Paxton finally names his donors


Despite an FBI investigation that tanked Attorney General Ken Paxton’s fundraising a year ago, the Republican’s campaign coffers are now filling up fast.

Mega-donors and small-dollar givers alike are lining up behind the embattled officeholder ahead of the rapidly approaching March 1 primary, even as the federal corruption probe still looms.
 
The rush of investments are a sign Paxton’s many legal troubles may not be giving supporters much heartburn, despite his three GOP challengers’ efforts to make them a major focus of the race. In addition to the FBI investigation, Paxton is fighting an unrelated six-year-old fraud indictment.

Yet since last summer, the Collin County Republican has raised more than $3 million.

Paxton recently boasted about his haul while suggesting the allegations against him are the work of the “deep state.”

“Our fundraising has been fantastic — the best it’s ever been,” he told conservative radio host Mark Davis on Jan. 31.

Political watchers say Paxton is boosted by an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, who remains popular with conservative voters in Texas, and the fact that the federal investigation has not yet resulted in charges.

The inquiry began in fall 2020, after eight of Paxton’s top aides accused him of bribery and abusing the office to help a wealthy campaign donor. Paxton has denied wrongdoing.

“I think people are over that,” said Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist whose firm gave Paxton’s campaign $4,500 last month. “This has been going on for so long. If there was something, let’s see it.”

Still, several wealthy donors have jumped ship to support Paxton’s opponents. Recent polling shows the Republican doesn’t have enough support to win the primary outright.

Just 33% of likely primary voters say they’d endorse Paxton for a third term, according to a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush is running second, with 19%. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman are trailing with 8% and 7%, respectively.

After failing to name most of his donors by the Jan. 18 deadline, Paxton filed an updated campaign finance report this week that details who gave him nearly $2.1 million in the second half of 2021.

His biggest check came from the Republican Attorneys General Association.

The well-heeled group, which counts some of the nation’s largest companies like Comcast, Philip Morris and Citigroup Management Corp. among its donors, could prove a major asset to Paxton. Last year, the association poured more than $2.6 million into electing a Republican attorney general in Virginia, according to its disclosures.

The association did not respond to questions about why it’s backing Paxton in a four-way GOP primary. Last year, the group gave Paxton $500,000, according to his filings.

Paxton previously chaired the association, which faced backlash last year for its role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Beforehand, an arm of the association sent out a robocall encouraging people to march to the building and “call on Congress to stop the steal.” In the aftermath, several staff resigned and some major companies paused their giving, but the association still raised more than $12.8 million last year.

Other major donors to Paxton’s campaign include businessmen who had financed his current opponents’ bids for other state offices just a few years ago. They include Cinemark founder Lee Roy Mitchell, who cut a $75,000 check to Paxton in January, and Midland oil man Javaid Anwar, who gave Paxton $50,000 in December.

Neither returned a request for comment.

Scandals don’t matter as much as they once did and donors often go with “the devil they know rather than the devil they don’t know,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston.

In 2018, Paxton narrowly won a second term after defeating a Democrat who emphasized the Republican’s security fraud indictment and even plastered Paxton’s mugshot on a billboard.

“The fact Ken Paxton has been able to maintain his position through indictments, investigations and ethical problems shows voters aren’t as attentive to these issues,” Rottinghaus said.

Another factor is Trump, who not only endorsed Paxton but is helping him raise campaign cash.

The former president hosted Paxton in December at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida for a fundraiser that reportedly netted Paxton’s campaign $750,000.

The amended finance report doesn’t make clear which donors attended the private event, where entry started at $1,000. But it shows December was Paxton’s strongest month.

Trump made out OK, too. In November, according to the filing, Paxton’s campaign spent more than $12,200 on food at Mar-a-Lago. In December, the campaign dropped $37,200 at the club on event expenses.

Some donors who once backed Paxton are now turning their money against him.

The biggest defector is the lawsuit-limiting group Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which is funneling money into Guzman’s campaign. In January alone, the group financed more than $600,000 on advertising for Guzman, according to her most recent disclosure.

Dick Trabulsi, chairman of the group’s political action committee, said the “credible allegations” made against Paxton by his top deputies factored into the decision.

“We think [Guzman] can restore integrity, honesty and competence to the attorney general’s office,” he said.

Similarly, Republican state Reps. Mayes Middleton and Matt Krause — once close allies of Paxton’s and members of the conservative Texas Freedom Caucus — are backing Gohmert. Together, they’ve dumped more than $500,000 into Gohmert’s campaign.

Bush is also racking up $25,000 checks from former Paxton funders, including C. Boyden Gray, former President George H.W. Bush’s White House counsel and beer distributor John Nau, according to campaign finance filings.

Paxton’s challengers continue to pound the message that his legal troubles leave the powerful position vulnerable.

“Democrats are licking their chops,” Gohmert said in a new television ad released this week. “Look, [Paxton] deserves his day in court, but Texans shouldn’t be punished for his actions.”

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post