Following the Money

Compared to two years ago, it appears that voucher sugardaddy James Leininger has pulled back a bit (so far) in his donations to candidates for state office. Leininger is the state’s biggest financial supporter of private school voucher schemes. (You can read more about Leininger in a 2006 Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report on the religious right in Texas.) Vouchers take money from public schools to pay for tuition at private and religious schools.

Over the years Leininger has poured millions of dollars into the campaigns of pro-voucher Republicans, including current Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Leininger has funneled a lot of that money through political action committees. That strategy can give him and his hired hands more control over the campaigns of candidates he supports.

So far in 2007-08 election cycle, however, Leininger has given only about $815,000 to Republican candidates and PACs, according to reports available on the Texas Ethics Commission Web site. That compares to nearly $4 million Leininger had donated by this point in the 2005-06 cycle. More than $2.35 million of that money two years ago went to the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, a PAC that targeted five House incumbents for defeat in the Republican primaries because they opposed private school vouchers. Another $620,000 went to The Future of Texas Alliance PAC, which backed House Republican incumbents who supported vouchers.

Of course, Leininger’s attempt to buy a Legislature that would finally pass a voucher scheme failed in 2006. He defeated only two anti-voucher Republican incumbents. In addition, a number of pro-voucher GOP incumbents — including then-House Public Education Committee chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington — lost their re-election bids.

Leininger hasn’t fared much better this year. For the second time in a row, gobs of his money failed to unseat state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. (Geren, a strong supporter of public schools, famously said two years ago that he wouldn’t “whore for Leininger” and vote for vouchers.) This year Leininger gave $100,000 to Tom Annunziato’s failed effort to defeat Geren. Annunziato’s campaign got another nearly $70,000 from Empower Texans PAC, which itself has received $100,000 from Leininger.

Leininger also ponied up more than $70,000 for the failed re-election campaign of state Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde. Leininger bankrolled Macias’ successful effort to unseat anti-voucher state Rep. Carter Casteel, R- New Braunfels, in 2006. Macias, who also got about $80,000 this year from Empower Texans PAC, narrowly lost his Republican primary last March.

Although his spending so far is less than usual, we would be surprised if Leininger doesn’t spend more money in support of pro-voucher candidates in the fall.