The campaign finance site owned by Empower Texans did a look back at the 2018 elections December 18th. The question they asked was “Who’s Really Buying Texas?”
The site (again, owned by ET) pushes this “Context matters” point, but then provide a fairly skewed context. They mashed all of the dollars spent in campaigns into one massive bucket. Then they point to themselves and say “see, we didn’t give that much”.
By rolling everything up together, they obfuscate the reality that a handful of large donor groups DOMINATE the political landscape in certain races. It’s not the everyday Texans that drive our politics.
When you look at the broad spectrum of Statewide, Senate, House and Judicial races, yes, lots participate. But how many are actually listened to? How many candidates get a majority of their funds from a handful of donors?
I’m going to dig into the 2018 election cycle on the Texas House races. There are 150 contests, occurring every two years. If you want to try and control the direction of things, you have lots of places to spend your money.
In the 2018 election cycle for the Texas House, I tracked 259 candidates: 124 Democrats, 92 Republicans, 1 Independent, and 42 Empowers (those endorsed by Empower Texans, who technically have an “R” next to their name, but they are a distinctly different group). There was $65,409,114.56 contributed to the candidates.
$65 million dollars is a lot of money. It came from 42,019 different donors, making 88,088 contributions. It’s important to differentiate donors from contributions. If I gave $1 one hundred times, that isn’t 100 donors. It’s 1 who gave $100.
The 124 Democratic candidates tracked took in $16,395,471.66. Looking across the full group, the average Democratic candidate raised $132,222 from 236 donors.
The 92 Republican candidates tracked took in $34,025,385.81. Looking across the full group, the average Republican candidate raised $369,841 from 264 donors.
The 42 Empower candidates tracked took in $14,858,679.09. Looking across the full group, the average Empower candidate raised $353,778 from 386 donors.
Looking at the three groups on their own, nothing really jumps out too much. I mean, the average Republican and Empower is out raising the average Democrat almost 3 to 1, but that’s about all. Let’s dig deeper, for real context.
The top donor to Democratic candidates gave a total of $2 million. The top 9 combined gave $6.3 million. This is against a total of $16.3 million. With 124 candidates, the average got $16,759 from the top donor, $33,985 from 2–9, and $81,477 from everyone else.
The top donor to Republican candidates gave a total of $5.8 million. The top 9 combined gave $10.8 million. This is against a total of $34 million. With 92 candidates, the average got $54,107 from the top donor, $101,480 from 2–9, and $214,254 from everyone else.
Take a look at the Democrat and Republican pie charts. Even though the dollars themselves are 3:1, the ratio of the top donor, donors 2–9, and all other donors is pretty consistent. In both cases, at least 58% of contributions was coming from “All Others”.
The top donor to Empower candidates gave a total of $5 million. The top 9 combined gave $10.8 million. This is against a total of $14.8 million. With 42 candidates, the average got $138,059 from the top donor, $120,224 from 2–9, and $95,495 from everyone else.
This is where you can see the difference. The Empower candidate does average more donors, but they are shoved into the smallest slice of the pie (27%). The average top donor to an Empower candidate (which is often Empower itself) is 39%. Top 9 are 73%!
When you stack all three next to each other, the differences are quite obvious. Is there a lot of money coming into candidates from the top donors? Yes. Is it taken to an extreme level with Empower candidates? The chart answers that.
Let’s also examine the top 20 donors to Texas House races. I think we can hopefully all agree that when we talk about special interests, those who spend the most are the ones we are talking about. Who were those folks for the 2018 Texas House races?
The top 20 donors to Texas House races gave $21,715,602. The total in these races is $65,409,114, so 20 donors gave 33%. 42,002 other donors gave 67%. So, who are legislators most likely to listen to? The 20 with big checkbooks or the 42,002 individual voices?
The overall top 20 donors gave $2.1 million to Democratic candidates. This is against a total of $16.3 million. With 124 candidates, the average got $17,077 (13%) from the top 20 and $115,144 (87%) from everyone else.
The overall top 20 donors gave $11.1 million to Republican candidates. This is against a total of $34 million. With 92 candidates, the average got $120,846 (33%) from the top 20 and $248,994 (67%) from everyone else.
Take a look at the Democrat and Republican pie charts. There is a pretty significant change between the two. 13% to 33% is pretty big. But, the Texas House has been majority Republican for a while, so I’d expect to see more of the big donors putting their money here.
The overall top 20 donors gave $8.4 million to Empower candidates. This is against a total of $14.8 million. With 42 candidates, the average got $201,907.94 (57%) from the top 20 and $151,870 (43%) from everyone else.
The Empower candidate gets well over half of their contributions from the biggest of the special interests. How can you rail against special interests when you are consumed by them? Oh, your special interests are ok. It’s everyone else’s who are a problem. Got it.
As before, when you stack the three groups next to each other, differences are obvious. The Empower House candidates are dominated by special interest money.
For the top 20 donors, who gives the most to the 124 Democrats?
- Texas Trial Lawyers Association — $554k (26%)
- House Democratic Campaign Committee — $480k (23%)
- Texas Assoc Of Realtors — $355k (17%)
For the top 20 donors, who gives the most to the 94 Republicans?
- Texans For Lawsuit Reform — $2.8 million (25%)
- Assoc Republicans Of Texas — $2.7 million (24%)
- Texas Assoc Of Realtors — $1.8 million (16%)
For the top 20 donors, who gives the most to the 42 Empowers?
- Empower Texans — $3 million (36%)
- Mayes Middleton — $1.7 million (21%)
- Texas Right To Life — $1.2 million (15%)
Put all three groups together at scale, and you can see where the top 20 are contributing, and who is dominating the landscape.
With a glass of water, filled with a HUGE number of water droplets, it only takes a few drops of food coloring. Now my water isn’t clear anymore. It very quickly looks different. If I pour it into a gallon jug of water, it isn’t quite as noticeable, the bright color is a mere tint.
By rolling the numbers into the large aggregate, Empower Texans is trying to disguise what is going on in Texas politics. “We are just 1.2% of spending” is a smokescreen. Texans started catching on this past cycle. Let’s make sure everyone knows for the next one.
All data leveraged above and utilized in my website is straight from the Texas Ethics Commission. I compile all of it myself and load it into dashboards at christackettnow.com, trying to make the data easier to understand. If you would like to run your own reports, or see what the TEC tracks, you can access the data at https://www.ethics.state.tx.us/main/search.htm