Nobody wants to remember the time an East Texas millionaire named Lonnie Bo Pilgrim, a chicken processor, handed out 31 $10,000 checks on the Senate floor in Austin during a special session — when senators were set to consider worker's comp laws that affected his business.
The case made a laughingstock of the Texas Legislature and prompted calls for reform of Texas campaign finance laws, which prohibit Texas lawmakers from accepting political contributions during the regular session but allow a free-for-all during the special session.
But unfortunately, since 1989, that law hasn't changed, and as you read this, there's probably a lobbyist somewhere in the shadow of the capitol writing a check to a Texas lawmaker (or ten) in hopes of swaying votes. The ban on regular-session political campaign donations ended June 19, after Governor Greg Abbott was done signing or vetoing bills, and a mid-year campaign finance reporting deadline came up in early July. Finally, the 10 days of political fundraising are publicly available through the Texas Ethics Commisison, and they reveal that Abbott raised $10 million — about $1 million per day; Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick pulled in nearly $4 million; Attorney General Ken Paxton a cool $1 million and House Speaker Joe Straus around $340,000.
As the Texas Legislature wades into a contentious special session, with 20 items on the menu — including the bathroom bill, property tax reform, further abortion restrictions and the controversial school-choice vouchers —here are the four biggest donors for each of Texas's state GOP leaders during that ten-day period. And perhaps it's a taste of the kind of fundraising you can expect to continue as lawmakers vote on all of these special-session bills.
GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT
1. $1 million from Michael and Mary Porter, owners of Cross Creek Ranch in Doss. No one can quite figure out why these two small-town cattle ranchers, who, as Texas Monthly noted, are not known to be politically active, dropped a million bucks into Abbott’s war chest. They are the biggest donors by a landslide, not just for Abbott but for any Texas politician. The couple, who otherwise enjoy donating to the local volunteer fire department and let some military vets go hunting on their ranch, told the magazine in an emailed statement, “My wife Mary and I care deeply about the future of Texas. We believe Governor Abbott has put forth a vision to keep Texas exceptional, and we wanted to do our part in supporting that effort. While we understand the interest this has drawn, we would respectfully decline to comment on further questions.”
2. $250,000 from James Douglass Pitcock, CEO of Williams Brothers Construction in Houston. For years, Pitcock and the Williams brothers, who run the largest roadway construction business in Texas and one of the largest in the nation, have been among the most generous donors to Texas politicians — reaping plenty of rewards as a result. The company has won the most highway construction contracts in the state and has been in business, often with the Texas Department of Transportation, for more than 60 years. Over the past year, he’s donated a total of $500,000 to Abbott.
3. $250,000 from S. Javaid Anwar, CEO of Midland Energy in Midland. Anwar, a mega-rich oil man originally from Pakistan, has been a longtime GOP donor, but he has particular ties to Abbott. The governor has twice appointed Anwar to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, and also served on his inaugural committee in 2015. Dan Patrick — who also reaps hundreds of thousands from Anwar’s generous donations — also tapped Anwar to serve on his energy advisory board in 2015. Apparently the donations aren’t for nothing. Over the past year, Anwar has donated $350,000 to Abbott and $125,000 to Patrick.
4. $200,000 from Kenny Troutt, CEO of Mount Vernon Investments in Dallas. Troutt, the billionaire who also founded Excel Communications, has been putting hundreds of thousands of dollars behind conservative causes for years. He donated $825,000 to Abbott before he was even governor, while he was the attorney general, and has thrown money at senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, as well as Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. During the presidential campaign, he gave at least $112,000 to President Trump. When he isn’t giving thousands to Republicans, he enjoys breeding horses and watching them race. He's given $325,000 to Abbott since last July.
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR DAN PATRICK
1. $175,000 from James D. Pitcock and Robert Lanham of Williams Bros. Construction in Houston. Lanham gave Patrick $25,000 in June and $25,000 last year and Pitcock gave Patrick $150,000 in June for a grand total of $200,000 from the construction billionaires since last July.
2. $150,000 from Dan Friedkin, CEO of Gulf States Toyota in Houston. Dan Patrick’s campaign finance report is littered with donations from the auto industry, with over $365,000 pouring in during the 10-day period at the end of June. The money is a plea from auto magnates to not pass any legislation that would slacken the state’s franchise dealership rules in a way that would allow Tesla’s Elon Musk to have a competitive edge over makers like Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet. But Friedkin, who poured in the most to Patrick and also gave $150,000 to Abbott, is also worth highlighting given some of his political involvement has been ethically uncomfortable.
