Election 2016

Texas Republican Donors Slow To Support Trump

Many are saying they’ll sit out the rest of 2016 presidential campaign, contributing only to down-ballot races.

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.
Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.

The Federal Election Commission says Texas leads the nation in donations to Republican presidential candidates. So far, very little of that money has gone to presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

Blacksmith, a coffee shop in Montrose, is hardly the place you’d expect to find a major player in Texas political fundraising. But the man across the table from me fits the bill. Jay Zeidman, a Houston investment manager, is the national co-chair of Maverick PAC. The political action committee grew out of George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.

“We jokingly say Texas has always been the ATM of the South,” Zeidman says. “I mean, politicians come here not for votes but for money.”

Up to now, Donald Trump hasn’t had much use for that ATM. He funded his own campaign throughout the Republican primaries, benefitting a lot from free publicity. Trump has begun working with the Republican National Committee and assembling a finance team. But Zeidman is skeptical it will make much of a difference in Texas.

“I still think it’s probably too premature to see if he’s going to, where Texas donors are going to fall,” he says. “However, in my talks with folks around the state, I think a lot of people are going to sit on the sidelines from a presidential perspective.”

Instead, Zeidman says donors are saving their money for House and Senate candidates, in order to preserve GOP control of Congress. Asked why, Zeidman doesn’t mince words. 

“The same reasons why people didn’t support Trump in the primary,” he says. “You know, he flies by the seat of his pants, he is incredibly divisive, bombastic, and it’s hard to tell where he really stands.”

To be fair, Trump started at a disadvantage against a favorite son candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz. The leading Republican donors from Texas this cycle include brothers Dan and Farris Wilks of Cisco and their wives. The Wilks brothers, who made their money in fracking technology, gave more than $15 million to a PAC supporting Cruz. They’re now focusing on down-ballot races.

It’s hard to see how Trump can raise the $1 billion he’ll need to compete in the general election without Texas donors behind him.

“The presidential race begins the day after the presidential inauguration,” says Sarah Bryner, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics. The non-partisan think tank tracks the effects of money on U.S. elections. “And Clinton particularly, and even Sanders, have been raising money for, to some extent, years, and he’s just really starting now.”

The FEC reports Hillary Clinton raised nearly $9 million in Texas through the beginning of May, while Bernie Sanders raised nearly $3 million. Trump raised less than $400,000.

Brian Haley, a GOP fundraiser based in Austin, is more optimistic. Haley served as national finance director to past Republican presidential candidates John McCain and Tim Pawlenty. He thinks Texas donors will rally behind Trump in order to keep Clinton out of the White House. But he says the presumptive nominee will need to act quickly.

“The summer months are hard to raise money here,” Haley says. “But if Mr. Trump can come to the state prior to the end of June and then come back in the fall after Labor Day, he should have a good turnout in terms of fundraising if he can do multicity swings over a couple of days on both trips.”

Trump recently named Dallas investor Ray Washburne as a vice chair of his fundraising team. Washburne previously served as national finance chair for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of the few Republican candidates to raise less money in Texas than Trump.

Graphic
The Center for Responsive Politics publishes a breakdown of Texas donations to the presidential candidates based on information
reported by the Federal Election Commission.

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Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas delegations in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the Texas governorship, the state legislature, and county and city governments. Before taking up his current post, Andrew...

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