An outside group that’s yet to report its spending and donors in Texas is on track to spend over $11 million on ads attacking Republican Governor Greg Abbott, yet another example of the role of hard-to-trace money in high-profile races this election cycle.
The opaque group — named Coulda Been Worse, a play on Abbott’s widely panned response after the Uvalde school shooting in May — has spent over $7.1 million on TV advertising in Texas from early August through September 28. While ad buys could change, the group has booked another $4.7 million in TV spots from now until the election on November 8, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact.
It’s unclear who is funding the group, as Texas law doesn’t require political committees to file a financial report until 30 days before the election, if a group doesn’t trigger the semiannual or monthly reporting schedule. Even then, it’s not clear if the group will be required to report in October due to the state’s cloudy definition of what constitutes a political committee, as reported by the Texas Tribune. The next reporting deadline with the Texas Ethics Commission is October 11.
Abbott’s campaign has spent over $14 million on ads since the Texas primaries ended in March, while O’Rourke’s campaign has spent $7 million in the same span of time, according to AdImpact. Coulda Been Worse is helping O’Rourke make up the difference while Abbott’s campaign hasn’t been the beneficiary of any outside spending in a race the Republican appears to be leading.
Most of the ads booked by Coulda Been Worse are minute long takes on Abbott’s performance as governor, highlighting energy shortages, the Uvalde shooting, and Texas laws to shut off access to abortion. The most recent ad highlights the role of Abbott, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the passage of restrictive Texas abortion laws. The ads are running in English and Spanish.
“Three men choose to criminalize abortion,” the female narrator says in the ad. “Three men said women in Texas have no right to control their bodies.”
O’Rourke has also run ads highlighting Abbott’s stance on abortion, as well as poor education funding in Texas. The media section of O’Rourke’s website lists key talking points that repeat the narratives told in the ads put out by Coulda Been Worse, a typical practice called “redboxing” to indirectly coordinate between campaigns and outside groups.
On filings with the Federal Communications Commission required to purchase ad time, the group lists a P.O. Box in Arlington, Virginia.
Both Abbott and O’Rourke decried the role of dark money in politics after Coulda Been Worse first went on air in August, as reported by the Texas Tribune.