In an event hosted by the Denton Democrats on Sunday, Chris Tackett, a former board of trustees member for the Granbury Independent School District, gave a workshop on campaign finance in the Denton County Elections Administration Building.
While Tackett has a full-time job, he spends his spare time compiling a detailed database on state politics spending.
Following in the footsteps of national-level data collectors such as the National Institute on Money in Politics’ Follow The Money and the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website, Tackett’s large datasets differ in that he links the state’s biggest money contributors and the multiple Political Action Committees (PAC) they form.
Diving into the data of campaign finances is something that brings insight into power dynamics in politics, Tackett said.
“Understanding why, diving into the money, it turned a light bulb on for me in understanding ‘oh my gosh so this is what it is,’” he said. “When I started sharing how amazed I was, and how horrified I was by it, I started writing about it. As I wrote about it, it touched other people and they said ‘what about my person,’ so I wrote about their people. Now I have an entire database.”
Workshops explaining the data behind politics help all constituents, said Denton County Democratic Party chair Anjelita Cadena.
“It’s a lot of different information and it takes a lot to put it together like Chris did, and not everybody can do it,” she said. “We can see who’s donating to these people, but to start linking all of the PACs together like he did, that takes more thought.”
Tackett spent a sizable portion of his presentation talking about the influence of multiple PACs that are funded and controlled by the same group of contributors.
One of the most influential throughout the state is Empower Texans, Tackett said.
“I ran [data on] 150 house races, 37 Senate races all over the statewide races, the only real pattern you can see, the only thing that is definitive, is ET [Empower Texans],” he said.
“When you look at ET individually, they’re not huge,” Tackett said. “They’re big, but they’re not everything. Then you start to understand who’s behind them and all of the other PACs that they’re driving, it’s scary stuff.”
Recently, ET was at odds with Republican leadership in the most recent legislative session for a perceived failure to pass more conservative bills while Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen is critical of the group.
“I am incredibly comfortable with my conservative record,” Bonnen said to multiple reporters after the 86th Legislative Session. “But more significantly, they are a group that you are fooling yourself and you are not respecting your constituents. You are not respecting this institution if you are chasing their wants and their desires because you will never meet their wants and their desires. They are a group that is based on attacks and disrespect to raise money. They are not based on issue ideology.”
Neither Empower Texans nor House Speaker Bonnen’s office returned requests for comment before publication.
Tackett said voters need to focus on what’s going to happen in the primary elections and learning about campaign finance on the state level which prepares people for larger analysis.
“To me, the more you understand what’s happening, that’s the only way you can fight it,” he said. “If you’re tackling each one of these PACs, each one of these candidates individually, you can’t get ahead of it.”
Helping citizens understand complicated data is important for the political process, Tackett said.
“You can arm your candidates, you can arm your community,” he said.
Featured Image: Chris Tackett, former board of trustees member from Granbury, Texas, speaks to attendees during a workshop about campaign finance during an event hosted by the Denton County Democratic Party at the Denton County Elections Administration Building in Denton, Texas on June 23, 2019. Photo by Victoria Gomez