Tomorrow marks an important deadline in accountability season in Texas. Campaign finance reports are due to the Texas Ethics Commission and their contents will tell voters and activists alike a lot about the viability of a campaign, which races the Austin establishment is prioritizing, and who candidates and incumbent lawmakers are really answering to should they be sent to the Capitol in 2019.
Which campaigns are viable?
There’s no amount of money one can point to as the “magic number” it takes to successfully win an election. Conservatives know that our candidates can win with far less financial resources than the establishment because they have the “truth discount,” whether it’s coming from a “Taxpayer Champion” who was sent to Austin and did exactly as they told voters when they first ran, or a challenger who is shining a light on an incumbent politician’s dismal record.
However, that doesn’t mean money isn’t necessary. Far from it.
In order for voters to hear a candidate’s message, the campaign must have the resources to broadcast it. They don’t need Super Bowl TV ads or flying blimps with their logo on it, but they do need blocks walked and neighborhoods canvassed, they do need to send mail, print and distribute yard signs, etc.
These things are far cheaper than the expensive tools the establishment uses, but it does take some cash to happen. If your candidate only shows a couple thousand dollars raised since last July, a discerning activist must evaluate how hard their candidate is really working. Nobody enjoys asking for money, but if a candidate is truly willing to work hard to fight for your values, it should be reflected in their fundraising.
Who is the establishment prioritizing?
Although Speaker Joe Straus is retiring from the legislature, the machine that propelled him into power is not retiring with him. Shortly after announcing his decision to quit, Straus made it known that he would be getting involved in primary elections, namely to support his obstructionist friends.
While it’s unlikely to see Straus emptying much of his own $10 million warchest into the campaigns, conservatives should look to see who is receiving checks from the Texas House Leadership Fund, an establishment PAC controlled by Straus and his team.
Will they pour money into defending State Reps. Sarah Davis (West University Place) and Wayne Faircloth (Dickinson) against their Gov. Abbott-endorsed primary challengers? What about representatives who have clung to house leadership, but do little for their cause? State Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas), for example, is facing a tough re-election fight against conservative challenger Lisa Luby Ryan who announced ahead of the reporting deadline that she had raised $270,000 for her challenge.
Will the House Leadership Fund throw a life preserver out to Villalba, or will they let him sink like they did former State Reps. Rick Galindo, Ken Sheets, and John Lujan in the November 2016 election?
Who do they really answer to?
Ultimately, this can be the biggest observation gleaned from finance reports. Voters learn a great deal about a candidate’s loyalties by observing where their money comes from. Do they raise money from grassroots citizens and organizations? Or do they instead collect big checks from big-government lobbyists?
How many donors do they have in their district? Some representatives, like Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), have reported zero in-district contributions in past reporting periods, without so much as much a single button to donate on their website. If a candidate doesn’t care about support inside their district, their loyalty lies to the Austin establishment.
When the latest reports are released this week, Texas Scorecard will be covering the issue thoroughly. Reports will be available online shortly after online at the Texas Ethics Commission website and in a more user-friendly and interactive format at Transparency Texas

Brandon Waltens

Brandon serves as the Senior Editor for Texas Scorecard. After managing successful campaigns for top conservative legislators and serving as a Chief of Staff in the Texas Capitol, Brandon moved outside the dome in order to shine a spotlight on conservative victories and establishment corruption in Austin. @bwaltens