AUSTIN — After Beto O’Rourke’s massive fundraising report overwhelmed state servers last month, the Texas Ethics Commission wants three-quarters of a million dollars to upgrade its aging technology ahead of the midterm elections.
Without change, the system “will likely fail again” when the next round of campaign finance reports are due in October, commission leaders warned in a July 29 letter.
The issue is coming to a head as campaign finance reports grow ever more voluminous, the letter said, and the commission’s decade-old servers cannot keep up.
Last week, commission leaders wrote to top state budget writers asking for $756,000 in emergency funds to transition the filing system to the cloud.
“The agency has exhausted its options for improving the performance of its existing equipment,” said the letter, which was signed by the commission’s chair, vice-chair and executive director.
The request was made to the state’s Legislative Budget Board, a panel of 10 key lawmakers who can move money around when the Legislature is not in session.
It’s not clear whether the group is inclined to grant the request. The commission asked for money to upgrade the technology in the last state budget cycle, but did not receive any funding, according to the letter.
Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Greg Bonnen, a Friendswood Republican who heads the House Appropriations Committee, did not respond to a request for comment.
In July, O’Rourke posted a record campaign fundraising haul in his bid for oust Gov. Greg Abbott, a two-term Republican.
The 102,407-page report was so huge it took several days to post to the commission website.
After working through the weekendstaff finally got the report online by “temporarily diverting server resources away from other critical agency systems,” according to the letter.
“This problem was not caused by anything the candidate did or failed to do,” the letter said. “It was caused by the agency’s aging servers being unable to process a filing that included over 500,000 itemized political contributions.”
Not only are candidates raising more money in a state with no contribution caps, but a law enacted in 2019 also requires them to report every donation made electronically — no matter how small.
In total, O’Rourke raised $27.63 million, while Abbott raked in $24.9 million from late February through June, according to their campaign finance reports.
The pair’s fundraising hauls are only expected to grow as the contest heats up in the final stretch before the November election. In addition to the governor’s race, most statewide officials are on the ballot, as are all state legislators.
The next reports are due October 11 — less than two weeks before early voting begins.
“Timely disclosure of campaign finance data is always important, but especially so for these pre-election reports,” the letter said.
Staff writer Robert T. Garrett contributed to this report.