A Closer Look: Who’s Really Buying Texas?

*This article was updated April 2019, to include all transactions from the 2018 Texas election cycle — January 1, 2017 – December 8, 2018 (the end date for the most recent reports on file with the Texas Ethics Commission). 

These last few weeks we’ve examined the money in 2018 Texas elections, including a look at the top 10 donors and top 10 PACs, and seen some pretty big numbers.

Donations of $493 million. Spending coming in at $630 million. By any objective standard, that’s a lot of money. What does it say about Texas? Maybe most importantly, who’s behind all that money?

Who’s Really Buying Texas?

With numbers that large, it’s easy for political insiders to write the story they want you to believe.

Have you heard concerns about Democrats “taking over Texas”? Actually, the top Democrat PAC, ActBlue, spent $10,168,604. To put that number into perspective, $10.2 million represents a paltry 1.6 percent of the total expenditures. George Soros, leftist hedge-fund billionaire, donated $3,010,000, but that’s less than one percent (0.6%) of all the money given. Context is everything — the amount being given or spent relative to the total matters. Given the “blue wave” that hit Texas in the  November 2018 elections, it’s likely even more Democrat money will flow into Texas from outside the state in 2020. Transparency Texas will be paying close attention to make sure you know what’s really happening and can put it into context.

You might have also heard about donors who want to push the state “too far to the right.” Spending by Empower Texans, the most conservative PAC in the top 10, spent $5,774,309 or a mere 0.9 percent of the spending. Likewise, the top donor this cycle, conservative oilman Tim Dunn donated $4,255,300, only 0.9 percent of the total given. Again, context matters.

But what about all those heavy hitters put together? The money given by the top 10 donors ($23,399,195) is still only 4.7 percent of the total given. Even the money spent by the top 10 PACs combined ($110,481,462) equaled only 17.5 percent of the total spent. Despite what politicians and pay-to-play media outlets say, the notion that any one person or group is “buying Texas” isn’t supported by the data.

So who really is buying Texas? Texans.

Texans made a total of 2,355,803 individual contributions to Texas candidates and PACs in the 2018 election season. And that doesn’t count donations made by Texans to candidates in federal races like the closely watched Beto v. Cruz campaign.

Yes, more than two million, three hundred thousand separate donations were made to Texas candidates and PACs in a year without a presidential election. That’s a lot of political speech.

For most citizens, in addition to voting, making a political donation is the easiest — and often only — way to be involved politically. It’s their primary means of political speech. Most citizens don’t have the time or inclination to be involved politically beyond voting and a possible donation to a candidate or a PAC they believe will represent their interests in Austin.

In fact, the small donations were the “heavy hitters” in this campaign. A whopping 98 percent of the contributions — that’s 2,308,643 individual donations — were for $1,000 or less. Despite their relatively small amounts, combined they equaled 33 percent of the total.

Texans should never be intimidated into thinking their dollars, their votes, or their voices don’t matter. Texans have a long history as independent thinkers and self-governing citizens. And from the looks of the 2018 Texas elections, nothing has changed. The average citizen, exercising his or her right to vote and right to free speech — even, and especially, speech from the wallet — still wields the most influence by far in the Lone Star State.

Check out the numbers for yourself:

2018 Texas election season:*

Contributions to Texas Candidates and PACs
Total $493,441,095.65
Total given in the Primary Election $240,657,888.69
Total given in the General Election $252,783,206.96
Total number of contributions 2,355,803
Total number of contributions of $1000 or less 2,308,643
Total of contributions of $1000 or less $161,642,506.49
Expenditures by Texas Candidates and PACs
Total $629,709,451.18
Total number of expenditures 410,237

We’ll be taking a break to celebrate the holidays with our families. Join us as the 86th Texas Legislative Session opens in January 2019. Count on Transparency Texas to make it easy for you to get the answers you need about the money in Texas politics.

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