Texans boosted political funding 31% over 2004
By R.G. Ratcliffe
SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
AUSTIN — Texans contributed at least $206 million to races for state and federal office this year, helping finance campaigns ranging from district judge to president of the United States.
That's a 31 percent increase over the amount of money Texans donated in the 2004 presidential election cycle, and all the money will not be accounted for until January.
Texas donations in races for president and Congress totaled $140 million, an increase of $15 million over 2004, according to data kept by the Center on Responsive Politics. Almost 70 percent of the additional money went to Democratic candidates.
Donations for campaigns for state office have hit $66 million so far for this year, almost twice what the Texas Ethics Commission reported for 2004. There were almost no major contests for state office that year, but this year there were major election battles for control of the Legislature and other down-ballot offices.
There's no limit on donations to state campaigns, and an individual is limited to $2,300 per election for any one candidate and a total of $108,200 a biennium in donations to federal political committees. The donations tracked don't include money given to the many county-level races in Texas this year.
“For a while there, we had statewide races where the Democrats weren't putting up a candidate at all or if they had a candidate they had chump change,” said Andrew Wheat of Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that tracks Texas campaign finance.
“This year, the (Texas House) speaker is on the ropes, there are many competitive state races and there's a sense among Democrats that there's a chance for a comeback,” Wheat said.
There also was the excitement created in the Texas Democratic primary by the fight for the presidential nomination between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Republican John McCain also did not sew up his nomination until the Texas voting. Both parties had record primary turnouts.
In the presidential race, $63.5 million was raised in Texas for all candidates, including those in the primaries, according to the Federal Election Commission. Obama at $17.7 million essentially had parity with McCain, who raised $17.6 million in the state, though the Republican carried Texas on Election Day.
Texas bundlers, people who raise donations for a candidate, raised at least $2.5 million for Obama and $7.3 million for McCain, according to records from the Center on Responsive Politics.
In congressional races, Senate candidates in Texas raised $26.6 million in this cycle through Oct. 15.
That includes $7.6 million that San Antonio lawyer Mikal Watts gave to his own U.S. Senate campaign before dropping out of the race last year. Watts' campaign repaid him $5.4 million in loans.
The candidate with the most money was incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who raised $13.1 million after Jan. 1. Democrat Rick Noriega raised $3.6 million.
Candidates for the U.S. House raised $51 million this cycle.
Thirty-eight Texas donors gave more than $130,000 apiece to pump $14.5 million into state elections.
Among the mega-donors this year, Democratic money outpaced Republican, $7.5 million to $5.7 million. San Antonio grocery chain owner Charles Butt was the only major donor with widespread bipartisan giving — more than $1 million.
Texas' top donors
Houston home builder Bob Perry continues as Texas' top donor, giving $2.5 million so far in this election cycle, mostly to Republicans, according to state ethics commission records.
“The presidential campaigns have raised roughly a billion dollars (nationally). The Texas campaigns have raised well over $10 million in the past eight days,” said Perry spokesman Anthony Holm. “So Mr. Perry's contributions to good government are quite small in the grand scheme of things.”
But giving by some of the other traditional large Republican donors, while still substantial, is down from previous elections. San Antonio businessman James Leininger has given $720,000 this year so far. Leininger donated $4.9 million in 2006 and $801,000 in 2004.
On the Democratic side, trial lawyers continue to be the major financiers of the party and its candidates, accounting for about 90 percent of the money given by the party's large-money donors.
“Trial lawyers in Texas have rallied to try to roll back lawsuit reform, and that's what you see in those contributions,” said Sherry Sylvester of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a committee that has been instrumental in supporting Republicans and conservatives in past elections.
San Antonio lawyer Watts, besides funding his own campaign this year, was the No. 2 donor to Democrats in state races. He contributed more than $1.2 million. He said he gives to level the playing field against “corporate chieftains” who finance Republicans.
“When three or four billionaires can get together and single-handedly bankroll the Republican Party in this state, that's not healthy,” Watts said. “When a guy like Bob Perry is out there donating $3 million to $4 million a cycle, it motivates me and some like-minded Democrats to try to offset his dominance.”
Much of the Democratic comeback in this year's election is due to Dallas trial lawyer Fred Baron, who died last week of cancer.
Baron, the year's top Democratic donor, made $2.2 million in contributions.