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Who Are Texas’ Top Legislative Fundraisers?

New campaign finance reports released this week by candidates for the Texas Legislature show some of the most competitive state House races appear to be raising as much as candidates in statewide races, with two candidates reporting more than $1 million raised. 

These reports are the final disclosure ahead of the Nov. 8 general election and cover the period of time between September 30, 2022 through October 29, 2022. 

A closer look at these filings indicate it is not cash contributions but significant expenditures by individuals and PACs made on behalf of and gifted to the candidate, also known as “in-kind contributions”. These are coordinated expenditures with the candidate, as opposed to what is known as a direct campaign expenditure, un-coordinated spending in a race by an outside entity.

Based on a Reform Austin analysis of campaign finance data from the Texas Ethics Commission, here are the top three legislative candidates with the most contributions for the latest filing period in Texas:

  1. Jamee Jolly (HD-070, GOP nominee, open seat)

Jamee Jolly reported raising $1.4 million in the final month of the campaign. In-kind contributions accounted for 91 percent of the fundraising haul, totaling $1.2 million. Top cash donors included Texas Realtors PAC, which gave $75,000 and the Texas House Republican Caucus, which gave $20,000. Top in-kind contributions included $325,000 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform for political advertising and mailers, $291,000 for TV Ads from the Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, $253,000 from Republican State Leadership Committee Grassroot Account for Broadcast and Cable TV ad buys and $136,000 for advertising from Speaker Dade Phelan’s campaign account. Jolly also spent $80,000 in the last month and has $165,000 in her campaign warchest heading into the last week of the election.

Her Democratic opponent, former Texas House staffer Mihaela Plesa, only raised $221,000 in comparison, spent $120,000 and has $72,000 cash-in-hand.

House District 70 is an open seat left after state Rep. Scott Stanford (R-McKinney) opted to retire, a casualty of the redistricting process last year which made the Collin County district more favorable for Democrats to shore up other Republican seats in the region. If the Trump/Biden 2020 margin was the only indication of competitiveness, this district would not warrant this much investment as it has a +11.1 Biden margin; however, taking a look at statewide candidate performance in recent years in the district – otherwise known as a composite margin – shows this district is much more competitive with a +3.4 Democrat margin.


Map of House District 70 before redistricting.


Map of House District 70 after redistricting.

  1. John Lujan (HD-118, GOP nominee, incumbent)

State Rep. John Lujan (R-San Antonio) reported raising $1.2 million in the final month of the campaign. In-kind contributions accounted for 84 percent of the fundraising haul, totaling $971,000. Top cash donors included the Texas House Republican Caucus PAC, which gave $65,000 and Crow Harlan, chairman of the board of Crow Holdings, which gave $25,000. Top in-kind contributions included $957,318 from Republican State Leadership Committee Grassroots for cable and broadcasting TV Ad buy consulting services, $981,886 for digital advertising, campaign mail and TV services from Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, $779,654 for campaign polling and political advertising from Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, and $698,171 for advertising from Speaker Dade Phelan’s campaign account. Lujan also spent $139,548 in the last month and has $291,578 in his campaign warchest heading into the last week of the election.

His Democratic opponent, Frank Ramirez, only raised $239,370 in comparison, spent $26,444 and has $43,385 cash-in-hand.

Lujan won House District 118 in a special election race after former State Rep. Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio) resigned last summer. Texas Republicans wanted to make their hold on the district permanent by making the district more favorable for a Republican. Trump’s 2020 performance in House District 118 went from losing 13.7 points under the old maps to losing by 2.7 points in the redrawn one. A composite margin for the new district shows it’s even closer than that with a +0.6 Democrat margin.


Map of House District 118 before redistricting.


Map of House District 118 after redistricting.

  1. Janie Lopez (HD-037, GOP nominee, open seat)

Janie Lopez reported raising $735,000 in the final month of the campaign. In-kind contributions accounted for 88 percent of the fundraising haul, totaling $644,000. Top cash donors included the Texas House Republican Caucus, which gave $25,000 and $10,000 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Top in-kind contributions included $726,102 from Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, for  digital advertising, $485,990 for TV Ads from Republican State Leadership Committee Grassroots Account, $330,745 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC for political advertising and campaign polling and $50,000 for cable Ad buy and GOTV digital advertising from Texans for Responsible Government PAC. Lopez also spent $66,960 in the last month and has $89,101 in her campaign warchest heading into the last week of the election.

Her Democratic opponent, Luis Villarreal, only raised $57,000 in comparison, of which none were in-kind contributions, spent $53,837 and has $7,680 cash-in-hand.

House District 37 is an open seat left after state Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville) ran for the Texas Senate District 27 primary and lost. Dominguez was another casualty of the redistricting process last year when a last minute amendment, pushed by Gov. Abbott and other Republicans split Cameron County so that House District 37 would be favorable for Republicans. This was a larger push by the Texas GOP to demonstrate that they can win in the historically Democratic stronghold of South Texas. The Trump 2020 margin for House District 37 went from Trump losing by 17.1 points under the old maps to Trump losing by 2.2 points.


Map of House District 37 before redistricting.


Map of House District 37 after redistricting.

Comparison to Last Cycle

There are fewer competitive races for the Texas Legislature in 2022 than they were in 2020 because of redistricting. So it is not surprising that the top 3 fundraisers among legislative candidates in 2020 in the last month of the election each raised more than the top fundraiser in 2022 for the same period. Back then the Texas House was in play for Democrats and millions of dollars were spent by both Democrats and their allies seeking to flip the statehouse and Republicans and their allies seeking to maintain their control. In 2020, Texas House and Senate candidates collectively raised $58 million in the last month of the election while only $16 million was raised in 2022 for the same period, eight days ahead of the election.

In 2020, the top fundraiser among legislative candidates was state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), who was in one of the vulnerable DFW races. He raised $1.7 million, much of it in-kind contributions by the Texas House, state and national GOP leadership and their allies. Redistricting in 2021 shored up his district.  The next two top fundraisers were state Reps. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) and Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson), who respectively raised $1.6 million and $1.5 million. Both remain in competitive districts after redistricting and are in the top 10 fundraisers among legislative candidates in 2022.

Staff
Staff
Written by RA News staff.

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