Backed by massive donations, the Republican super PAC Engage Texas is assembling a behemoth of an organization as it rushes to register new voters ahead of a crucial 2020 election.
The months-old group disclosed late Friday that it raised $2.3 million in the second half of 2019, bringing its total haul to $11.8 million since its formation in June. More interesting, though, is what its latest disclosure to the Federal Election Commission revealed about how big it has grown: It paid staff salaries to nearly 300 people over the past six months — dramatically up from the 18 staffers with which it started.
The group has $8.1 million cash on hand after spending $3.5 million during the latest period, the overwhelming majority of it on personnel. Engage Texas spokesman Ray Sullivan said "90% of Engage Texas employees are in the field six days a week identifying and registering voters."
"At Engage no one takes a fee or percentage from the donor contributions," Sullivan said. "Every dollar goes into the field, and the handful of vendors utilized are all exclusively focused on registering voters."
Engage Texas got all but a little of its latest haul from four sources: a woman named Jane Duncan, who gave $1 million; Dallas oil tycoon Ray Hunt, who contributed $500,000; TRT Holdings, whose CEO is Dallas businessman Robert Rowling, which donated $500,000; and El Paso developer Woody Hunt, who chipped in $125,000.
While the other three major donors are familiar names in GOP circles, Duncan is much less so, and this appears to be her first donation of such scale. Not much was immediately known about her — Engage Texas listed its compliance firm as her address.
The group launched in June with the goal of registering hundreds of thousands of new voters and convincing them to help keep the state red in November. Democrats are working to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, flip seven U.S. House seats and take the state House majority.
Engage Texas is not the only Republican group focused on voter registration. It is one of the tasks that the Texas GOP's Volunteer Engagement Project is working on, aiming to register 100,000 likely Republicans by Oct. 5, the registration deadline for the November election. A senior adviser to the project, ex-party Chairman Steve Munisteri, gave an update to the State Republican Executive Committee on Saturday, saying that over 41,000 people who the group has contacted have already registered or are in the process of doing so. The project is also up to 3,149 volunteers.
Noting the Volunteer Engagement Project has raised $1.8 million to date and has $1.3 million cash on hand, Munisteri made reference to other voter registration efforts on both sides and touted his effort's bang for its buck.
“Their budgets are in the millions and millions of dollars," Munisteri said of the other efforts. "This is less than half a million since we officially launched in July 1, and that half a million has resulted in that 40,000. That's only about 11 bucks per registered voter, which is way, way less than the national average."
The Texas Democratic Party is continuing to prioritize voter registration this cycle. The party has said it is going after 2.6 million unregistered voters who it believes are likely Democrats and anticipates having more than 1,000 organizers and canvassers on the ground by the end of the cycle.
Disclosure: Woody Hunt has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.