Politics & Government

2014: Legislative races more costly closer to Election Day

The fierce battle to claim an open Texas Senate seat in Tarrant County drew in more than $1 million in the past three months and could top $2 million before Election Day.

New reports show that just a month away from the election, the Senate District 10 campaigns of both Democrat Libby Willis and Republican Konni Burton have been infused with new dollars — $750,000 for Willis and $335,000 for Burton.

“SD-10 is the marquee state legislative contest this year in Texas,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “It would not be surprising to see the final price tag for this race surpass the $2 million mark when all is said and done in November.”

The seat is being vacated by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who is giving it up to run for governor.

Willis’ campaign is drawing attention in political circles for her largest donation, a $500,000 contribution from the Back to Basics PAC, mainly funded by Houston trial attorney and key Democratic donor Steve Mostyn, reflected in new state reports detailing contributions from July 1 to Sept. 25.

The battle for the seat is heightened because political observers say the district is neither solidly Republican nor Democratic and could swing either way.

In addition, the seat is key because it could move Republicans closer to a supermajority in the Senate, which would essentially remove Democrats’ ability to stop any proposal in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, candidates in the other Tarrant County legislative races reported raising additional dollars to fund their campaigns — a combined total of about $250,000 — during the same period, according to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

This is the time of year that money is especially important in all of these political campaigns, said Michelle Payne, an associate political science professor at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth.

“Having the most money is really vital to staying alive in name recognition alone,” she said. “Voters don’t, for the most part, have the time or the interest in researching all the candidates, and name recognition, as well as party identification, play out big at this stage of the races.

“Money buys name recognition.”

Here’s a look at the money collected in local legislative races from July 1 to Sept. 25, according to reports filed last week with the Ethics Commission.

Senate District 10

The battle for this district — which includes Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and Colleyville — pits Burton, a Colleyville conservative with Tea Party ties, against Willis, a longtime Fort Worth community activist.

Willis raised $734,697, has $474,255 on hand and lists $88,250 in outstanding loans. At the same time, Burton raised $335,387, has $200,000 on hand and lists $255,000 in outstanding loans.

Willis’ top donation, the $500,000 from the Back to Basics PAC, sends a clear message, said Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, an associate political science professor at the University of North Texas in Denton.

“PACs know the lay of the land much better than most of us; they are experts and are trying to influence races to help achieve their policy goals in the Legislature,” he said. “This is an investment and a PAC is not going to donate this much money unless they think they will get a return on their investment.”

Among Willis’ other donations: $20,000 from Annie’s List, a Texas group that backs Democratic candidates; $500 from former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr; $16,785 in an in-kind contribution of staff support from Battleground Texas; $10,000 from Fort Worth real estate developer Flora Brewer; nearly $2,000 in an in-kind contribution of phone banking from U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey‘s Congressional Campaign Committee; and $5,000 form the Texas State Teachers Association PAC.

Burton also picked up contributions from a variety of groups and people.

Among the Republican’s donations: $20,000 from Empower Texans PAC; $2,500 from the Good Government Fund, run by the Bass family; $300 from Rafael Cruz, father of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who has already endorsed her in this race; $5,000 from Monty Bennett, a Dallas hotelier suing the Tarrant Regional Water District; about $80,000 in direct and in-kind donations from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC; and $10,000 from Alice Walton, daughter of the late founder of the Wal-Mart retail chain.

Burton also logged donations from more than half a dozen lawmakers, including Republican state Sens. Brian Birdwell of Granbury, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Jane Nelson of Flower Mound.

And more donations are likely on the way.

“We should fully expect a significant response by Texans for Lawsuit Reform to this massive $500,000 Mostyn donation relatively soon,” Jones said. “By and large, for every major Mostyn action in state legislative races, there is a major TLR reaction.”

Also in this race, Green Party candidate John Tunmire of Fort Worth raised no money, has none on hand and owes none. No report was available for Libertarian Gene Lord.

