Supporters of Houston’s contentious equal rights ordinance raked in $1.26 million during seven weeks of official fundraising, more than doubling opponents’ efforts and fueling a fierce and frenzied media campaign to court voters before the law hits the November ballot.
In campaign finance reports filed Monday that reflect late summer totals, both sides spent more than $550,000, largely on dueling TV and radio ads. But the more than $521,000 that supporters of the law still had left in campaign coffers as of Sept. 25 dwarfed the $58,000 that opponents reported in cash-on-hand.
That the fight over the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance is drawing significant money comes as little surprise. Following more than a year of litigation, City Council opted in August to send the law to the ballot after a Texas Supreme Court ruling ordered the city to either repeal the ordinance or put it to voters. Campaigns that had long waited in the wings quickly took centerstage.
Opponents object to the protections the law extends to gay and transgender residents and allege that it allows male sexual predators dressed in drag to enter women’s restrooms. Boosters of the law say it provides basic and necessary local protections for residents and warn that a repeal would dramatically harm Houston’s image and economy.
The vote is likely to be close, according to Rice University political scientist Bob Stein.
“This is a matter of messaging now,” Stein said. “The fundraising puts the supporters of HERO in a competitive if not advantage position.”
In the race to succeed Mayor Annise Parker, total fundraising came in relatively low for a contest that has been on track to be the most expensive in recent city history.
The eight mayoral contenders who filed reports Monday raised a total of at least $1.8 million over nearly three months, while in the first half of the year candidates took in more than $7 million.
In all, they spent more than $4 million from July through late September, leaving them with more than $3 million in the bank collectively and less than a month to go before the Nov. 3 election.
Garcia leads list
At this point in the race, candidates’ cash on hand is key, local political analyst Nancy Sims said.
“They need to have all their funds in place for their get-out-the-vote efforts,” Sims said, noting that four of the candidates have money to deploy.
Despite sustaining recent political attacks from many of his rivals, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia again led the pack in fundraising, receiving nearly $585,000 in contributions for the period ending Sept. 25.
Having already raised more than $1.5 million in the first half of the year, Garcia closed the reporting period with the most available cash: more than $831,000.
He reported spending more than $1 million since midsummer.
State Rep. Sylvester Turner also crossed the $500,000 threshold, reporting $527,000 in contributions and almost $1.3 million spent in nearly three months, leaving him with $507,000.
City Councilman Stephen Costello, whose fundraising rivaled Garcia’s in the first half of the year, took in another $267,000.
He has $697,000 in the bank after spending $871,000 during the reporting period.
Houstonians for the Future, an independent committee organized to support Costello, has been running television ads on his behalf.
As for former City Attorney Ben Hall, he again raised and spent little – $58,000 and $111,000, respectively – leaving him with roughly $769,000.
Former Kemah Mayor Bill King and former Congressman Chris Bell, on the other hand, closed the reporting period with less than half a million in the bank.