© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

West Texas billionaires back candidates opposing House Republicans who supported Paxton impeachment

Image by Alberto Adán from Pixabay

Two West Texas billionaires known for supporting conservative candidates and causes are backing several North Texas Republicans seeking to oust incumbents.

Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, who made their fortune in oil and fracking, are behind the PAC Texans United for a Conservative Majority, which sprung up after their previous PAC, Defend Texas Liberty, raised alarms when its then-president Jonathan Stickland met with white supremacist Nick Fuentes. KERA reached out to Dunn and Wilks but did not hear back.

Stickland was removed as president of Defend Texas Liberty and the PAC's supporters called his infamous meeting a mistake.

The new PAC, Texans United for a Conservative Majority, so far has given at least $385,000 to North Texas candidates running for state rep seats, according to campaign finance reports filed since January.

The influence of PACs on elections isn’t new, but this group in particular stands out because of who it's supporting and why.

Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston, said the PAC isn’t just influencing with money, it’s sending a message to conservative voters.

“When they fund these challengers to incumbent Republicans, they’re sending a signal that this is a group, these are the people who are the most conservative in the race,” Rottinghaus said. “And for Republican primary voters, that’s really a trigger that they’re looking for.”

The PAC isn’t throwing money behind just any conservative candidate, it’s backing candidates running against incumbents who supported the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“That’s something that also is pretty rare in Texas. We don’t see a lot of organizations formed around this one specific person, but that’s definitely an issue for this race,” Rottinghaus said. “This is not an organization that’s designed to be the defender for Ken Paxton, but they do a lot of that work, and that’s really become a kind of calling card for a lot of these PACs that are pushing in the same direction.”

Among the recipients of the PAC’s contributions is Katrina Pierson, a former campaign spokesperson for President Donald Trump. Pierson is challenging incumbent Justin Holland for House District 33. The most recent report filed February 5 shows the PAC gave her $50,000.

The PAC also gave $50,000 to David Lowe, who’s running against State Rep. Stephanie Klick for House District 91. The two ran against each other in 2022.

Other recipients include Andy Hopper, who’s competing with Elaine Hays to unseat Lynn Stucky in House District 64. The PAC gave his campaign $100,000, making Hopper the largest recipient of the group’s donations.

Shelley Luther, who made headlines during the pandemic when she reopened her salon during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, is vying for a seat in House District 62 against incumbent Reggie Smith. She received $50,000 from the PAC.

The PAC’s other contributions went to Mitch Little who’s running for House District 65 and received $50,000; Barry Wernick who received $25,000 and is running for House District 108 against incumbent Rep. Morgan Meyer, and Cheryl Bean who’s running for House District 97 and received $10,000.

KERA reached out to several candidates asking if they had any concerns about the new PAC given its connection to the previous PAC, Defend Texas Liberty, but only heard back from one person.

Wernick responded in an email stating that billionaire Tim Dunn is the chairman of the Christian Advisory Board of the Israel Allies Foundation, a faith-based group that advocates for Israel.

As for the PAC’s other leader, Farris Wilks, Wernick wrote:

“Wilks took a risk as an Orthodox Jew, providing the initial funding for the Daily Wire,” the email reads. “I accepted support from them; I didn’t take money from a rogue employee.”

The Daily Wire is an American conservative news outlet founded in part by political commentator Ben Shapiro.

Wernick added his reason for running is because his opponent “grew the state budget” and that this would end up costing Texans.

“His donors are connected to those who want the border crisis to persist and want to litter Texas with casinos,” he wrote. “Are you covering the millions involved in those stories?”

Recently, the Texas Tribune reported that the state’s GOP leaders passed a resolution that “the party will not associate with antisemites.”

This comes after a similar resolution failed in December, the Tribune reported.

If voters are concerned about who’s influencing an election, Rottinghaus has some advice. He said voters should follow the money.

“For people concerned about their being too much money in politics or some individuals having an outside say in it, that’s something that they can check…There are all kinds of public records that allow that to happen,” he said. “Understanding the influence that money could have on politics is one thing and then I think the second is understanding where that influence specifically is coming from.”

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Stella Chávez is KERA’s education reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35. The award-winning entry was  “Yolanda’s Crossing,” a seven-part DMN series she co-wrote that reconstructs the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican sexual-abuse victim from a small Oaxacan village to Dallas. For the last two years, she worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she was part of the agency’s outreach efforts on the Affordable Care Act and ran the regional office’s social media efforts.