A closer look at finance reports: PACs

Having taken the time to download all of those campaign finance reports for the city of Houston elections, which you can view on my 2011 Election page, I wanted to see what I could learn from all this data. So I spent a little time going through all the reports to sort contributions and expenditures into a few categories. I’ve got a few posts in the works to discuss what I found, and I’ll start with one of the biggest yet least talked-about factors in city elections: Contributions to candidates from PACs, businesses, and law firms. This Google spreadsheet has all of the data, sorted both by candidate and by contributor, with a third tab for totals. A few things to point out before you dive in:

– All of these reports I’ve put together are the result of me going through each report manually. As such, expect there to be some inconsistencies and things I’ve missed. Nobody’s perfect.

– In particular, not everybody categorizes donors the same way. I think I was able to tell when an acronym matched a spelled-out name, and Open Office Calc helped fill in common names, but there were still questions, and when in doubt I just copied in what they reported. An example is with the Longshoremen, for which there’s an “International Longshoremen Association Local #24 PAC”, an “International Longshoremen Association Local #28 PAC”, and an “International Longshoremen’s Association Committee on Political Education”. All the same, or different groups? I don’t know, so I listed them all.

– Along similar lines, many reports featured multiple donations by a given group to a candidate. Where I noticed this, I added the contributions together rather than listed them separately. I can see from the spreadsheet that I wasn’t always successful at this, so bear it in mind. In general, however, multiple donations will be represented as a single entry in this spreadsheet.

– The one report I did not go through is Mayor Parker’s, for the simple reason that it’s almost 900 pages long, and I enjoy seeing my family on occasion. I may try to get to it later, but don’t quote me on that.

– Any contribution that was not clearly from an individual was listed. If it was a business name, I included it. Most of what’s here is a PAC of some kind, mostly but not entirely business and law firm PACs, but not all are.

– Things That Should Not Surprise You And Probably Won’t: By far, the biggest beneficiaries were incumbents. By my calculation, less than five percent of the total went to those who are not already in office. Obviously, the people who write big checks like to back winners, and there’s no surer bet in Houston politics than incumbents running for re-election. However, as the fields settle and frontrunners for open seats emerge, you’ll see more money flow to non-incumbents – some of them, anyway. This will be even more so for the runoffs.

– Things That Should Not Surprise You But Might: Quite a few of these PACs are, shall we say, not terribly discriminatory in their giving. Let me put it to you this way: The following PACs donated to both Jolanda Jones and Mike Sullivan:

  • Andrews & Kurth Texas PAC, $1000 each
  • Bracewell & Giuliani PAC, $1000 to Jones, $500 to Sullivan
  • Continental Airlines Employee Fund, $1000 each
  • Houston Apartment Association (HAA) Better Government Fund, $250 to Jones, $500 to Sullivan
  • Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, $1000 each
  • Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins & Mott, $500 to Jones, $1000 to Sullivan
  • Texas Taxi PAC, $1000 to Jones, $2000 to Sullivan
  • Union Pacific Corporation Fund for Effective Government PAC, $1000 each

I can think of a theory of government that explains this, but not a theory of ideology. Feel free to speculate.

Anyway. Here’s the spreadsheet. I’ll have more soon. Let me know what you think.

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5 Responses to A closer look at finance reports: PACs

  1. byron schirmbeck says:

    Good work again Charles. I have seen many of those names on state reps finance reports too. I guess it is kind of like placing a chip on all the numbers on the roulette wheel.

  2. Eric Weinmann says:


    I thought I was the only one in love with Open Office. Well done.

  3. Ross says:

    Kuff, I know a number of folks who donate to both parties in an election. To quote one of them “You never know when you might need to get something from a politician. If they see you are a donor, they will usually at least listen to you, rather than ignore you completely”. I understand that philosophy.

  4. Pingback: A closer look at finance reports: Elected officials – Off the Kuff

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