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Red River Rivalry Fundraising a Growing Trend

Todd Wiseman / Randall Chancellor / Jason Petersen / Stephen Payne

More than 30 Texas legislators are hoping to cash in on the big Longhorn-Sooner rivalry game this weekend in Dallas, but they're not relying on bookies or their betting prowess.

The annual SBC Red River Rivalry football game between the University of Texas and Oklahoma University is increasingly becoming a fundraising hotspot for lawmakers in both parties, who can rely on plenty of deep-pocketed donors to be in Dallas for the game-day festivities. While most of the legislators holding fundraisers represent districts in the Dallas area, recently more lawmakers from across the state, like state Reps. Ken King, R-Canadian, andToddHunter, R-Corpus Christi, are going to Dallas hoping to score big financially at the Cotton Bowl.

Deborah Ingersoll, an Austin lobbyist who has worked in Texas politics for more than 20 years, said the tradition of Texas politicians fundraising around the big game, once a mostly local affair, has grown tremendously. She organizes an annual guide of legislative fundraising surrounding the game and said this is the biggest year she has seen yet.

“It’s actually pretty smart because all the lobbyists are already up there for the game,” Ingersoll said. “The lobbyists, the big money donors, everyone is at the Texas-OU game.”

Ingersoll said the game is a reflection of a larger trend in political fundraising for state legislators.

“Twenty years ago, Texas senators basically had one fundraiser in their district and one in Austin at the Austin Club each year,” Ingersoll said. “Now they are all over and occur more often.”

As would be expected, invitations for the game fundraisers from legislators mostly feature football themes. State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, used an invitation that shows him and his family, decked out in burnt orange, raising their hands with pinkies and pointer fingers in the air, making the Texas Longhorns' team hand signal.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said he has been focusing his main annual fundraiser around the game for about 20 years.

“It’s something that we have got a lot of people in town for, and so it is a good time to have an event,” West said.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said that along with the increased foot traffic in Dallas, the game falls close to the November election and provides an opportunity to tie his campaign to tradition.

“Texas-OU is a great Texas tradition, a University of Texas tradition that it is fun to be a part of,” Turner said.

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said it makes sense that politicians use the game to raise money because it brings together prominent — and wealthy — Texans.

“The Texas-OU game has for decades been a focal point, and so I’m sure that if you think of the executive boxes and those kinds of things, it’s a place that a candidate might well be able to bring things together to split the campaign,” Jillson said.

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