01/28/19

You asked. We answered.

At Transparency Texas, our mission is to make it easy for you to understand the money in Texas politics.

Political insiders love to throw around high-dollar amounts and political jargon to muddy the water for voters. We provide you with the tools and context you need to interpret the numbers for yourself.

A couple of weeks ago we asked you to tell us what you would like to
know about money in Texas politics — especially as it relates to the 86th Texas legislative session.

Here are some of the top questions you asked along with our answers:

I would be interested in knowing how the amount of money raised by a political candidate translates into victory or defeat at the polls.

As for whether a large campaign account translates to victory at the polls, the answer is, “Usually yes, with some caveats.” It certainly takes money to run for office, but many times a likable candidate who runs a smart campaign can get elected with a relatively low cost-per-vote. For example, in the November 2018 elections, we saw cost-per-vote for winning candidates range from $0.81 to upwards of $21.00.

Of course, to win, a candidate must have good name identification, but in many cases, good old-fashioned block walking and showing up at local events is more effective than expensive TV and radio ads. 

That said, a large campaign account never hurts. While we only track state rather than federal races, the recent Ted Cruz v. Beto O’Rourke face-off for U.S. Senate is a great example. O’Rourke’s campaign brought in more than $70 million, much of it from celebrities and other out-of-state sources. That money allowed him to run a very competitive race with Cruz and caused a number of down-ballot losses for other Republicans. Without his immense campaign account, O’Rourke would not have made such significant inroads against a sitting U.S. Senator. 

Another way a large campaign account helps is commonly referred to as “Challenger Repellant.” If someone is considering challenging an incumbent, but sees that the incumbent is sitting on tons of money, it can often derail the challenge before it even begins — much like a lion who shakes his mane to ward off a would-be rival.

How does the amount of money raised by a candidate translate into effectiveness in office — bang for the buck, so to speak?  


It depends on what you mean by “effective.” If you mean powerful then yes, there is a correlation, because other politicians realize their colleagues with the well-funded campaign accounts are likely to remain in office for a longer time, get more important committee positions, and thus be able to exert more influence. It’s somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy because the ones who have been in office the longest get the most powerful positions, securing more donations from people seeking access to powerful politicians as a result. This is the number one reason it is extremely hard to defeat an incumbent. The longer someone has been in office, the harder they are to defeat, generally speaking. 

If by “effective” you mean doing good, then no, there is no correlation. The numbers show no direct correlation between campaign dollars raised and any resulting “good works” during time spent in office. As Sir Acton put it, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Too often, politicians prove this rule.

Why is border security not a priority with this session of the Texas legislature? No lobbyists’ money?

Although the emphasis so far from Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, and Speaker Bonnen has been on reforming school finance and property taxes, border security may still be a priority. Governor Abbott will soon give his State of the State Address, where he will likely lay out additional legislative priorities or “emergency items.” Abbott will likely address border security at that time, ensuring it receives priority treatment from lawmakers.

We also received a number of questions related to specific legislators and distinct topics.

Readers asked about a number of topics — from legislation related to wind insurance litigation in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to lawmakers for and against the legalization of marijuana in Texas. We will be keeping a close eye on lawmakers (and their donors) for and against the hot topics this session.

Thanks for your questions. Anytime you want to know more about the money in Texas politics, send your queries our way. We always want to cover the topics you care about most.

If you would like to see for yourself who is funding your representatives or other lawmakers involved in an issue you care about, you can search by politician, donor, or PAC.

Our How It Works series pulls back the curtain on the inner-workings of state government. Join us here to get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox. 



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