Outside Money Underwrites First Texas House Races

This Tuesday, January 28, voters will choose three members of the Texas House of Representatives in the first races of the 2020 season. Ironically, the winners in these races may never cast a vote in the Texas Legislature, as they’ll have to run again in the primary (March) and the general election (November) in order to be seated for the next legislative session in January 2021.

These runoff elections have received more attention than typical for a state level house race, and all that lead-up coverage is reflected in the financial reports. Every one of these candidates has received more money from outside their district than from within.

Markowitz v. Gates

Called “2020’s First Big Test,” the race for Texas House District 28 (Fort Bend County) has received nationwide attention as a bellwether of Democratic attempts to flip the Texas House to the blue column for the first time in decades. Democrat educational content developer Elizabeth Markowitz will face off against Republican real-estate developer Gary Gates in a race that is receiving more attention than even the early presidential primaries. Markowitz and Gates topped the field of seven candidates in a special election last November to replace Texas House Rep. John Zerwas (R).

Markowitz has run for office before – losing her race for a seat on the State Board of Education in 2018. She has, however, successfully rallied the support of the national Democratic machine for her bid for HD28. Not only have national groups like Forward Majority spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on her behalf in outside expenditures, but Markowitz has received high-profile support from current and past Democratic presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Michael Bloomberg.

Gates has been a perennial candidate of sorts, having run unsuccessful bids for Railroad Commissioner in 2016 and State Senate in 2014.

The numbers also tell a story – these two candidates are all-in, and their funding comes from very different places.

Texas House District 28 — By the Numbers

Elizabeth Markowitz (D)Gary Gates (R)
Total Money Raised$618,019.32$25,671.43
Total Number of Donations10,69453
Average Donation Amount$57.91$484.37
Total Money Raised from In-District$35,686.11$7030.00
Total Number of Donations from In-District29721
Percentage of All Money Raised from In-District6%27%
Total Money Raised from Outside the District$582,333.01$18,641.43
Total Number of Donations from Outside the District10,39732
Percent of All Money Raised from Outside the District94%73%
Total Expenditures$449, 381$1,125,766
Cash On Hand$118,309$59,934.43


Based on the most recent reports, Markowitz has raised a total of $618,019 from 10,694 individual contributions.

Of the over $600,000 raised, only $35,814 (6 percent) comes from 299 donor contributions in HD28. The remaining $582,205 (an astounding 94 percent) comes from outside the district. Of that, $136,780 (22 percent of total donations) of Markowitz’s funds have been raised directly from Washington, DC.

Markowitz has spent $449,380 on her campaign to date, the majority of which has gone to pay for digital ads, a personal loan repayment, print materials, and a $100,600 donation to the Texas Democratic Party.


Gates is primarily self-funding his race by making 13 separate loans to his campaign totaling over $1.176 million dollars.

Other than his own money, Gates has received only 53 donations —  approximately $7,000 (27 percent) coming from folks in HD28 and $18,641 (73 percent) coming from outside the district.

All told, Gates has spent over $1.125 million in his quest to become a member of the Texas legislature, including $750,000 to pay his political consultant Murphy Nasica & Associates. 

What About The Other Two Runoffs?

While certainly garnering less media attention than HD28, the runoff elections in House District 100 (Dallas County) and House District 148 (Harris County) are still benefiting financially from the extra attention of going first in the 2020 election season. Let’s take a look:

Birabil v. Armstrong:

In HD100, Lorraine Birabil (D) and James Armstrong III (D) will compete in a runoff to replace former Texas House Rep. Eric Johnson (D), who was elected mayor of Dallas last June. Although both candidates in this runoff are Democrats, it seems high-profile Democrats and PACs are still choosing sides. Birabil’s top supporters include Lone Star Project ($38,040), a PAC dedicated to electing Democrats in Texas, and Annie’s List ($9,865), a PAC which supports progressive, pro-choice women. Birabil also received support from former representative Johnson.

Texas House District 100 — By the Numbers

James Armstrong III (D)Lorraine Birabil (D)
Total Money Raised$35,335$172,329.15
Total Number of Donations94426
Average Donation Amount$375.90$404.53
Total Money Raised from In-District$4,840$72,773
Total Number of Donations from In-District14171
Percentage of All Money Raised from In-District14%42%
Total Money Raised from Outside the District$30,495$99,556.15
Total Number of Donations from Outside the District80255
Percent of All Money Raised from Outside the District86%58%
Total Expenditures$$35,117.44$113,343.52
Cash On Hand$13,250$22,515.65

Eastman v. LaRotta:

In HD 148, Anna Eastman (D) and Luis LaRotta (R) advanced to a runoff last November to replace Texas House Rep. Jessica Farrar (D). Republican PACs are notably missing from the list of LaRotta’s supporters, except for small donations from Texas Latino GOP PAC ($750) and Republican Hispanic Citizens in Action ($200). This is likely less a reflection on LaRotta’s candidacy than the fact that this district is considered a Democratic stronghold.

Texas House District 148 — By the Numbers

Anna Eastman (D)Luis LaRotta (R)
Total Money Raised$182,531.50$23,562.84
Total Number of Donations356125
Average Donation Amount$512.73$188.50
Total Money Raised from In-District$41,596$7,793.61
Total Number of Donations from In-District15333
Percentage of All Money Raised from In-District23%33%
Total Money Raised from Outside the District$140,935.50$15,769.23
Total Number of Donations from Outside the District20392
Percent of All Money Raised from Outside the District77%67%
Total Expenditures$140,716.05$19,120.98
Cash On Hand$33,967.49$4,095.64

Key Takeaway:

Outside dollars — and attention — matter in Texas this election season. Private citizens, PACs and politicians alike are using their money and their political speech to exert influence well beyond where they live. Just how much influence? That remains to be seen this Tuesday.

HD28’s status as a bellwether for Texas’ political future means that the results of the January 28 election are likely to impact the number of dollars that continue to pour into Texas districts from outside for the rest of the 2020 season. Whatever the outcome, you can be sure that we’ll be watching the numbers and bringing you the latest updates this election cycle.

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