In the finals weeks of a runoff to decide Democrats’ nominee to replace retiring Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, former family court Judge Peter Sakai and state Rep. Ina Minjarez are raising and spending money in very different ways.

Sakai and Minjarez were the top two vote-takers in the March 1 primary, and now face off in May 24 runoff. Early voting began Monday. The winner will face Republican Trish DeBerry in November. 

Campaign finance reports covering Feb. 20 to May 14 were filed with the Bexar County Elections Commission on Monday. Sakai raised $149,000 and spent $272,000 during that period, while Minjarez raised $174,000 and spent $179,000. Both had money left over from the primary. Sakai had roughly $223,000 in the bank for the final days of the runoff, while Minjarez had $67,000 on hand.

The San Antonio Report looked at campaign finance reports dating back to the fall to give a full picture of how candidates have raised and spent money in their campaigns for a role that will oversee a budget of $2.79 billion for fiscal year 2022.

Sakai, who spent decades overseeing Bexar County’s family and children’s courts, collected large sums of money from a handful of deep-pocketed donors. It’s Sakai’s first non-judicial campaign of his career, and he spent much of his funds on professional fundraising help, door-knocking and other paid campaign field work.

Minjarez, who has represented San Antonio in the state Legislature since 2015, reported fewer big-dollar contributions. Having waged four successful campaigns for the Texas House, she is leaning on groups seeking to register new voters in Bexar County, and spent big on digital and mail ads, text messages and canvassing.

Sakai received sizable donations from two local philanthropists: Kym Rapier Verette gave him $100,000 in December and Harvey Najim gave him two $10,000 donations, one before the primary and one during the runoff.

In February, Sakai received $50,000 from Adam David Lynd and $50,000 from Patricia and Michael J. Lynd Sr. Lynd Sr. is the founder and chairman emeritus of Shavano Park-based Lynd Living, a multifamily property management and development company; Adam David Lynd is the company’s president and CEO.

Other notable Sakai contributors include former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger and former Judge John Specia, a Republican who helped form the Children’s Court. Sakai also loaned his own campaign $10,000 earlier this year.

During the runoff, Sakai’s campaign paid a political fundraiser, Norma Denham, $24,000. He also spent money on campaign field work and phone bankers.

While Minjarez’s campaign didn’t have single contributions as large as some of Sakai’s, she pulled in plenty of four-digit donations. She also got financial support from other members of Bexar County’s legislative delegation, including Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins and Diego Bernal and from state Sen. Roland Gutierrez.

Though Minjarez has the backing of the Texas Organizing Project, which is focused on rallying new voters around issues like criminal justice reform, her supporters include the Deputies Sheriffs Association of Bexar County, which gave $5,000 to her campaign before the primary and another $5,000 ahead of the runoff. The group also provided roughly $1,500 in campaign signs.

Other notable donations include $10,000 in January from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group that has given to both Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan, and $10,000 from Dallas-area resident Jim Thompson, chairman and CEO of Preston Hollow Capital.

Minjarez’s biggest donation from a single supporter came from her husband, Leo Gomez, president and CEO of the Brooks Development Authority, who gave $10,000 to her campaign in February and another $2,500 in mid-April.

During the runoff Minjarez’s campaign spent roughly $150,000 on digital and mail advertising, paid to political consulting firm CSG Inc. She also spent money on mass text messages and campaign canvassing.

If elected, Minjarez says she plans to recuse herself from any votes related to her husband’s business interests, as she’s done in the past while serving in the state legislature. 

“My integrity is everything, and even at the State House of Representatives, I conflicted myself off of taking votes where there was an appearance of a conflict of interest or was one, so I have a record of doing that,” Minjarez said at a candidate forum last week.

Sakai has also pledged to rescue himself from voting on contracts with the county that could present potential conflicts. His wife Raquel “Rachel” Dias-Sakai serves on the board of two nonprofits. 

Speaking at the same candidate forum, he stressed the importance of maintaining “​​the integrity of our judicial system.”

“In 26 years at the district court bench, I was held to a higher standard in order to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest,” said Sakai. “We will always want to avoid conflicts of interests, especially when it comes to the awarding of contracts.”

This post has been updated to reflect an amended report filed by Rep. Minjarez’s campaign.

Disclosure: Ina Minjarez’s husband, Leo Gomez, is a member of the San Antonio Report’s board of directors.

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.