Top-spending political action committees are putting their money on 20 Texas House Republicans listed as “priorities” of lame-duck Speaker Joe Straus.
In November, Capitol Inside reported that the Straus team had prioritized more than two dozen Texas House contests for support in a meeting with an elite group of allied lobbyists.
The 20 incumbents from that list who filed to defend their seats received 43.7 percent of the cash distributed by 63 PACs during the last reporting period, according to The Texas Monitor’s analysis of campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
In all, the PACs gave $819,926 to Straus priority members, who represent barely 11 percent of the 182 GOP House candidates running this year.
Three other large PACs — Empower Texans, Texas Right to Life and the New Leadership PAC — didn’t give a dime to those candidates.
The lopsided PAC support of Straus allies highlights the battle for control of the House in the post-Straus era. The so-called “Austin Lobby” appears to be doubling down on the status-quo while grassroots groups promote more conservative candidates and policies.
“The big special-interest money is clearly lining up behind Team Corruption,” said Don Dyer, treasurer of the New Leadership PAC. “Leftover Straus committee chairs are the clear winners of the special-interest lobby.”
“The traditional Austin Lobby is concentrating its donations on a set of centrist conservatives with strong ties to Team Straus who are facing significant primary challenges from more conservative rivals in the GOP primary, as well as following past customs of giving money to those who occupy powerful positions,” said Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University’s Baker Institute.
He added: “These individuals are racking up a large number of donations in the $1,000 to $15,000 range from a large number of PACs.”
The biggest Austin Lobby PAC recipients from the Straus team protection list are:
- Wayne Faircloth, $101,000
- Lyle Larson, $69,891
- Four Price, $61,740
- Drew Darby, $58,752
- Chris Paddie, $53,540
- Ken King, $49,653
- Dennis Bonnen, $49,254
- Giovanni Capriglione, $48,781
- Dan Flynn, $47,704
- Sarah Davis, $46,751
“When you have occupied powerful positions like they have, the Austin Lobby is in your debt,” Jones noted.
Straus remains a top recipient of Austin Lobby money, even though he is not running for re-election. He and his Texans for Joe Straus fund received $128,740 ($127,740 came in before he announced his retirement).
With a $10 million war chest to spend on political campaigns, Straus did not report making any contributions in the last six months of 2017. Nor did his Texas House Leadership Fund, which has $157,104 in cash on hand.
Straus spokesman Jason Embry disputed the candidate “priority” designation.
“Nothing [in the Capitol Inside article says anything] about the Speaker personally identifying races,” Embry told The Texas Monitor. In fact, the article said the priority list was compiled by “Speaker Joe Straus’ camp.”
The two biggest contributors to Straus priority candidates were Texas Realtors (TREPAC), $165,247, and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, $104,000.
Those PACs also hedged their bets, funding selected Republican House hopefuls not on the priority list. TREPAC gave $136,706 and TLR gave $93,500 to non-priority candidates.
Jones said TLR “occupies a unique space which is neither insurgent nor ‘Austin Lobby.’”
Meantime, three anti-Straus PACS targeted their giving to more conservative candidates, some of whom are challenging Straus candidates in the March 6 primary:
- Empower Texans, $482,500
- Texas Right to Life, $331,500
- New Leadership, $25,000
All $25,000 from NLP went to Bo French, who is primarying Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, a veteran Straus lieutenant.
Jones noted that the “insurgent” Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life PACs are backing Straus challengers, including Bryan Slaton, Armin Mizani, Jay Wiley, Susanna Dokupil and Emily Cook.
Those two PACs also supported movement conservatives facing primary challenges, such as Mike Lang and Valoree Swanson, and others running for open seats, including Stuart Spitzer, Matt Beebe and Kevin Fulton. Beebe is in a crowded field of Republicans seeking Straus’ Alamo Heights seat in House District 121.
“None of these individuals are receiving any donations from the Austin Lobby,” Jones observed.
Holding 95 of 150 House seats, Republicans are certain to retain control of the chamber after the 2018 election. The key question is who will be the new speaker of the chamber.
The Republican Party of Texas distributed a Speaker Commitment Form to all GOP House candidates, asking them to pledge to support the House Republican Caucus’ choice for speaker. So far, 132 House candidates have taken the pledge; 50 have not.
Straus won and held onto the speakership with the support of minority Democrats voting as a bloc on the House floor.
Many political observers see a speaker selection process that is restricted to House Republicans as a direct threat to the Straus team; still a majority of their “priority” members (13 out of 20) have signed on to the pledge:
- Wayne Faircloth
- Walter “Four” Price
- Giovanni Capriglione
- Dan Flynn
- Paul D. Workman
- John Raney
- Lynn Stucky
- Hugh D. Shine
- Dan Huberty
- J.D. Sheffield
- Scott Cosper
- Tony Dale
- Will Metcalf
Two announced candidates for speaker (Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond) split on the pledge, with King signing and Zerwas declining.
The big Austin Lobby money — when the three anti-Straus PACS are factored out — split between candidates who signed the pledge and those who didn’t. Without Empower Texans, Right to Life and NLP, $999,751.96 went to pledgers and $875,960.57 went to non-pledgers.
NLP’s Dyer called the pledge “a litmus test” for his group’s support.
“It looks like the [Straus friendly] PACs expect the Democrats to usurp the speaker selection from Caucus vote,” Dyer said.
On Jan 27, the State Republican Executive Committee voted to censure Straus, saying he has obstructed the party’s conservative agenda.
Kenric Ward can be reached at [email protected]