'Largest single donation in Texas history': Abbott gets $6M from school choice advocate

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As political campaigning season ramps up ahead of the March primary elections, a campaign finance reporting deadline Tuesday gave a glimpse of how lawmakers' and their accounts stand.

As reports continue to be updated in the coming days on the Texas Ethics Commission website, a fuller picture of the political contribution landscape, which already indicates a major school voucher-related bump in cash for Gov. Greg Abbott, will become clearer.

Here's a look at the most recent campaign donation figures for several of Texas' leading politicians as races for state and federal office heat up before March 5.

Abbott hauls in $19 million, 'largest single donation in Texas history'

Abbott reported raising more than $19 million during the campaign finance period from July to December, receiving a $6 million boost that his campaign is calling the largest political donation in Texas history.

Abbott's newest and largest donor, Jeff Yass, a Pennsylvania billionaire and a leading advocate for school choice, contributed $250,000 to Abbott in October and followed up with a $6 million donation in December.

Abbott
Abbott

In a news release announcing the campaign finance figures Tuesday, Kim Snyder, the campaign manager for Abbott's PAC, Texans for Greg Abbott, called Yass' contribution "the largest single donation in Texas history."

“With this substantial financial backing, Governor Abbott will ensure that the conservative candidates who support his bold agenda to expand school choice, secure our southern border, and lower property taxes have what they need to keep Texas red," Snyder said in a statement. "As Governor Abbott builds an even bigger and better Texas, we are grateful for the overwhelming support from Texans in every corner of the state.”

More: Gov. Greg Abbott denies he's advocating shooting migrants crossing Texas-Mexico border

After the latest campaign update Tuesday, Abbott's PAC sits with more than $32 million, money with which he has indicated will help him go after members of the Legislature who voted against his push last year to create a school voucher program to allow public money to pay for private schooling.

Despite the similar goal of seeing school voucher legislation in Texas, Abbott differs from Yass on the issue of social media access, as Yass holds a substantial interest in ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, after investing in the app in its early stages a decade ago.

After the regular legislative session last year, Abbott signed into law a prohibition on installing and using TikTok on state-owned devices.

Outside of his PAC, Abbott holds an additional $6 million in his officeholder account.

“Texans recognize Governor Abbott’s unwavering dedication to our great state, and this record-breaking fundraising effort is a testament to the trust and confidence voters have in his leadership,” Snyder said.

Lt. Gov. Patrick holds $24 million

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, whose campaign contributions have been heavily scrutinized over the past year, begins 2024 with more than $24 million in his PAC's account after picking up roughly $3 million in donations since July.

Patrick's senior political adviser, Allen Blakemore, lauded the contribution figure as an approval by conservative Texans after a series of special legislative sessions and the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was criticized for his decision in October to keep $3 million from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, whose then-leader met for hours with a Nazi sympathizer last year.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was criticized for his decision in October to keep $3 million from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, whose then-leader met for hours with a Nazi sympathizer last year.

“Dan Patrick remains both incredibly popular with grassroots Republican voters and the most successful fundraiser to ever hold the position," Blakemore said in a statement. "The list of conservative legislative accomplishments is unrivaled, and his fundraising achievements are unsurpassed.”

However, Patrick received harsh blowback after his decision in October to keep $3 million — a $2 million loan and $1 million contribution — from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, a political group that was chastised after its former leader met for hours with a Nazi sympathizer last year.

Much of the concern about the donation was based on the timing of its arrival — on the eve of Paxton's impeachment trial, which Patrick presided over and in which Defend Texas Liberty advocated for Paxton's acquittal.

The previously disclosed contribution sparked outrage in the Capitol both for its perceived connection to the Paxton verdict and over the PAC's ties to antisemitic people, leading several conservative lawmakers to give away previous donations from the political committee.

In the aftermath, Patrick made an initial $3 million purchase of Israeli government bonds in an attempt to atone for the frustrations surrounding the donation, and he later made a second $3 million bond purchase.

More: Dan Patrick defends taking $3 million from pro-Paxton group ahead of impeachment trial

However, at the time, some Capitol observers alluded to Patrick's investment as being somewhat disingenuous, as he stands to receive a favorable interest rate and capital gains after acquiring the bonds at a discount amid the war between the Jewish state and Hamas, a militant Palestinian group in Gaza.

At the time of the purchase in October, three-year bond rates sat at a 5.25% interest rate, which equates to $157,500 in annual profit on a $3 million investment.

As for the donations that came after the contentious Defend Texas Liberty contribution, Blakemore said Patrick's year-end report is his "largest ever posted for the July to December period."

“It is my extreme privilege to serve Texas in office," Patrick said in the statement announcing the figures. "It is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I look forward to seeking reelection in 2026.”

Texas House speaker faces challenge, has $5.3 million to spend

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, has raked in more than $2.5 million since July, money that will go toward fending off a Paxton-backed challenger and maintaining his leadership post on the lower legislative chamber.

After advancing the inquiry that resulted in Paxton's impeachment in May, Phelan has been under attack from pro-Paxton advocates and Paxton himself, who has nearly constantly called for Phelan's resignation after Paxton was cleared of wrongdoing by the Texas Senate in September.

Phelan
Phelan

Phelan, who had roughly $5.3 million on hand after Tuesday's deadline, has stood by the House's decision to impeach Paxton and continuously pushed against similar calls for his resignation by Patrick, the Senate's leader, after the House's rejection of school voucher legislation on multiple occasions last year.

On Monday, Paxton attended a campaign event for David Covey, a challenger in Phelan's district who has roughly $23,000 cash on hand.

"People are ready to have real leadership in Austin that won’t sell their vote to the Democrats," Paxton said on X, formerly Twitter, after the event.

In addition to challenges from Paxton, members of Phelan's chamber are facing primary opponents backed by Abbott after his failed voucher push. As a result, Phelan spent nearly $1 million on polling for members in high-profile races with competitors backed by top GOP leaders — Abbott, Patrick and Paxton.

Allred brings in $10 million; Gutierrez pushes against 'Washington's choice'

In the race for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas leads the field after receiving $4.8 million in contributions during last year's fourth quarter.

Including the latest contribution total, Allred brought in more than $18 million over the past year and has $10 million on hand.

Paige Hutchinson, Allred's campaign manager, said that over the past quarter, the average donation to the campaign was roughly $32, with 94% of donations being under $100.

“The outpouring of support from across Texas for this campaign is remarkable — and we could not be more grateful to the hundreds of thousands of grassroots donors who know Colin Allred is the candidate to beat Ted Cruz and get to work for Texans on day one,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

Previously, Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican Senate incumbent, announced that his campaign brought in roughly $5.5 million across various accounts during the fourth quarter of last year.

To this point in the campaign, Allred has largely focused on targeting Cruz as opposed to addressing the challenge in the upcoming Democratic primary.

Gutierrez
Gutierrez

During a campaign event in Austin last week, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, addressed the funding disparity in the race, saying despite the differences in cash he can still win against Cruz in November.

"To be fair, the other candidate's not here; I'll tell you what he says: 'I've got more money than the rest of them,’ ” Gutierrez said of Allred during the event. "He is Washington's choice; he is Chuck Schumer's choice.

"I want to tell you anything is possible. Just because Washington says it's so doesn't mean it's true," Gutierrez said.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas campaign finance: Abbott gets $6M from school choice backer