Texas Politics

Wendy Davis spent years in the Texas Senate, but did her campaign ads break its rules?

Former state Sen. Wendy Davis announced her bid for Congress early Monday morning, and with it came a slew of paid political ads promoted on social media.

But the setting for them appear to have violated the Texas Senate’s rules, according to the Senate secretary.

One video shows Davis standing on what appears to be the floor of the Texas Senate, urging her supporters to donate in order to reach her fundraising goal of $100,000 in 48 hours.

“I know you had my back when I stood for hours in the Texas Senate,” Davis said in reference to her over 11-hour filibuster against an anti-abortion bill in 2013 that garnered national attention. “And now I’m asking you to have my back again, as I announce my run for Congress in Congressional District 21.”

“If you could pitch in $5, $10, $15, it would make all the difference in the world,” Davis says in the 26-second clip.

A shorter recording shows Davis, a Democrat and former Fort Worth City Council member, giving a variation of the same message as she films the video in selfie mode.

At the end of both: a link to her campaign website, with her campaign logo and the message “chip in today.”

Screenshot courtesy of Tessa Weinberg tbweinberg@star-telegram.com

While Davis has spent hours on the Senate floor as a former state senator, Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw said State Preservation Board policy prohibits political or campaign filming in the Capitol, which includes the Senate Chamber.

“Likewise, Senate policy prohibits political/campaign filming in the Senate Chamber. Permission to film was not requested and permission was not granted,” Spaw wrote in an email.

Spaw said that while the Senate isn’t able to monitor every tourist who films on the Senate floor, videos taken on the floor can’t be used for political purposes. Groups, such as media organizations, may take stock footage of the chamber if permission is given ahead of time.

A production policy on the State Preservation Board’s website stipulates that production in the Senate Chamber is prohibited, unless authorized by the Senate. The State Preservation Board also prohibits campaign activities in its policies on the use of Capitol grounds, the Capitol auditorium, the Legislative Conference Center and public areas of the Capitol.

Spaw did not immediately return multiple requests for comment on whether the Senate plans to take any action, or answer questions clarifying who the policy applies to and when lawmakers may post videos and photos taken on the Senate floor.

Hector Nieto, a spokesman for Davis, declined to answer specific questions on whether Davis’ campaign was aware of the policy until more details were available.

“We disagree. Wendy is a private citizen and not seeking state office,” Nieto wrote in an email Tuesday morning. “We are proud of Wendy’s past record standing up for Texans at the state capitol and looking forward to her taking the fight to Washington.”

Davis tweeted Tuesday that her campaign had raised over $250,000 in its first 24 hours.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said last year that he didn’t want a movie about Davis’ filibuster to be filmed in the Senate, and the Associated Press noted that the Preservation Board lets the Senate determine what is filmed in its chamber.

The question of what footage is fair game for political advertisements is one candidates nationwide have run into in the past. A candidate running for Ohio governor used footage from the state’s TV channel . In Wisconsin, a candidate for U.S. Senate pulled an ad after questions were raised for using shots of what appeared to be a veterans cemetery.

As of Monday night, Facebook’s Ad Library showed Wendy Davis’ Facebook page ran more than 80 advertisements — many similar versions of the same videos — since she announced her bid for Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy’s seat Monday.

Versions of the ads were targeted in Texas, while others were shown to Facebook users across the U.S., Facebook’s Ad Library shows. Facebook estimates some ads cost less than $100 each, while others were $1,000 to $5,000 each.

The advertisements, along with the video, were also paid to be promoted on Twitter, according to Twitter’s Ad Transparency Center. About $2,600 was spent as of Tuesday morning on promoted tweets, according to Twitter.

Break Something LLC, a limited liability corporation tied to the Washington D.C. advertising firm of the same name, is listed under the billing information for Davis’ Twitter account.

The address listed in the LLC’s corporate registration matches one on the advertising agency’s Facebook page, and job postings on the page also match ones listed under the company’s name on LinkedIn.

According to a job posting on LinkedIn, the advertising agency focuses on digital campaigns and fundraising for Democratic candidates, progressive organizations, and more.

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government for the Star-Telegram. Based in Austin, she covers all things policy and politics with a focus on Tarrant County. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.