06/19/19

The Session Is Over. Now’s the Time To Keep An Eye on the Money.

The 86th Session of the Texas Legislature ended on May 27, 2019. As politicians begin to jockey for position going into the next election season, what’s the first thing to watch? Money, of course.

Here’s How It Works:

Texas politics generally follows a two year cycle, with two components to each cycle.

First comes the legislative season — 140 days at the start of every odd-numbered year when lawmakers gather in Austin to do their work. This time is known as the “legislative session”.

Next comes election season. As soon as the legislative session ends, all political attention turns to the next elections. Even-numbered years are marked by party primary elections in March and general elections in November. Every two years, all members of the Texas House, half of the Texas Senate, and a smattering of statewide officeholders are up for reelection.

Lawmakers have been in a fundraising blackout since December 9, 2018. Designed to avoid the appearance (or reality) of lawmakers being bribed for their votes, state law prohibits politicians from accepting donations from 30 days before the legislative session begins until 20 days after it ends. This moratorium on campaign contributions ended last Sunday, June 16, so the financial floodgates have just opened. This creates a narrow fundraising window between Sunday and the end of the month, when politicians and PACs have to file their semiannual reports.

What’s the Big Deal?

While incumbent politicians will still happily accept donations after June, these early fundraising dollars act as both rewards and repellents for lawmakers at this turning point in the political cycle.

Rewards: Big donors and PACs will often make contributions to lawmakers just after the session as a way to express their approval for performing — voting or even preventing floor votes — on legislation relevant to the donor.

Repellents: Incumbents love to rack up contributions during this window because nothing repels a potential challenger quite like a big, fat bank account. When the semiannual reports are released in mid-July, all political eyes will be watching to see who looks vulnerable and who looks untouchable.

What We’ll Be Watching:

  1. Which politicians raked it in? Governor Abbott is known for his nearly superhuman ability to raise large amounts of cash in a short amount of time. It will be interesting to see how much he raised after this session compared to previous sessions. And which other candidates received significant donations? Maybe more interesting, which didn’t? There have been rumblings that conservative donors may sit this one out in disapproval.
  2. How did incumbent politicians spend the money you gave them? After each session, it’s very telling to see how lawmakers stewarded their campaign cash while in Austin.
  3. What about potential challengers? Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen made headlines when he warned every member of the Texas House that they would be punished if they supported challengers to incumbent House members — whether Democrat or Republican. It will be interesting to see if incumbents “obeyed,” or if they shared any of their campaign money with challengers, and whether Bonnen himself accepted money from donors who typically support challengers.
  4. How are Democrats stacking up against Republicans? In the 2018 election cycle, Democrats picked up 12 seats in the Texas House and two seats in the Texas Senate. They are expected to invest heavily in the 2020 elections in an attempt to build on that momentum. Their ultimate reward for flipping the House blue would be that Democrats would control the once-every-ten-years redistricting, making it harder (if not impossible) for Republicans to regain power.

What Would YOU Like To Know?

Candidates and PACs must submit their reports by July 15, and they should be released by the Texas Ethics Commission to the public the following week. As soon as the information is available, we’ll be hard at work cleaning it up and making it easy to search. If there’s something you’re interested in, let us know. Our mission is to make it easy for you to get the answers you need about the money in Texas politics.

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