As groups working to elect Mitt Romney president look to spend up to $1 billion in the months leading up to November, money in politics is poised to be one of the most prominent media narratives of the 2012 campaign.
Much of that money is coming from Texas, home to some of the most influential of ‘the political one percent of the one percent.’ A Sunlight Foundation report found that during the 2010 election cycle, many of the largest donors to federal political campaigns called Texas home.
In the 2012 election cycle these donors have opened up their pocketbooks again, and have contributed significant amounts to federal campaigns and Super PACs. According to an analysis by the Houston Chronicle, donors from Texas have contributed more cash to the twenty largest Super PACs than donors from any other state. The $36.5 million from Texans filling the coffers of Super PACs far outpaces the $22 million from California and $17 million from New York.
Two of the three biggest spenders in the country are among the biggest wallets in Texas, and five of the top twenty-five write checks from Texas zip codes. Only New York has more donors on the top twenty-five with seven, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
The combined contributions of the seven New York donors of $11 million does not equal the total of the biggest contributor from Texas, Harold Simmons, who has so far contributed $14.9 million to federal campaigns and PACs. In total the five Texans in the top twenty-five have contributed $26.8 million during the 2012 election cycle.
In addition to the money flowing out of Texas to Republicans and conservative committees, Democrats are also sending money out of the state. As the Chronicle reported, of the $21 million Texas Democrats have given to candidates running for federal office, Super PACs and party political committees in the 2012 election, only $4.8 million has gone to candidates from Texas.
“In the short-run, Texans who support the Democratic Party are likely to see their campaign donations have a much more substantial impact on the electoral process and policy process outside of Texas rather than inside the state,” said Mark Jones, a professor and chair of the political science department at Rice University. “In terms of the 36 U.S. House races, 34 to 35 are not considered to be competitive, that is we know they will either be won by a Democrat or a Republican even today. The same holds true for the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Texas.”
Jones says that in contrast, through donations to U.S. Senate races in states such as Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Missouri, Texas donors can play a major role in races which will determine which party holds a majority in the U.S. Senate next year, as well as affect the partisan composition of the U.S. House. “By comparison, barring something truly dramatic occurring, we know for a fact that the winner of the GOP U.S. Senate primary in Texas will assume office in D.C. in January,” said Jones.
While most of the attention is being paid to money donated to federal candidates and Super PACs, these same individuals have been quietly funding campaigns in Texas. With no campaign contribution limits in state races, some candidates have gotten checks in excess of $100,000. Operating in the same way as Super PACs, political action committees in Texas received huge checks even before the Supreme Court opened the door to unlimited campaign contributions. Texas PACs regularly receive contributions of $100,000 or more, sometimes as much as $500,000.
“Unlike the case at the national level where the outsized influence of the mega-rich on campaigns via Super PACs is relatively novel in the post Citizens United world, the mega-rich having an outsized influence on elections is the normal state of affairs in Texas, given our lack of any real limits on individual and PAC donations to candidates,” said Jones.
According to Jones, the very wealthy have a much greater impact on politics and public policy in Texas than they do in a large majority of states. “This is particularly the case when you take into account the large size of the Texas House and Senate districts, which make state legislative campaigns much more expensive than in all states except California and New York, both states which have ceilings for individual and PAC donations,” said Jones.
Bob Perry, a Houston home builder and perennial financial supporter of the Texas governor and Republican candidates, has contributed more than $3.4 million since the end of the 2010 campaign, Texas Ethics Commission records show. Perry’s contributions have been spread out to lawmakers and committees throughout the state, the vast majority of which have been to Republicans or right leaning committees.
Embattled Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Republican Joe Straus has received $85,000 in contributions from Perry. A Democrat representing a district along the border, Rep. Eddie Lucio III has received $58,500. Even party switcher Republican Rep. Aaron Pena has pocketed $16,000.
Simmons, a Dallas businessman who owns Contran Corporation, has donated primarily to Republican candidates and right leaning committees throughout the state. In addition to $45,000 that Simons gave to Speaker Straus, Dallas Republican Rep. Dan Branch has received $75,000. Commissioner of the General Land Office and 2014 Lt. Governor candidate Jerry Patterson has received a total of $100,000.
Both Perry and Simmons have reserved their largest checks for political action committees. In fact, they are the two biggest funders of one of the most politically powerful organizations in the state. Texans for Lawsuit Reform, an organization that has successfully lobbied for tort reform in Texas, has received $750,000 from Simmons and $500,000 from Perry.
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Thomas Hawk, Rob Shenk)