Wendy Davis's Fundraising Fiasco

The Texas Democrat juked her fundraising numbers this week when she counted a concert by Willie Nelson as a $250,000 in-kind contribution to her campaign.

Mike Stone/Reuters

As if things weren’t going badly enough for Wendy Davis, the Texas gubernatorial candidate got caught inflating her campaign’s finances this week by counting a Willie Nelson concert as a contribution.

Davis, the Texas Democrat best known for her 2013 filibuster against an anti-abortion bill, is facing an uphill battle to beat state attorney general Greg Abbott to lead the Lone Star State in November. Polls have Davis consistently trailing by 10-15% and the erstwhile Democratic rock star, who is already on her second campaign manager, seems to be on course for an early election night and a big MSNBC contract.

Briefly though, Davis had a bit of a bright spot this week when she announced that she had outraised Abbott in the most recent fundraising period. Then, the Texas Tribune revealed her campaign had “juked the numbers.” The $11.2 million that Davis had reported raising included $500,000 in in-kind donations, where a donor offers services instead of money, including $250,000 that was the cash value of a concert that country music legend Willie Nelson performed at a campaign fundraiser.

For example, the pro-choice advocacy group Planned Parenthood gave just over $100,000 in in-kind polling and web development to the Davis campaign this period. However, a concert is a far more unusual gift that is rarely considered a donation. While it is perfectly legal for Davis to count Nelson’s concert as an in-kind contribution, it is a bit out of the ordinary. After all, when music artists like Katy Perry or Stevie Wonder have campaigned on behalf of Barack Obama, their performances are not tallied as an in-kind donation.

Once that, along with several other quirks including a $300,000 discrepancy in one of the four different accounts that Davis uses in her fundraising tally are accounted for, the Democrat ended the period behind Abbott yet again.

The Texas Attorney General still maintains a three to one cash on hand advantage over Davis, regardless of who raised the most money in the last fundraising period. Abbott has benefited from Texas’s loose campaign funding rules and has banked 22 different donations of at least $100,000 since late February.

This hiccup is not significant in and of itself, after all, it’s hard to imagine a single voter casting their ballot based on a candidate’s solely fundraising prowess over a three-month period long before Election Day. Instead, it serves as a measure of how low Davis’ fortunes have sunk. The candidate, who was once considered the great liberal hope to make Texas a swing state, is now running a flailing campaign which has even gone after Democratic allies. Winning the governor’s mansion as a Texas Democrat was never going to be an easy task but, by exaggerating her fundraising numbers, Davis made it even harder.