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A Tale of Two Fundraisers: Abbott and Davis

If the past is a guide, gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott will soon report big money from wealthy donors, and his opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, will report many small donors from around the U.S.


Republicans have criticized Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis for relying too heavily on out-of-state donors in her race for Texas governor, but GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott is no slouch when it comes to hitting up non-Texans for political dough. 

Out-of-state money is a small but important part of the fundraising narrative that both gubernatorial campaigns are anxious to begin building (or not) this week when new reports are turned in. Campaign finance reports for the last half of 2013 are due Wednesday. The reports will reveal the identities of major donors, the amount of cash the candidates have in the bank and how much they’re spending — all fodder for the campaign spin rooms.

Abbott has pulled in at least $2.5 million since 2001 from other states, records at the Texas Ethics Commission show. That’s more than the $700,000 or so Davis has raised from out-of-state sources during her state political career, though as a percentage of their total hauls, the Fort Worth senator has gotten a greater share from non-Texans than Abbott, particularly since her filibuster against a restrictive abortion bill catapulted her into national stardom. 

Democratic sources and media reports suggest that Davis will announce that $10 million or more has been raised for her effort against Abbott. Sources say the campaign will cite money spread out among three different entities: the Davis campaign itself, the turnout operation known as Battleground Texas and a “victory committee” that shares resources between those two entities. 

The Davis campaign did not return messages left via voicemail and email Monday. Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch declined to comment. 

Abbott, who has the largest war chest in state politics, is expected to remain on top but not with the lopsided 20-1 cash-on-hand advantage he racked up in the summer when the last semi-annual spending report came in.

The new semi-annual reports, covering fundraising and spending activity between July 1 and Dec. 31 of last year, are due at the Texas Ethics Commission Wednesday, though campaigns can (and often do) release all or part of their filings to the media before the deadline.

In the meantime, here is a Texas Tribune analysis of some of the trends evident from the candidates' past reports, based on their contributions from the beginning of their careers through Aug. 5 of last year:

— Davis’ June filibuster turned her into a national fundraising magnet. On the day after her filibuster, June 26, 2013, Davis raised $150,000 from more than 150 individuals. Over the ensuing days and weeks, small donations poured in from around the United States and even from expatriate Americans living abroad.

— Democrats have struggled for years to court small donors, relying instead on trial lawyers and wealthy individuals to fund their campaigns. Davis has turned that around. Since she began collecting political money in 2007, Davis has gotten contributions from nearly 20,000 donors, raising a total of $8.5 million. Online reports for Abbott going back to 2001, right before he ran for attorney general, show he has gotten cash from slightly more than 27,000 donors and has collected at least $44 million. In the first seven months of 2013, Davis had about three times as many donors as Abbott, or 12,600 compared with about 4,200. (Repeat contributors are counted as donors each time they give.)

— Abbott has shown an ability to tap into a network of small donors, too. But he has been particularly adept at pulling down huge sums from wealthy businessmen. On the same day Davis pulled in her $150,000 haul after the filibuster, Abbott raised far more — and from more individuals. He received four separate donations of $100,000 that day, including from Dallas oilman Ray Hunt and Houston Texans owner Robert McNair. A day later, he got five separate donations of $100,000, including from former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane and the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington, D.C. A single donor, the late Dallas businessman Harold Simmons, gave Abbott at least $1.1 million since 2001.

— Though she has far fewer eye-popping donations than Abbott (at least as of August), Davis is no stranger to big-dollar contributors. Wealthy Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn and his law firm have given Davis nearly $600,000. Fort Worth billionaire Sid Bass has given her $200,000. And the Provost Umphrey Law Firm of Beaumont and partner Walter Umphrey have given her nearly $100,000.

— While Abbott often associates Davis with Washington values, the attorney general as of early August had raised $700,000 from donors in the nation’s capital since 2001, compared with about $250,000 for Davis, who first began raising and spending money in state campaigns beginning in 2007. All told, Davis has raised about $740,000 from out-of-state sources, compared with some $2.5 million for Abbott. As a percentage of their total receipts for their careers in elective politics (not including Abbott’s judicial races), out-of-state cash made up about 9 percent of Davis’ money and about 6 percent of Abbott’s. Both raised about the same amount of money from non-Texas sources in the first seven months or so of 2013, with Abbott pulling in $370,000 and Davis scoring some $340,000, though for Davis that represented 30 percent of her total receipts for the period. Out-of-state funds made up about 7 percent of the money Abbott raised during the same time frame.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/14/tale-two-fundraisers-abbott-and-davis/.

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