Texas Governor Greg Abbott writes notes before a gubernatorial debate against his Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP, Pool)

Big Money Floods into Texas Governor’s Race

In total, Beto O’Rourke and Greg Abbott have raised $200 million.

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The latest Texas campaign finance reports are in and they confirm that the governor’s race is now the most evenly matched of the century—at least when it comes to funding. 

For the second-straight filing period, Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke has outraised the incumbent Governor Greg Abbott—only this time, barely. The Democrat reported raising just over $25 million since July 1, while Abbott has raised just under $25 million. Combined, the two candidates have raised over $200 million so far, much of which has been used to fuel a statewide ad war. 

Abbott has dug deep into his campaign war chest, spending $55 million since July. That money has financed a massive ad campaign, directed by his longtime campaign consultant Dave Carney, aiming to cast O’Rourke as a radical and shill for President Joe Biden and stir up fears of open borders and deadly fentanyl and attacks on the Texas oil and gas industry. 

O’Rourke has countered by spending about $30 million, including ads condemning Abbott for signing the state’s radical abortion ban and his refusal to act in response to the Uvalde school massacre. 

Polling shows that Abbott has maintained a healthy lead—between 7 and 10 points. But as we enter the final stretch of the campaign, Abbott’s once-dominant cash advantage has now completely eroded. As the Texas Tribune noted, in June, the governor had twice as much campaign money ($45 million) in the bank as O’Rourke. Now, both campaigns report having about $16 million to spend in the final month of the race. 

That’s a fairly astounding evening of the scales given that Abbott has one of the biggest and wealthiest donor networks in the country that gave him a significant head start—he’s raised over $130 million since his last reelection in 2018. 

To keep pace with O’Rourke’s prodigious fundraising hauls, Abbott has had to lean heavily on his biggest donors. As of June, Abbott had several donors who’d already given $1 million or more to his campaign this cycle. These include some of the biggest moguls in Texas oil and gas, real estate, finance, and construction. Almost all of Abbott’s seven-figure scions coughed up even more money to his campaign since the last period. 

That includes pipeline titan Kelcy Warren, who wrote a million-dollar check to Abbott last summer just months after his company Energy Transfer raked in billions during the state’s winter grid collapse. O’Rourke has frequently pointed to that transaction as proof that Abbott prioritized energy donor interests over fixing the grid, which prompted Warren to sue him for defamation. In September, Warren kicked in another $250,000 to Abbott’s coffers. The governor’s biggest donor, Midland oil executive Javaid Anwar, gave another $750,000, bringing his total this campaign to $2.5 million. 

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Abbott also hauled in a couple more million-dollar checks. Miriam Adelson, wife of the late Las Vegas casino mogul/mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, gave $1 million. The Adelsons’ casino empire Las Vegas Sands has been pushing hard to legalize casinos in Texas, greasing the skids with big campaign checks and an army of well-heeled lobbyists. 

California real estate magnate Ed Roski also gave $1 million, bringing his total to $1.85 million this cycle. The Fort Worth Stockyards Hotel—which was recently acquired by Roski’s company Majestic Realty—also hosted an event for Abbott, an in-kind contribution worth $380,000, according to his campaign finance report. 

A new donor name also made a big entrance. Matt Andresen, founder of a Chicago-based hedge fund, and his wife Teri gave Abbott $975,000. The couple also reportedly made a founding donation of $10 million to the University of Austin, which intends to be an educational haven for politically incorrect, anti-woke intellectuals. 

The Abbott campaign said that his latest haul came from “nearly 45,000 contributors.” O’Rourke’s campaign, meanwhile, said its funds came from about 475,000 contributions. 

While O’Rourke has relied far more on small and medium-sized donors to finance his campaign, he’s also wrangled his own massive donations. Last period, he pulled in a couple of million-dollar checks, including one from liberal mega-donor George Soros, who’s taken an interest in Texas in recent years as he’s helped elect a number of reformist district attorneys in major cities. He came to O’Rourke’s aid again with $500,000 more in late September. But the biggest contribution came from Sam Bankman-Fried, a cryptocurrency billionaire who gave O’Rourke $1 million. This year, he launched a super PAC that played heavily in Democratic primaries across the country, including $1 million to support state Representative Jasmine Crockett in her bid to succeed Dallas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. 

Bankman-Fried has said that his super PAC, Protect Our Future, is about elected politicians dedicated to preventing future public health disasters and pandemics. Though his entrance as a major Democratic donor also comes as Congress and state governments consider how and whether to regulate cryptocurrency, and his crypto exchange firm FTX has been a big player in the industry’s push to shape those regulations. 

While O’Rourke and Abbott are now fighting on evenly financed ground, the other statewide Democrats running against potentially vulnerable Republican incumbents are on uneven terrain. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick spent about $12 million in the latest period and still has about $17 million left in the bank. His Democratic opponent Mike Collier has gained momentum in recent months, gathering endorsements from some prominent Republican officials and irking Patrick along the way, but he still raised only $1.4 million and has less than a million to burn. 
Democrat Rochelle Garza was outraised and outspent by the Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton. Despite running against the most vulnerable and comically corrupt incumbent on the ballot, Garza has struggled to raise the sort of money that could foment an upset. In fact, Texans have donated more to a couple of U.S. Senate campaigns in other states than to their home state AG hopeful.