With fewer than 30 days until Election Day, the Republican candidate for Tarrant County district attorney has established a large fundraising lead over his Democrat opponent.
Republican Phil Sorrells received $287,368.95 in campaign contributions, according to campaign finance reports submitted Oct. 11. Democrat Tiffany Burks lagged far behind, receiving $46,750 over the same period.
“With 800,000 people voting, you’ve got to have some campaign contributions and be able to get your message out there,” Sorrells said. “We’re spending a lot of time trying to raise money.”
Thomas Marshall, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, previously told the Fort Worth Report that big donations help cement name recognition for candidates heading into the election, but don’t necessarily guarantee victory.
Spending data is less dramatic. Sorrells outspent Burks by about $8,000, a much narrower gap than contribution totals.
Burks said she knew that she would not raise as much money as her opponent.
“I have to be a little more frugal in where I spend my money,” Burks said. “And I had to kind of hold back a little bit until toward the end to figure out the best way to utilize my money.”
Sorrells secures big-money donors
Sorrells received 60 individual donations, averaging $4,871.
His single largest donation came from Robert Patton, a Fort Worth oil and gas investor and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Patton gave Sorrells $100,000 in mid-September, accounting for a little more than a third of all of the Republican candidate’s contributions.
“Bobby is a good friend of mine. He’s a big supporter of mine,” Sorrells said. “And it means a lot that you got somebody that knows you well enough, very well, and says that he wants to help you and what you’re trying to do. And so he’s involved in it financially, and I’m involved in it with a lot of sweat equity.”
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His next largest donations came from Kent and Susie Hance, who each gave $25,000. Kent Hance is a current Fort Worth attorney, former state senator and U.S. congressman and former chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. Susie Hance listed herself as retired on the campaign filing.
More than half of all individual donations to Sorrells were $1,000 0r more.
Several Republican groups donated to Sorrells, including Metroplex Republican Women, Arlington Republican Club, Fort Worth Republican Women, Frederick Douglas Republicans of Tarrant County PAC and Tarrant Star Republican Women.
“We don’t have a crystal ball,” Sorrells said of his campaign. “We’re just working as hard as we can to do as much as we can. And we’ll trust God with the results.”
Sorrells spent about $35,000 during the filing period, primarily for campaign text messaging and yard signs.
The Republican candidate has about $301,000 left in his war chest going into the final stretch of election season. Sorrells also led Republican candidates in fundraising during the primary, when he defeated Matt Krause in a runoff to become the nominee.
“Obviously, the closer you get to the election, the more you’re going to be using your campaign money,” Sorrells said. “You spend time raising it and then as it gets toward Election Day, then that’s when the money starts going back out on the advertising.”
Burks focuses on grassroots donor efforts
Burks received 128 individual donations. The majority of donations to Burks were under $1,000, according to campaign filings; the average was $368.
“When I say people over politics, it’s not a slogan, it’s a movement,” she said. “And I’m trying to get people to understand politics doesn’t have a place in our criminal justice system.”
Her largest single donation came from Michele Dacus, senior vice president at Highgate Hotels. Dacus donated $10,000 in late August.
Like Sorrells, Burks received support from several party-specific groups, including Arlington Area Democratic Women, Southwest Democrats of Tarrant County and Tarrant County Democratic Women’s Club.
She did not receive any donations from political action committees.
Burks also received $16,500 worth of in-kind, or non-monetary, contributions. The majority of that came in the form of research from the Lone Star Project, a political research and strategy organization founded in 2005. The organization states that “beating Republicans is our bottom line” on its website.
“I think their contribution helped me understand where my strengths and my weaknesses lie,” Burks said. “So I’ve been able to pivot. … It really helped me with messaging, and also understanding what’s going on with voters here in Tarrant County.”
The majority of Burks’ expenditures were focused on advertising and consulting expenses.
She has about $42,600 on hand for the remainder of the race.
What does a district attorney do?
In Tarrant, residents elect someone to serve as both a criminal district attorney and county attorney. A criminal district attorney is a state office while a county attorney is a county office. The criminal district attorney is also a civil attorney that represents the county in civil matters and offers legal advice to elected officials and departments.
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Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.