There are many ways to contribute to a political campaign — you can give money, time, or in-kind donations like hosting an event or providing food for a campaign. In Texas, enterprising citizens don’t just give of their time, they contribute deer semen. In fact, one Democratic candidate for local office has received more in deer semen than in financial contributions.
Ana Lisa Garza, a 7-year district court judge running in the Democratic primary to represent the 31st district in the Texas state House, reported receiving $51,000 in in-kind donations and only $36,500 in monetary donations. She is challenging Democrat Ryan Guillen for the seat he’s held for eight terms.
Those in-kind donations are all straws of deer semen, each assigned a $1,000 value on her campaign finance report. The “straw” is a container of semen stored for later use. Breeders market their deers’ antler size and shape as reasons to buy straws of their bucks’ semen.
“Semen is a very common way for us to donate,” deer breeder Fred Gonzalez, treasurer of the Texas Deer Association, told The Dallas Morning News. “One collection on a buck could lead to 60 straws sometimes. If you have a desirable animal, it’s a way to bring value without breaking the bank.”
— Scott Braddock (@scottbraddock) February 28, 2018
Gonzalez said Garza earned his support because she better understands deer breeders’ impact to the Texas economy. “I grew up where she grew up. I hunted with her husband,” the campaign donor said. “Some people don’t like deer breeders. Some people don’t understand the benefit that we provide to Texas and small landowners.”
Gonzalez donated one straw to Garza’s campaign. He reported that the breeding community often donates straws instead of money.
The Texas Deer Association’s political action committee has received $976,025 in deer semen donations between 2006 and 2016. It has given $885,695 to campaigns and interest groups during that time. According to expenditure reports, the PAC has never given in-kind donations in the form of deer semen. Of the ten candidates the PAC has supported in the past ten years, eight were Republicans. Guillen was one of the two Democrats.
The straws donated to Garza were sold at a Texas Deer Association event, but the organization’s PAC did not contribute to her campaign.
Gonzalez admitted he did not know how the deer semen would be used for Garza’s campaign, although he suggested that the price for which the straws sold at auction would go to her campaign.
Buck Wood, a campaign finance and ethics attorney, told the Daily News that if the straws were sold at auction and catalogued by the campaign then, the donations would not be separately classified as in-kind. “If they’d given her the straws, that would have been an in-kind donation,” he said. “But if they sold them and converted it to cash, that’s just a straight donation from whoever owned the property.”
Even so, as long as the campaign accurately recorded the money value, the in-kind label does not create ethical problems, Wood explained. “The only time in-kind is important when you can’t estimate the value of the in-kind contribution,” he said.
Garza faces an uphill battle in the primary against Guillen, who did not have a Republican challenger in the last two elections. He received 100 percent of the primary and general election vote both years. The incumbent has raised $101,775 in the last filing period, and has $662,364 in cash on hand.
In this context, Garza will need a great deal of new life pumped into her campaign, and apparently many Texas deer breeders have taken that need rather literally.