07/12/17

How PACs Fall into Political Tribes

It’s pretty common to see a political talking head grandstanding about how a certain big money donor is trying to use his money to force his will on Texas. But a quick look at the money shows a different story. In the last election cycle, the top eight donors collectively gave a little more than $25 million. But the top eight political action committees, PACs, more than doubled that, giving $60,283,460.

To really understand the money in Texas politics, you’ve got to understand the PACs. What are they? Who are they? And how do PACs determine which politicians get all that money?

After all, what really drives politicians as they make decisions that impact, even dictate, our everyday lives? Ideology? Yes. Convictions? Sure, sometimes. Practicality? Of course. Money? Yes, yes, and yes. None of it happens without money. “Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” as the saying goes.

Ironically, understanding how money drives politicians is often the most difficult part of understanding the system. That’s probably on purpose, but it’s not okay. At Transparency Texas, our mission is to make it easy to understand the flow of money in Texas politics. We’re committed to making it easy to see where the money comes from, which politicians get it, and how it impacts what they do. We want you to know who is really on your side.

 

Political Action Committees:

The biggest money in Texas politics comes from PACs or political action committees. These PACs often have names that sound like trade organizations, such as Texas Trial Lawyers Association or Texas Medical Association. Sometimes they have rather non-descript names like Associated Republicans of Texas or Empower Texans. What does it mean if your representative gets a big chunk of his or her money from one of these PACs?

We decided to take a look at some of the biggest Texas PACs, those who consistently gave a great deal of money and who clearly tried to influence political outcomes, to determine the ideology behind their giving. But first, we had to start with the politicians who get the money. Of course, we have a bi-partisan political system – Democrats and Republicans. But in Texas, it’s more complicated than that.  Since the 1990s Texas has been solidly Republican. No Democrat has held a state-wide office in more than two decades.

But not all Republicans are on the same team. In fact, a closer look reveals that our representatives often break down into four voting blocs or political tribes: Democrats and three groups of Republicans – Liberal Republicans, Moderate [middle-of-the-road] Republicans, and Conservative Republicans.

We have focused on the Texas House of Representatives because, frankly, that’s where the ideological action is. Of course, members of these four political tribes serve in the Senate and in statewide offices as well, but in the current political climate, the lines are most clearly drawn in the House.

In the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has exhibited such strong leadership that he often persuades even his political opponents to vote with him.  At the statewide level, political giving is often motivated more by the desire to purchase influence than to promote ideology. In the House, however, the constant in-fighting, particularly among Republicans, exposes real political alliances.

 

The Bottom Line:

As we studied the money that props up these four political tribes we found that they each have their own set of financial supporters – not just individual donors, but PACs as well. Yes, the PACs also fall into political tribes. Once you understand the various factions or tribes at work in the system, a quick look at a politician’s donor list can reveal how he or she is likely to vote. We will explain the political tribes and the big money PAC dollars supporting each one so you can easily understand the money in Texas politics.

 

Up Next:

Exposing Political Alliances of the Texas PACs: How We Did It: We explain our methodology. How did we group the politicians? How did we link the PACs?

 

An Easy Guide to the Big Money PACs in Texas Politics – In this Series:

Read More Case Studies