01/27/20

Prominent PACs and Donors Propped Up Bonnen, Even as Texas Rangers Investigated

Although disgraced Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen announced he would not seek reelection, he has not yet resigned, and he remains in control of more than $3.8 million. According to the most recent campaign finance reports released January 15, Bonnen has $824,334.01 in his campaign account and $2,996,243.90 in Texas Leads, a PAC established by Bonnen.

Here’s a look at the timeline of the scandal along with the money that passed hands as events unfolded:

May 12, 2019: Bonnen announces he will not campaign against any incumbent member of the Texas House, Republican or Democrat. The following week he warns all members of the House that they are not allowed to campaign against any other sitting members, in the primary or the general election, or they will be punished. “If you choose to campaign against any of your sitting colleagues, I will weigh in against you. And if I am fortunate enough to be speaker, you will find yourself not well positioned in the next session.”

June 12, 2019: Bonnen holds a meeting in his office with conservative activist and CEO of Empower Texans Michael Quinn Sullivan. Rep. Dustin Burrows, then Chair of the House Republican Caucus, is also present.

July 15, 2019: Campaign finance reports for the first half of 2019 are released and donations to Bonnen’s account are conspicuously missing. At this point, there was no real threat to his reelection or his position as Speaker, so the omission is likely a strategic decision to keep his early financial donations private, for a while. The same reports reveal that on June 25, 2019, Bonnen transferred $3 million from his campaign account to Texas Leads, a new PAC established by Bonnen to help reelect incumbent Republicans to the Texas House.

July 25, 2019: Sullivan makes public allegations that Bonnen offered his organization media credentials if Sullivan and Empower Texans would attack ten specifically named Republican members of the Texas House.

July 26, 2019: Bonnen vehemently denies all allegations.

July 31, 2019: Sullivan announces that he secretly recorded the meeting, and offers to allow interested parties to listen to the recording privately. Over the following weeks, as individuals listen to the recording, they consistently confirm Sullivan’s allegations.

July 31, 2019: Texas Leads PAC makes the first of what will be eight separate in-kind donations over the course of four months totaling $42,316.90 back to Bonnen’s campaign account earmarked as “campaign personnel” and “campaign office use.”

August 7, 2019: Texas House General Investigating Committee announces it will investigate the allegations against Bonnen.

August 9, 2019: Transparency Texas reports that the top donor to the Chairman of the House General Investigating Committee, House Rep. Morgan Meyer, was Bonnen himself. Bonnen was also the top donor to House Rep. Matt Krause, another member of the five-person committee. In fact, Bonnen had been responsible for appointing all members to the committee as well as naming the chair and vice-chair.

August 12, 2019: Texas House General Investigating Committee decides to turn over the investigation to the Texas Rangers.

September 30 – October 1, 2019: Bonnen holds an overnight fundraising event in Lake Jackson for $10,000 per person.

October 15, 2019: Sullivan publicly releases the recording and his allegations are confirmed.

October 22, 2019: Bonnen announces he will not seek reelection.

Donations of $10,000 or more to Bonnen’s Campaign Account* After Texas Rangers Began Their Investigation:

Date:Amount:Donor:
August 19$25,000Texas Association of Realtors PAC
August 21$25,000Enterprise Products Partners Texas PAC
August 27$25,000John & Anne Weisman
September 16$10,000Harlan R. Crow
September 18$25,000Russell T. Kelly
September 18$10,000NRG Energy Inc. PAC
September 23$10,000Steven J. Kean
September 24$10,000BJ & Charlene McCombs
September 30$10,000Republic National Distributing Company PAC
October 2$10,000Center Point Energy Inc. Texas PAC
October 2$10,000Locke Lord LLP
October 2$10,000Texas Bankers Association PAC
October 2$10,000Texas Dental Association PAC
October 2$10,000The Chicksaw Nation
October 3$10,000Texas Optometric PAC
October 7$25,000Kenny & Lisa Troutt
October 10$20,000Barry G. Andrews
October 10$10,000Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC
October 14$10,000Annette Simmons

Choosing Sides or Currying Favor?

Were these donations to Bonnen made to pick political sides in a perceived battle with Michael Quinn Sullivan? If they were an attempt to choose sides, these donors and PACs not only pitted themselves against Sullivan, but also against the ten Republicans targeted by Bonnen on his “hit list.” 

Were they an attempt to curry favor on the belief that Bonnen would survive the scandal and remain Speaker? Something else? Whatever the motivation, it is surprising to see donations from well-heeled PACs and lobbyists as well as prominent Texas donors continue to flow to a politician under active investigation by the Texas Rangers for corruption. Expect to see Democrats argue this very point as they fight to flip the Texas House from Republican to Democratic control in November.

What Happens to All That Money?

Bonnen can choose to keep the money in his campaign account for a future run for office. He may also donate it to other campaigns, PACs, and certain charities. And, technically, he could also decide to return the money to the donors. 

As for the nearly $3 million in Texas Leads, Bonnen has made no donations from this PAC to any other Republican House candidates. No surprise there, since accepting it could have some Scarlet Letter-esque implications for any recipient. As long as Bonnen remains in control, Democratic opponents would likely decry any donation as having come from a corrupt politician. Not the kind of hot potato any incumbent politician wants in the middle of an election year, no matter how much money is involved. Republican leadership will likely pressure Bonnen to put someone else in charge of the PAC between now and the November elections so that $3 million can be distributed to help hold the House for Republicans.

The next campaign finance reports are due in early February. Join us and be the first to learn who’s giving and who’s getting in Texas politics.

*These charts only show donations of $10,000 or more. More than 12 additional donations were made that are greater than $5000. To see all donations to, and expenditures from, Bonnen’s campaign account, click here.

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