Finance reports reveal Texas candidate viability

CHRIS TOMLINSON, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In the second largest state, with the second biggest population, money makes the politician.

The latest filing period for campaign finance reports ended New Year’s Eve. Over the next 10 days, candidates will reveal how much they’ve spent so far, and more importantly, how much more they still have in the bank. Count on those with big numbers to release their totals earlier than those who didn’t.

Fair or not, those numbers will also determine whose candidacy is taken seriously, and whose longshot campaign will go down as a footnote. That’s because getting on the ballot is easy. Waging a campaign is hard.

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Any Texan with either 5,000 signatures or $3,750 can get on a political party’s primary ballot for governor. File the proper forms with the party, the Texas Ethics Commission and the Texas Secretary of State’s office, and a ballot position is guaranteed.

What separates a major candidate from an also-ran is fundraising, a subjective way of measuring a campaign’s organization and reach. Because there are no limits on personal campaign contributions or political action committees, it’s possible though for some campaigns to appear more popular than they really are.

What’s unquestioned is the importance of campaign funds. Texas has 20 media markets and barnstorming the state making personal appearances will not deliver the votes, TV, radio and direct mail are all necessary and expensive.

Right now on the primary ballots for governor, there are four Republicans and two Democrats. Barring any major surprises, though, only Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic Fort Worth Sen. Wendy Davis will fall into the serious candidate category because they will be the only ones with seven- or eight-digit war chests.

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Abbott had $23 million in cash at the end of the last reporting period on June 30. The only question for him is how much more money has he raised in what many expect will be the most expensive governor’s race in Texas history.

The end-of-year campaign report will be a bigger test for Davis, who entered the race late. This will be the first opportunity for her campaign to prove she can raise enough money to be competitive in a state where no Democrat has won a statewide office since 1994. She had $1 million on-hand when she filed her June report, but that was before she announced her candidacy for governor.

Money doesn’t guarantee victory, though. In California, Republican billionaire Meg Whitman spent $177 million on her campaign for governor, only to lose to Jerry Brown, a former Democratic governor who spent only $36 million. Brown’s name recognition in a Democratic-leaning state made up for Whitman’s deep pockets. But Davis won’t have either of those advantages.

The more interesting story in Texas will be Republican fundraising numbers on the down-ballot races, such as lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller.

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Incumbent millionaire David Dewhurst spent $20 million of his own money in his 2012 U.S. Senate bid, but his opponents will be looking for weakness reporting his campaign manager embezzled at least $760,000 in 2012. Dewhurst faces three challengers in the Republican primary, whom the media will almost certainly rank based on their bank balances.

There are no incumbents in the attorney general and comptroller races, where six candidates are vying for the Republican nominations. Dallas state Rep. Dan Branch led state Sen. Ken Paxton and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman in the June totals, and the December update will set the tone for the rundown to the March 4 primary.

The Republican state comptroller’s race was much closer, with state Sen. Glenn Hegar reporting $1.8 million cash-on-hand and state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran holding $1 million. Tea party activist Debra Medina, who had not started campaigning, was far behind with only $55,000.

Look for the candidates who raised the most money in those races to declare themselves the front-runners.

The campaign finance reports for all candidates will become public through the Texas Ethics Commission after the filing deadline on Jan. 15.