Following the Money in the Special Election

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A vote here sign points potential voters in the right direction at Bowden Elementary School. Photo by Scott Ball.

A "vote here" sign points potential voters in the right direction at Bowden Elementary School. Photo by Scott Ball.

My inner data nerd kicked in last night and I decided to pull the campaign finance data for the special elections for the Texas Senate District 26 or Texas House District 123 races in San Antonio. After all, I had been blitzed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer ads showing how much he cared for San Antonio and how his roots are deep in this city. Then I saw he had raised close to $800,000 for this special election, outpacing not only his nearest opponent, but all candidates combined in both races by a 2 to 1 margin. So I decided to run the numbers to see where this jackpot of money came from and the results were pretty startling.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer

(Click here to visit the Texas Ethics Commission website. Here you can run simple search to find any candidates campaign finance report.)

Looking at the numbers, more than 88% of Martinez Fischer’s contributions came from outside San Antonio. Granted, there are some towns like Boerne in the mix. But they are miniscule in the numbers, most coming from political action committees (PACs) or individuals outside District 26. Looking at the ratio of contributions from PACs or organizations, he’s bringing in more than 65% from those groups. Most of them are various industry PACs hoping to score points with the perceived front runner candidate headed to the state senate.

Rep. Jose Menendez

Rep. José Menéndez

Rep. José Menéndez came in with more than $247,000, less than a third of the megabuck Martinez Fischer scored to launch his “shock and awe” media campaign. Of those numbers, the ratio of individual donors compares with what Martinez Fischer took in, with 60% coming from groups. Menéndez’s split of local vs. out-of-town donations isn’t quite as pronounced as Martinez Fischer, but still shows more outside the city than inside, probably reflecting the PAC and lobbying donations.

In the House District 123 race, both front-runners, Diego Bernal and Melissa Aguillon, are running neck and neck with contributions. Bernal brought in slightly less at a little over $89,000 compared with Aguillon’s $91,000. But the real difference is in how much of that money is individual vs. organizations like PACs. Bernal’s total is 62% individual, but Aguillon’s number is 94% from individual donors. Walter Martinez, the other Democrat in the field, brought in $18,000 with 84% from individuals. 64% of Bernal’s PAC money is a transfer from his city council campaign account.

Melissa Aguillon

Melissa Aguillon

But what is probably an indicator of the battle lines drawn on an issue is the late donation of $10,000 to Aguillon’s campaign from Rod Aycox, a payday lending company owner from Alpharetta, Ga. Aycox is no stranger to donating to candidates in support of payday lending, having written checks for $100,000 or more to former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Restore Our Future PAC.

Looking at contributions to Texas candidates, Aycox has written checks for more than $400,000 since 2010, with Sen. Leticia Van de Putte taking $3,000 in 2012. But neither Van de Putte nor Aguillon top the list of Aycox’s benefactors. Since 2010, Lt. Gov-elect Greg Abbott has taken $100,000 from the payday lender, leading a pack that includes Speaker Joe Straus, former Gov. Rick Perry, and former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Diego Bernal, City Council member, musician. Photo by Al Rendon.

Diego Bernal, City Council member, musician. Photo by Al Rendon.

Payday lending is expected to be one of Bernal’s top issues should he be elected to the Texas House, carrying his work in San Antonio City Council to the state level. During the past session, a bill to provide similar protections statewide against payday lenders failed in the House. Absent those protections, local city ordinances in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Austin, and El Paso were passed to offer some protection in the state’s largest municipalities.

In terms of inside San Antonio vs. outside the city, the District 123 candidates were about even in the 80% range. That could mean a lot of things, but most likely it’s because neither has a legislative track record and Bernal’s PAC money is probably local money from organizations that know him and have supported him in the past. Get to Austin where the big money is and that will probably change.

Right now, voter turnout on this election is running pretty poorly, with an expected turnout in the 3-5% range, meaning probably around 15,000 of the 400,000 registered voters in SD-26 will turn out to vote in the election. Part of that can be attributed to the timing of the election over the holidays and a short early voting period. But even if it had been later in January, it’s doubtful the turnout would be much higher than 7-8%.

*Featured/top image: A “vote here” sign points potential voters in the right direction at Bowden Elementary School.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

This post was republished and updated with permission from

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11 thoughts on “Following the Money in the Special Election

  1. Thank you to the author for this information and the analysis of the donations. Thanks Randy, for this reminder that our vote is our voice, regardless of the money. This special election is real, though it seems to be designed to deter voter participation. I’m one of those lucky voters who gets to vote in both races, so I have to live with the results, poor turnout or not. Whoever wins in these races goes to Austin to represent me. So, come on Rivard Report readers, if you live in these districts – go use your vote!

    I’ve already voted, first day of early voting. But the rest of you who say you care about our community, please go vote.

  2. 89 is greater than 91?!?

    “Bernal brought in slightly more at a little over $89,000 compared with Aguillon’s $91,000. “

    • Oops. Thanks for the catch. When I originally wrote the entry, Bernal was ahead of Aguillon. That was before the checks from Aycox and Johnny Gabriel came in and put her ahead. Updated everywhere I could, but definitely missed that one. Corrected.

  3. I’m disappointed that you make no mention the 100’s of thousands of dollars that the TLR PAC has spent in TV advertising and mail against Trey to the benefit of José and the amended 8 day report with the $1000 Republican donation from the founder of the TLR PAC that gave $400,000 to Patrick against Dewhurst and also a great deal to Campbell in her runoff. Could it be that a group that normally backs far right wing tea party candidates feel that Trey Martinez Fischer will be more truble for them in the Lege?

    • Madeleine, thanks for the comment. While that PAC does contribute more heavily to Republicans than Democrats, the Ds are not pure of TLR money. In fact, TMF and MALC have accepted $12,000 from them since 2000, with the MALC money coming in from 2008 to 2010. LVP has taken $17,500 from them and Mike Villarreal has accepted $14,500 from them also.

      I would suggest you read this blog entry I did yesterday which highlights how much TLR money has been dropped in Democrat coffers –

      You’ll find a link with the spreadsheet of details in it. I would love to know more what you think after looking over those numbers.

    • Also, I just discovered today that TMF accepted $500 from J. William Oswald on 12/12/14. While Oswald listed “self-employed” on that contribution, all other contributions list him as working for “Koch Industries.”

      Personally, I don’t care where the money comes from. But when one candidate starts to attack another when his own house seems to be pretty messy, I think someone needs to call out the hypocrisy. Wouldn’t you agree?

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