Senate District 9

Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, raised nearly $115,000 and has more than $220,000 on hand. His Democratic challenger, Gregory R. Perry of North Richland Hills, received $8,161 in contributions and has $2,105 in the bank. Perry also has $5,254.88 in outstanding loans.

Hancock’s donations include $250 from the Mike Moncrief campaign; $10,000 from the Good Government Fund; $250 from the Glen Whitley campaign fund; and $250 from the Betsy Price Campaign Fund.

Perry’s contributions include $50 from the Mid-Cities Democrats, $200 from the North Tarrant Democrats and $100 from Harriet Irby, a longtime Democratic activist from Pantego.

House District 91

State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, raised $8,600 and has nearly $25,000 on hand. Richland Hills Democrat David L. Ragan picked up $2,025 in contributions and has no money in the bank.

Klick’s contributions include $500 from the Empower Texans PAC and $1,000 from the Private Providers Association of Texas. Ragan’s donations included $100 from former Tarrant County Democratic Chairman Stephen Maxwell of Fort Worth and $100 from former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright of Fort Worth.

No report was available for Libertarian Felecia Whatley of Watauga.

House District 92

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, received nearly $13,000 and has more than $11,000 on hand, along with $37,500 in outstanding loans. Democratic challenger Tina Penney raised around $2,500 and has $2,479 in the bank, as well as a $200 loan.

Stickland’s contributions include $500 from the Fort Worth Republican Women PAC, $1,000 from the Texas McDonalds Operators Association PAC and $500 from the Hotel PAC of THLA. Penney’s contributions include $500 from the Mid-Cities Democrats, $600 from the Northeast Tarrant County Democrats and $500 from the Tarrant County Democratic Woman’s Club.

House District 94

This increasingly heated battle has some political observers wondering whether the longtime Republican district could flip in this election.

Arlington Republican Tony Tinderholt, who bested state Rep. Diane Patrick in the GOP primary, raised more than $25,000 and has $5,190 in the bank. His Democratic opponent, Cole Ballweg of Arlington, received more than $20,000 and has $12,688 on hand.

Tinderholt has $18,773 in outstanding loans; Ballweg has $22,500 in outstanding loans.

Tinderholt’s contributions include $1,000 from former state Rep. Kent Grusendorf of Austin, who lost to Patrick in 2006; $500 from Blackridge; $5,000 from the Empower Texans PAC; $500 from the Fort Worth Republican Women; and $2,500 from the Texans for Education Reform PAC

Ballweg’s donations include $1,000 from the Arlington Professional Fire Fighters Association PAC, $500 from the Chris Turner campaign, $400 from Arlington businessman Dan Dipert, $250 from former state Rep. Paula Pierson, D-Arlington, and $2,000 from the Texas State Teachers Association PAC.

“The closeness of this race is surprising given that the district is Republican-leaning,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Cole Ballweg is running a very competitive and strong race. Some Republicans may be sitting out this race because Rep. Patrick was so well-known and popular.”

House District 95

State Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, received more than $11,000 in contributions and has more than $8,000 on hand. Fort Worth Republican Albert G. McDaniel picked up $4,095 in contributions, has $3,024 in the bank and has $4,500 in outstanding loans.

Collier’s donations include $1,000 from the ATTACK PAC, $1,025.33 in in-kind donations from the Planned Parenthood Texas Votes PAC and $250 from state Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville. McDaniel’s contributions include $500 from the Fort Worth Republican Women PAC, $1,000 from San Antonio car dealer Red McCombs and $1,200 from the Texas Federation of Republican Women.

House District 96

State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, received nearly $4,000 in contributions and has nearly $20,000 on hand. No report was available for Libertarian Quinn Eaker.

House District 97

State Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, received more than $18,000 in contributions and has more than $96,000 in the bank. No report was available for Libertarian Rod Wingo.

House District 101

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, received more than $11,000 in contributions and has more than $53,000 on hand. No report was available for Libertarian Carl Nulson of Arlington.

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