Staggering Cash Advantage for Statewide Incumbents

“Just a little bit more.”

John D. Rockefeller’s response to the question, “How much money is enough?”

How much money is enough?

In the last several weeks, Transparency Texas has been taking a look at the money in Texas statewide elections. The most remarkable feature of these races is the staggering financial advantage enjoyed by most of the incumbents.

With the exception of the race for Agriculture Commissioner, where Sid Miller is in a virtual financial tie with his challenger, most statewide office holders enjoy an overwhelming cash advantage. Governor Greg Abbott has $29 million dollars in his campaign account, or 134 times more than his challenger, Lupe Valdez. Even more astounding, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick  has amassed 227 times more than his opponent. Likewise, Comptroller Glenn Hegar has a 697 to 1 advantage. And get this – Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick  has stockpiled 810 times more cash than her challenger.

None of this is illegal or even necessarily inappropriate. Citizens certainly have the right “to speak” with their dollars by donating to the candidates they prefer, and candidates have the right to collect this money. In fact, the money spent to select candidates and influence government pales in comparison to the money spent by the same government.

Transparency Texas, however, exists to help you, the citizen, keep an eye on the money and see it in context. Now you can see exactly where the money is coming from and where it’s going, so you can know who is really on your side.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers:

Statewide Races – By The Numbers – Cash on Hand (COH)
Office Incumbent Challenger COH Incumbent COH Challenger COH Advantage
Governor Abbott Valdez $29,658,512 $222,051 134:1
Lt. Governor Patrick Collier $13,848,849 $61,001 227:1
Attorney General Paxton Nelson $7,238,791 $1,104,966 7:1
Comptroller Hegar Chevalier $4,855,524 $6,965 697:1
Agriculture Commissioner Miller Olson $138,355 $136,767 1:1
Railroad Commissioner Craddick McAllen $1,498,531 $1,850 810:1
Land Commissioner Bush Suazo $884,763 $153,454 6:1


How did it get this way?

  1. Incumbents have the advantage.
    People love a winner, and to be in a winner’s good graces. Also, incumbents typically start with money in the bank from their previous election(s), and they have a voting record to point to when courting like-minded donors.
  2. Big donor Democrats are sitting this one out.
    In Texas, all statewide incumbents are Republicans. In fact, no Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas in more than two decades. A quick perusal of the donors to the 2018 slate of statewide Democrat candidates shows that the big-name Democrat donors – including individuals and PACs – are nowhere to be found. Apparently, they don’t have much hope for these candidates and are focusing instead on the Texas House and Senate seats that might be up for grabs as well as the U.S. Senate race between Cruz and O’Rourke.
  3. Donors like the results.
    The most likely explanation for the big-dollar donations these candidates have raked in is that donors approve of the candidates’ job performance and want to ensure Texas stays red.

What can a candidate do with all that money?

  1. Use cash-on-hand as “challenger-repellent.”
    One candidate explained to a donor that having a lot of cash-on-hand has the same effect as a lion’s mane – the bigger and thicker the account, the less likely the candidate will be to draw an attack.
  2. Stockpile cash to run for higher office.
    It should come as no surprise that most politicians dream of their next “promotion.” And yes, they can use money given for one campaign for any future campaign, even for a different office. Typically, the higher the office, the more campaign cash required to win.
  3. Give it back.
    Candidates can legally return money to the donor, but, as one might imagine, this doesn’t happen often.
  4. Do good.
    Candidates may legally donate campaign funds to certain charities or to a college or university to fund a scholarship. While it is fairly common to see a politician donate to local civic clubs, (last cycle House Rep. Charlie Geren gave more than $24,000 to the Tarrant County Jr. Livestock Show), sizeable donations to charity are rare. One inspiring exception: Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar donated a quarter of a million dollars to the American Red Cross to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.
  5. Share the wealth with other campaigns.
    Politicians may share their campaign donations with other candidates or PACs, a political party, or even the Texas treasury. Recently Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton shared $600,000 of his campaign money with his wife, Angela Paxton, for her bid to win a Texas Senate seat.

How will these candidates handle such huge leads as we head into the November election? Will they spend it wisely, hold on to it all, or even consider sharing it with down-ballot Republicans who are at serious risk of losing their seats?

You can count on Transparency Texas to keep an eye on them and let you know.


Our Race to Raise series takes a deeper look at the most high-profile races of the election cycle, focusing specifically on money raised by those seeking to serve in public office. Stay tuned for the next installment.

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