.