Two political action committees backed by former Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus are pumping money into the campaigns of area incumbent state representatives prior to Tuesday’s primary election.
According to state-mandated pre-primary finance reports, the Associated Republicans of Texas and the House Leadership Fund, which received a combined $600,000 from Straus on Jan. 30, flooded hundreds of thousands of dollars in monetary and in-kind contributions into the coffers of Texas House District 54 Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen; House District 55 Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple; and House District 59 Rep. Dr. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, between late January and February.
All three incumbents are facing at least one challenger in Tuesday’s primary.
Straus, of San Antonio, served four terms as speaker before announcing his retirement in late 2017. He frequently sparred with Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during the 85th Legislature on measures including the controversial “bathroom bill” and property tax reform.
Representatives from Associated Republicans of Texas and the House Leadership Fund could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Cosper received a total of $53,078.55 from the Associated Republicans of Texas between Jan. 26 and Feb. 24, including a $25,000 monetary contribution and nearly $30,000 in mailers and advertising.
The House Leadership Fund contributed an additional $42,600 to Cosper, including a $12,600 in-kind contribution for “grassroots support.”
The Cosper campaign reported a total of $136,619.75 in contributions during the filing period with $97,731.99 in cash on hand.
On Wednesday, Cosper said the Straus-backed endorsements were proof of his conservative record.
“This is a testimony to the fact that I’m a conservative, a Republican, and I’ve worked hard and won some important victories,” Cosper said. “I have worked really hard to raise money because I want to make sure folks know about the great things we’re accomplishing, which is a testimony to a great team effort among our local, regional, and state leaders, as well as the local grassroots.”
Despite Straus’ past public feuds with the governor and lieutenant governor, Cosper said he was excited to continue working with the Senate and executive.
“I’m a big fan of our Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and I look forward to working with them and our new speaker to advance the conservative agenda next legislative session,” he said.
In other notable contributions, Cosper received $10,000 from H-E-B Chairman and chief executive officer Charles Butt, $2,500 from the Killeen Firefighters for Responsible Government PAC, $5,000 from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, $5,000 from the Texas Medical Association PAC and $500 from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund.
Republican challenger Dr. Brad Buckley, a Killeen veterinarian and former Killeen school district board member, reported $13,829.50 in contributions during the filing period with $13,627.60 in cash on hand. All but one of Buckley’s contributions came from individual donors — the Texas Water Infrastructure PAC contributed $150 on Feb. 7.
Despite the significant gap in contributions, Buckley said Wednesday the influx of Austin money indicated a growing wariness about Cosper’s chances in the primary.
“Whenever you see large amounts of PAC money, that means they are concerned,” Buckley said. “They know that there’s a race on.”
Buckley, who said he is running a “handshake-to-handshake, hug-to-hug” campaign, touted his grassroots support and said he wasn’t concerned about a Cosper campaign flush with cash.
“I think money allows you to get a message out, but having to work so hard and spend so much money at the last minute may be a better indicator of the type of traction our campaign is getting,” he said. “My point has always been it’s a new day in Texas. There is an effort from Austin to protect those who voted with Joe Straus.”
The third Republican in the race, Larry Smith, of Killeen, a retired Army captain and contractor, reported $8,000 in contributions with $19,800 in cash on hand.
“Bottom line is Joe Straus does not endorse conservatives,” Smith said. “If you have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell people you’re a conservative, you’re not a conservative.”
Smith’s single $8,000 contribution was from Killeen mayoral candidate Harold “Hal” Butchart, who previously donated $40,000 to the Smith campaign.
Shine reported a total of $12,676.98 in in-kind contributions from the Associated Republicans of Texas for direct mailers and advertising, according to his filing report.
The House Leadership Fund contributed $50,000 in two monetary contributions Jan. 30 and Feb. 7.
The Shine campaign reported $199,768.23 in total contributions during the Jan. 26 to Feb. 24 filing period with $154,197.87 in cash on hand.
In other notable contributions, Shine reported $10,000 from Butt; $10,000 from Temple businessman Drayton McLane; and $2,500 from the Killeen Firefighters for Responsible Government PAC.
Republican challenger C.J. Grisham, of Temple, the founder of Open Carry Texas, reported $14,475 in contributions with $22,370.22 in cash on hand.
All of Grisham’s monetary contributions were from individuals, except for a $10,000 donation from conservative nonprofit group Empower Texans on Jan. 29.
The third Republican challenger, Brandon Hall, the pastor of Calvary Church in Temple, reported $16,710 in contributions with $12,494.29 in cash on hand. Hall’s largest contributions were $7,500 from the Texas Right to Life PAC and $4,000 in two payments from the Texas Homeschool Coalition.
Sheffield reported $55,246.03 in monetary and in-kind contributions from the Associated Republicans of Texas, including about $47,000 in direct mailers and advertising.
Sheffield reported $20,000 in two contributions from the House Leadership Fund.
The Sheffield campaign reported $217,681.49 in total contributions with $165,233.07 in cash on hand.
In other notable contributions, Sheffield received $30,000 form the Statewide Texas Medical Association PAC, $10,000 from Butt, $10,000 from the Texas Health Care Association PAC and $5,000 from the Rural Friends of Electric Cooperatives PAC.
Republican challenger Chris Evans, of Dublin, reported $75,594.38 in total contributions with $19,954 in cash on hand.
Evans gathered $48,200 in contributions from the Texas Right to Life PAC in four separate payments and $4,000 from the Texas Homeschool Coalition PAC.