$2.8M+ of dark money flows into South Texas Race
By Frances Sawyer, June 2022
Last week, Climate Slate candidate Sara Stapleton Barrera lost to Morgan LaMantia in a hard-fought primary runoff election.
We knew it would be a tough race, and Climate Cabinet invested early because the future of energy, environmental justice, and democracy in South Texas will have ramifications nationwide. This is, after all, the region that swung most toward President Trump between the 2016 and 2020 elections — and the region where the Koch network has invested in community organizations and politics for at least a decade. It is a place where polluting industries and special interests have long held sway. But also a place that has the potential to power the next 100 years of American growth through the expansion of good clean energy jobs.
Climate Cabinet offered the earliest climate endorsements in this region, throwing our support behind two clean energy champions: Sara Stapleton-Barrera and Ruben Cortez. These were races with exciting, experienced clean energy candidates running great field programs — and races where we knew wins would help build the support for pro-climate candidates for years to come. The challengers in both races were backed by the region’s former State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., who had been one of the most reliable Democratic votes for the fossil fuel industry for almost three decades in office.
To be honest, we were shocked by what happened and want to be upfront with you about it.
The biggest surprise of this race was the Scrooge McDuck-sized pool of cash delivered to LaMantia’s campaign via a very unusual tactic – huge personal loans from her family members.
LaMantia spent a whopping $3,443,475 on their primary race. This was ~15x our expected financial spend through the primary. The oddest part? LaMantia only raised $511,811 in donations – the largest contribution of which is $115k from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, which is bankrolled by Republican donors who also support Dan Patrick, Greg Abbott, and other anti-climate candidates.
The remainder of her funds? Nearly $2.9 million in loans from her family members.
This massive loan amount will likely become more common. Thanks to Ted Cruz’s recent Supreme Court ruling, more financial loopholes are opening for anti-democratic interests to hold sway. Just last month, the court confirmed that candidates can continue to raise funds to repay loans after their election, win or lose, and removed the previous cap on the total loan value repayable post-election. This Federal ruling removed much of the risk to taking big loans out to self-fund a race, and has provided campaigns with another way to move money to avoid voter accountability.
So who repays these loans? We’ll have to wait and see.
What we already know is that just like we did, big moneyed interests also identified the Rio Grande Valley as a place worth fighting for this year. Thanks for being there with us – we know this region will be in play for years to come, and our work ensured candidates running on strong clean energy platforms were able to get their message out and build a foundation of support that will pay dividends in future cycles.
At Climate Cabinet, we’re committed to investing early in high-impact races. While we’ve won 9 out of our first 13 races this year, we’re not going to win everything – and sometimes, our commitment to low-cost races gets met with a wall of sketchy money. Creating pro-climate majorities across the country is a marathon, not a sprint, and we’re in this for the long haul. We believe in being open and honest — and that’s why we’ll let y'all know our victories, as well as when our candidates fall short.
The Rio Grande Valley is a battleground for the future of American politics — and a place where we see experimentation, corruption, and a multidimensional game of chess working against candidates running to serve the people. This election is a clear example of why campaign finance reform and climate action are intimately intertwined.
To learn about other climate-critical candidates running in high stakes elections around the US, visit ClimateSlate.com.