February 25, 2020
House Dems Have Walmart Muscle with New PAC Cash
and Rare Blend of Tort Reform and Trial Lawyer Money
Texas House and Senate Fundraising
By Mike Hailey
A prominent school choice advocate who's a Walmart heir is bankrolling a group that doled out five-figure sums last month to a trio of Texas House Democrats who are attempting to fend off formidable foes in the Super Tuesday primary election in Texas next week.
Arkansas resident Alice Walton channeled money to State Reps. Alex Dominguez of Brownsville, Harold Dutton of Houston and Anna Eastman of Houston through a political action committee that was conceived in Austin in January. Walton got the Legacy 44 PAC off the ground last week with a $175,000 donation two days after former Dell Computer executive Eric Harslem of Austin gave the group $25,000 as its initial contribution.
Eastman, who claimed a House seat with a special election runoff win last month, has been the leading beneficiary of the Legacy 44 generosity up to now with a pair of contributions last week that added up to more than $74,000.
Dominguez and Dutton - the two most vulnerable Democrats on the House battlefield in round one on paper - received $40,000 and $35,000 respectively from the Walton-funded committee several days ago. Walton contributed $10,000 directly to Dominguez - a freshman lawmaker who's dueling a former Cameron County Democratic Party leader in primary rival Amber Medina. Legacy 44 also donated to $2,500 to McAllen Democrat Abraham Padron for a belated primary rematch with State Rep. Sergio Munoz of Mission.
Dutton and Dominguez had a curious mix of funding from the political committees for the Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association PAC - a pair of longtime enemies at the statehouse in Austin. The TLR PAC spent a much larger sum on the re-election fight that Democratic State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville is waging in a district that overlaps with the area that Dominguez has represented since early last year.
Lucio had appeared to be at considerable risk with State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez and Brownsville attorney Sara Stapleton-Barrera as first-round obstacles. But Lucio is leaving the competition in the dust in the fundraising arena after raking in more than $466,000 in the past month to push his total for the re-election race to nearly $1.2 million.
Dominguez rounded up 10 times more campaign cash than challenger Amber Medina during the month-long period that ended this past weekend. Dominguez had contributions of almost $131,000 during that span of time with a haul that vaulted him past the $200,000 mark in total fundraising for his first re-election race.
A 35-year House veteran, Dutton is doing battle with Houston City Council member Jerry Davis in the incumbent's toughest at the polls in decades. Davis had jumped out to the early money lead with a shift of $140,000 from his council campaign account on the day he took aim at Dutton in December. Dutton tried to keep pace by raising more than $120,000 in the past month and having $20,000 more than that in the bank heading into this week. The Davis report for the past four weeks hadn't been made public by the Texas Ethics Commission by Tuesday evening.
Eastman cracked the quarter-million threshold in total contributions as a first-time re-election candidate in a district where she will be on the ballot five weeks after winning the seat that she hopes to defend this year with some of the same rivals from the special election in her path again. Eastman will have her eye on an outright victory in next Tuesday's election in a field of five in a district where Democrats expect to win in November. .
Walton, who's one of the richest people in the world, has been a major Republican donor in Texas where used to own a ranch near Mineral Wells. She's spent an estimated $17 million on the push for school choice with a shifting focus from private tuition subsidies to an expanded charter school system here. Walton has re-emerged here as the nucleus for charter school group funds that flowed to Dutton, Dominguez and Eastman in the past week.
Walton has given relatively minimal amounts to Democrats including rookie State Senator Beverly Powell of Burleson and current congressional candidate Wendy Davis in her first Texas Senate race in 2008. But she's given massive sums more to Republicans who've ranged from major state leaders to hard-line conservatives like former Texas Senate member Konni Burton and ex-House candidate Jeff Judson of San Antonio.
Walton contributed $180,000 to Judson in 2016 when he challenged then-House Speaker Joe Straus without success in the primary election.