The battle for House District 99 in the March 6 Republican primary is getting more expensive every day.
So far, the two candidates in the race — the incumbent, state Rep. Charlie Geren, and his challenger, Bo French — have spent more than $1.3 million combined.
"That is more than normal to spend on a House race," said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. "But this has been a very important district for Texas for several years."
Geren has represented the district since 2001; French, a rancher and private equity investor, also ran against Geren two years ago.
"Two years ago, this started out as a gentleman's election," said Riddlesperger, referring to the longtime friendship between Geren's and French's families. "Two years ago, it became acrimonious.
"This is the second time around and it has the promise of being even more divisive than the first time."
A typical House race can cost around $500,000.
So far in this race — which includes a lawsuit and controversy over a fake Facebook page created two years ago — the two candidates combined have topped the million-dollar mark, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Geren, a lieutenant of outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, has spent more than $900,000; French has spent more than $400,000.
The two face off in the Republican primary Tuesday to determine who will represent the district, which stretches from Fort Worth to Pelican Bay and from River Crest to Azle. The winner faces Democrat Michael Stackhouse in the November general election.
At stake is a two-year term that pays $7,200 a year.
A look at the numbers
The latest campaign finance report shows that Geren raised $585,356 and spent $653,887 between Jan. 26 and Feb. 24.
Among his donations: $37,000 from the Associated Republicans of Texas; $6,250 from QPac, a committee of Fort Worth investment banker Geoffrey Raynor; and $5,000 from Robert Rowling, CEO and president of TRT Holdings in Dallas.
He has more than $106,000 in cash on hand, the report shows.
French, meanwhile, received $126,265 in contributions and spent $327,592 during that time period.
Among his donations: $60,000 from the Texas Right to Life political action committee in Houston, $9,750 from the Constituents Focus PAC in Austin and $5,000 from Spencer E. Beal, owner of BTA Oil Company in Midland.
He has more than $72,000 in cash on hand, the report shows.
This race was thrust into the spotlight last year, after French and his wife, Sheridan, filed a lawsuit in December alleging that false accusations of child abuse were made against him during the 2016 primary.
This lawsuit seeks less than $100,000 from David T. Sorensen, who the suit claims is a “professional political operative” who worked on behalf of Geren last year.
The lawsuit alleges that Sorensen anonymously triggered a Child Protective Services investigation by making false allegations that “Bo French was abusing and neglecting his young children,” which hurt the family, their reputation and likely the political campaign, according to the lawsuit.
Geren said he didn’t know anything about the CPS complaint until he read preliminary court filings about it.
Recently, a CPS report regarding the French investigation was added to the court case file online. It indicates the investigation was closed May 11, 2016. Also added was a request from Sorensen for the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
"Despite Plaintiffs’ assertions to this Court that the reports of abuse were somehow shown to be false, CPS made no such finding," the Sorensen filing states. "Rather, as the report makes clear, the agency closed its investigation based upon a finding of 'Unable to Determine,' which means that there was insufficient information to conclude whether the alleged abuse neglect did or did not occur.”
French's campaign sent out a statement Thursday, asserting that the CPS report is false and that it was "leaked to the media in an attempt to, yet again, weaponize CPS and allege child abuse."
French's statement went on to say that CPS didn't find any child abuse or neglect in 2016 and that no additional reports have been filed since. And he said the person who "phoned in the false CPS report had no reasonable basis for doing so."
"Sorensen's motivation was transparently political," according to French's statement.
French's political expenses filed this year list several bills totaling nearly $90,000 to the Dykema Gossett PLLC law firm for “legal fees associated to false CPS report by Geren campaign.”
“I spent this money personally and not out of campaign funds,” French said in response earlier this year. “This was a political attack and would not have happened had I not been running against Charlie Geren. Should I win, I will be able to reimburse myself for these costs.”