February 3, 2020

Governor and GOP Power PACs Pitch Unity
Among Warring Texas House Republicans

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor


Texans for Lawsuit Reform
Total Donations: $6,114,163
Total Spending: $1,852,908
Cash on Hand: $10,463,737
Associated Republicans of Texas
Total Donations: $1,962,196
Total Spending: $1,011,125
Cash on Hand: $1,338,168
Annie's List
Total Donations: $1,464,376
Total Spending: $1,515,275
Cash on Hand: $322,420
House Democratic
Campaign Committee

Total Donations: $506,199
Total Spending: $275,242
Cash on Hand: $207,326
Leading Texas Forward
Total Donations: $505,987
Total Spending: $0
Cash on Hand: $480,500
Texas House GOP Caucus
Total Donations: $303,431
Total Spending: $18,690
Cash on Hand: $298,353
Battleground Texas
Total Donations: $234,156
Total Spending: $215,275
Cash on Hand: $64,753
DLCC Texas
Total Donations: $139,518
Total Spending: $136,227
Cash on Hand: $3,289
Empower Texans
Total Donations: $25,240
Total Spending: $37,948
Cash on Hand: $8,003

Source: Texas Ethics



Governor Greg Abbott and a pair of powerhouse groups are trying to restore peace among Texas House Republicans who've been bitterly divided in the aftermath of a targeting scandal that triggered Speaker Dennis Bonnen's unraveling last year.

The governor and the PACs are concerned that the feuding between Bonnen loyalists and GOP colleagues who'd turned against him could have a potentially fatal effect on the bid by Republicans to protect their majority in the lower chamber in the general election here this fall.

Democrats have an opportunity to seize control of the House with a net gain of nine seats in November after picking up a dozen in 2018. But the split among the ruling Republicans has threatened to undermine the majority protection effort in a chamber where Bonnen's downfall and subsequent plans to step down at the end of the year have sparked unexpected battles for speaker on both sides of the aisle.

The internal furor over a GOP primary hit list that Bonnen pitched to a political enemy at a secret meeting in June has culminated in a rivalry between two separate political committees that have been raising funds for the sake of keeping the House red amid fears of a potential down-ballot disaster with President Donald Trump leading the ticket this year.

The concerns about a Democratic takeover in the west wing of the statehouse were alleviated to some degree last week with a Republican blowout in a special election runoff in a House district that Democrats spent nearly $1 million trying without success to flip. But TLR, ART and the Abbott team are pragmatic forces that understand the danger of complacency at a time when a second consecutive blue wave at the Texas polls this fall is still a possibility despite the results in the special House District 28 battle that State Rep.-elect Gary Gates of Rosenberg won in overtime with a stunning 16-point margin of victory.

House Republicans in competitive re-election races had been counting on Bonnen to bankroll a wagon-circling initiative with a $3 million infusion from his individual campaign to a group that he created as the Texas Leads PAC. The outgoing speaker spent $100,000 on polling for 10 of his most vulnerable GOP colleagues on June 25 - the same day that conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan blew the whistle on the scheme that targeted 10 other House Republicans for defeat in the March primary election.

While Bonnen has reportedly donated $15,000 each to a half-dozen fellow House Republicans who are facing primary challengers, the uncertainty that the scandal has fueled prompted the creation of the Leading Texas Forward PAC as an alternative source of funds for GOP representatives who are at risk to various degrees in districts that Democrats are targeting in 2020.

The Leading Texas Forward PAC that has veteran consultant Karl Rove as its treasurer has been associated with major former Bonnen allies including GOP State Reps. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and several influential Republicans who abandoned their support for the speaker in an angry confrontation last fall.

The representatives who stuck by the speaker in the midst of the turmoil have been raising funds for the majority protection effort through the Texas House Republican Caucus PAC. GOP State Rep. Drew Springer of Muenster circulated a fundraising letter last week on the caucus PAC's behalf.

Bonnen in the meantime has appeared to be throwing up roadblocks for the competing group that's tied to Rove and Geren. But Bonnen has been unpredictable as well by ostensibly contributing last month to State Rep. Chris Paddie - a Marshall Republican who'd been one of five House members who pulled the plugs on their support for the speaker in a coordinated move that prompted him to call it quits on a bid to survive the scandal. Paddie will be squaring off with challenger Mark Williams of Carthadge in the GOP primary election one month from today.

Bonnen ironically had appeared to be punishing Paddie for disloyalty late last year when he removed him from the coveted post of Sunset Advisory Commission chairman.


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