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Small Expenditures Can Add Up in Statewide Campaigns

Hard cash will be in short supply next legislative session, if the state comptroller's estimates hold true. But the issue hasn't received much attention from candidates on the campaign trail.
Tracy Olson/Flickr
Block-walking, phone banks and other logistical expenditures can cost a lot in statewide campaigns.

Statewide campaigns in Texas aren't cheap. Advertisements in any major television market can set a campaign back at least $2 million. So, when you’re running a campaign, you want to make sure as much of your money as possible is going to getting your candidate's message out. Of course, that means advertising, but it's more logistically nuanced than that.

“There's an element, particularly an element to voter motivation that the evidence shows is best done by actual people, and that can be expensive,” says Ted Delisi, a political consultant who’s helped run several campaigns. He says most statewide candidates spend lots of time, energy and money traveling across the state, block walking and showing up at community events. It's kind of like taking a family vacation. Think about the food you buy on the road the stops for coffee or gum -- and the gas you use.

Well, that's just like a campaign. Only it's not your family. It's dozens, or even hundreds, of people who have to get to the right place at the right time.

“If you're doing this in 70 to 80 places across the state simultaneously over the last month of the campaign, then you're going to have some fairly considerable costs for collateral,” Delisi says. “You're going to have some fairly considerable costs for meetings expense. You're going to have some t-shirt costs and some other things.”

And you can see those costs when you look through a candidate's campaign finance reports. There are reports for spending thousands of dollars on consultants and ads. But there are also dozens and dozens of pages with expenditures ranging from $20 to $75 dollars at convenience stores, when campaign staffs pick up coffee, chips, bottles of water or gas.

For example, state Sen. Wendy Davis’ campaign spent nearly $1,300 at 7-Eleven convenience stores in the past year, while Attorney General Greg Abbott’s campaigns spent about $600, according to expenditure reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.

“You know there are sometimes when you say, you know 'I can't believe the campaign bought barbeque,' or these types of things," says Delisi. "But for people that have volunteered their time and energy and effort, sometimes the least you can do is to buy them a pizza and hand them a Diet Coke and thank them for their afternoon of work."

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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