Reading the Tea Leaves (or maybe it’s the Finance Filings)

Chris Tackett
Jan 21 · 5 min read

Texas is a state with no campaign finance contribution limits, which creates some crazy campaign finance filings. In an election cycle like the one we are in the middle of, this illustrates what those who have power, and those who want power, are willing to do and support to make it happen.

I’ve complied all of the candidates running in the Texas House and Senate races, how much money they took in during 2019, and have noticed a few things. Here are the broad highlights.


In the Texas Senate, 1/2 of the group is up for re-election, but they all take checks. What were the results for the 46 total candidates I’m tracking? (25 on the Democratic side, 21 on the Republican side)

Texas Senate — Republicans, both “regular” R’s and those traditionally backed by Empower Texans (2017 in parenthesis)

  • 3,336 contributors (4,587)
  • 4,348 donations (6,521)
  • $1,283 average donation ($1,281)
  • $500 median donation ($250)
  • $5,577,711 in contributions ($8,358,317)

Comparing to 2017 (which was the same timeframe in the previous election cycle), Republican Texas Senate contributors are down 27% (3,336 v 4,587) and contributions are also down, slipping 33% ($5.57m v $8.35m). The average donation is about the same, but there are fewer people writing the Republican slate of candidates checks.

2019 Contributions to Republican Texas Senate Candidates

Texas Senate — Democrats (2017 results in parenthesis)

  • 2,488 contributors (2,598)
  • 3,215 donations (3,511)
  • $1,158 average donation ($599)
  • $500 median donation ($100)
  • $3,785,694 in contributions ($2,104,336)

Versus 2017, contributors are down 4% (2,598 v 2,488) but the contributions are up 80% ($2,104,336 v $3,785,694). This says that the number of people writing checks is down, but the checks they are writing are bigger.

2019 Contributions to Democratic Texas Senate Candidates

In the Texas House, everyone is up every two years, scrambling for contributions to get the chance to head to Austin. What were the results for the 267 total candidates I’m tracking? (132 on the Democratic side, 135 on the Republican side)

Texas House — Republicans, both “regular” R’s and those traditionally backed by Empower Texans (2017 in parenthesis)

  • 13,130 contributors (11,333)
  • 17,608 donations (18,036)
  • $760 average donation ($743)
  • $250 median donation ($200)
  • $13,382,793 in contributions ($13,402,259)

Contributor count to Texas House Republicans is up 17%, but the donation count is down, meaning less recurring money coming in, resulting in an overall contribution amount that is basically flat vs 2017.

2019 Contributions to Republican Texas House Candidates

Texas House — Democrats (2017 results in parenthesis)

  • 25,000 contributors (6,943)
  • 37,782 donations (11,124)
  • $280 average donation ($398)
  • $27 median donation ($100)
  • $10,598,123 in contributions ($4,425,941)

HOLY SMOKES!

The change vs 2017 is a really dramatic one. Donations are up 240%. Contributors are up 260%. Overall contributions to Democratic Texas House candidates is up 139% vs 2017, all while the average and median donations are pushing down. That’s a lot of grassroots activism happening, as well as a shift in some of the top donors deciding maybe Democrats will flip the Texas House this election. As an example, take a look at Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, the largest donor overall to Texas House races. In the ENTIRE 2018 election cycle, Texans for Lawsuit Reform only gave Democrats $57k. They have already given Democrats $201k, and the races are just heating up. What are they seeing, hearing, and perhaps interpreting from polls?

2019 Contributions to Democratic Texas House Candidates

When it comes to Texas PACs, it’s mostly the same donors giving to the same groups, with one HUGE notable exception: the almost complete disappearing act of those behind Empower Texans. Here is how much went into a series of PACs with connections to Empower Texans donors (2017 comparision in parenthesis):

  • Empower Texans PAC — $35,220 in contributions from 40 contributors ($2,269,908 from 191 contributors)
  • Texas Right to Life PAC — $70,754 from 184 contributors ($423,821 from 158 contributors)
  • New Leadership PAC — Dissolved mid 2019 ($266,000 from 7 contributors)
  • NE Tarrant Tea Party / True Texas Project PAC — $8,375 from 57 contributors ($74,344 from 158 contributors)

Where have these donors gone? Farris Wilks is still kicking, but seemingly just with significant campaign financing eyes for HD60, where his son-in-law is running. Farris and his wife Jo Ann have kicked in $500,000 to that race, and another $25,000 spread across 4 other races. Brother Dan Wilks isn’t anywhere on the finance reports. Tim Dunn? Haven’t really seen him. Kyle Stallings? Nope.

Representative Mayes Middleton, who gave Empower Texans $200,000 in the past cycle, is on the books contributing $370k to 18 candidates, but… $300k of that was to his own race.


The field of play looks different this go around. The Democrats certainly look to have some momentum, closing the gap on what has been a MASSIVE advantage for Republicans. But, with the flip of the calendar, the real campaign season is upon us. In the 2018 election cycle, 2017 was 27% of the contributions for both Democrats and Republicans, just with a whole different basis for the R’s. In the 2020 election cycle, will the Dems continue to keep pace? If so, will we see record turnout? Will the Texas House flip? It all depends on you. And your friends. And family.

I’ll be tracking the money, doing whatever I can to help people understand what’s happening below the surface, behind the rhetoric, and tying it all together. Hopefully you’ll be along for the ride.


All of the data in my charts is pulled directly from the Texas Ethics Commission. You can run your own data on specific candidates at my site, christackettnow.com. If you like what I’m doing, consider signing up to help support the work, at https://www.patreon.com/christackettnow. Chipping in a little helps keep it free for all.

Chris Tackett

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I chart Texas Politics at christackettnow.com and write about things that matter (to me at least) whenever the muse hits.

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