See, big-time donors don’t often just get their way with legislation, but they also get favors from Abbott. Abbott appointed Friedkin to be chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2015. Friedkin owns a big ranch in south Texas. Lobbyists apparently working on Friedkin’s behalf, as the Texas Tribune reported, have lobbied lawmakers to oppose legislation that would change deer-breeding regulations, which many ranchers have also opposed. Friedkin’s Wildlife Commission oversees the deer breeding regulations. The apparent conflict of interests prompted Republican Representative Chris Paddie to propose ethics reform legislation that would prevent the governor from appointing anyone who has donated more than $2,500 to his political campaign. The bill passed in the House, but went nowhere in Dan Patrick’s senate.
3. $150,000 from Drayton McLane, chairman of McLane Group in Temple, and a former Houston Astros owner who now runs a billion-dollar holding company. An alum of Baylor University and former chairman of the Baylor, Scott & White board, some donations to Abbott have raised questions in the past. But he’s also used his Baylor clout to push for a shakeup of the Baylor board of regents amid the sexual assault scandal.
4. $125,000 from Border Health PAC in McAllen. The border-region PAC, closely affiliated with the physician-owned Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, has long donated big bucks to politicians on both sides of the aisle, with a stated mission is to promote the medical industry along the Texas-Mexico border. For years, Border Health PAC was well known in its staunch opposition to Medicaid managed care being expanded in the Rio Grande Valley. An obscure rule passed in 2003 exempted Hidalgo County from managed care, which supporters had said was good for poorer and chronically ill patients in the area who had ultimate access to care. But critics said the lack of health-maintenance organizations have created incentives for physician-owned hospitals like Doctors Hospital to order the most costly and acutely specialized care possible, resulting in huge profits. In 2011, the Legislature dissolved the managed-care exemption, a blow to Border Health PAC — which has apparently not slowed in the slightest its lobbying in both chambers.
ATTORNEY GENERAL KEN PAXTON
1. $151,000 from Dan and Farris Wilks of Wilks Brothers LLC in Cisco. The fracking billionaire brothers from small-town Texas have generally kept a low profile — up until they donated $15 million to Ted Cruz in 2015. The brothers have often aligned with the religious right — Farris is a pastor at his church in Cisco — and have donated in heaps to anyone who espouses anti-abortion or anti-LGBT platforms. So it makes perfect sense, then, why they have been so generous to Paxton, who is a big believer in both.
2. $100,000 from Republican Attorneys General Association in Washington, D.C. The national organization that works to elect Republican attorneys general had to have known that Paxton, who is facing felony securities fraud charges and is up for re-election in 2018, would really need the money.
3. $50,000 from Kenny Troutt, CEO of Mount Vernon Investments in Dallas. Troutt also gave Paxton another $50,000 last year for a total of $100,000 since July 2016.
4. $25,000 from Jim Henry, chairman of Henry Resources in Midland. The 83-year-old oil man from West Texas with deep pockets has been a longtime GOP donor, backing Jeb Bush in the presidential race and then Ted Cruz after Bush pulled out. He also put in $25,000 to Patrick’s war chest in this past cycle, and had given both Paxton and Patrick $25,000 each last year, too. He’s been known to support various charitable causes in the Midland area, too.
HOUSE SPEAKER JOE STRAUS
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1. $150,000 from James Pitcock, CEO of Williams Bros. Construction in Houston. Are you sick of this guy yet? He gave Straus another $100,000 last fall.
2. $25,000 from Jeffrey Hildebrand, CEO of Hillcorp Energy Company in Houston. Another well-known mega-donor, the oil billionaire who wants to drill in the Arctic, also gave generously to Abbott ($125,000) and Patrick ($50,000). This session, donations from rich people in the oil industry appears to be one of just a few things the feuding Straus and Patrick have in common anymore.
3. 25,000 from John Nau, CEO of Silver Eagle Distributors in Houston. Nau, whose company is the largest Anheuser-Busch distributor in the country, has mostly but not exclusively donated to Republicans. According to Transparent Texas, he donates to the Associated Republicans of Texas frequently, which serves as a PAC for politicians like Straus and State Representative Charlie Geren. He gave Straus another $25,000 last year.
4. $25,000 from Dian Stai, chairwoman of Mansefeldt Investment Corp in Abilene. The retired businesswoman, inducted into the Texas Business Hall of fame the same year as Warren Buffett, apparently has plenty of cash on hand to fund Texas Republican politicians. She gave $25,000 to Patrick and $75,000 to Abbott.