Amid accusations of fake news, phony organizations help AG Paxton in felony case


Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton faces trial on felony fraud charges in Collin County.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, parroting President Donald Trump, has recently taken to calling news coverage he dislikes “fake news.” As a distraction, it works. When it comes to transparency, the Texas Senate’s recent moves to restrict media coverage are in line with Patrick’s order to the Legislative Budget Board to suppress staff reports – a move later thwarted by his LBB Co-Chair Speaker Joe Straus.

Meanwhile Gov. Greg Abbott, the “ethics” governor, has a new Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, who drew the ire of Republican and Democratic senators when he asked them this past week to sign nondisclosure agreements before he would share what he claims is evidence of voter fraud.

Abbott, perhaps more Trump-like than Patrick in a legislative sense, has little if any relationship with the presiding officers of the House and Senate, and prefers to tweet rather than engage in conversations with those he will need to collaborate with to pass his priorities into law.

Amid Patrick and Trump’s accusations of “fake news” and the Secretary of State’s demands for a veil of secrecy to discuss voter fraud, prosecutors seeking a change of venue argue that Attorney General Ken Paxton depends on a network of secretly-funded organizations directed by Tim Dunn and his allies posing as news outlets to taint the jury pool in Collin County for his felony trial.

In a bombshell legal filing, prosecutors said, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, “has close ties to Dunn, a Midland oilman, a noted Paxton supporter who guaranteed a million-dollar loan for him in the darkest days of his 2014 runoff election” and pointed out that Dunn’s Empower Texans PAC “gave Paxton a $100,000 campaign contribution” at that time.

That’s the same Empower Texans that tried and failed in applying for a media credential at the Texas Capitol, denying floor access to a group that routinely makes campaign expenditures and has a case of alleged illegal lobbying pending in the courts. None of that has stopped the Empower Texans “Scorecard” from dispatching one of their “correspondents” to Capitol press conferences to serve up softball questions to the likes of Dunn beneficiary Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford.

Another prime example of how all this works: An entity called Direct Action Texas gained a bit of notoriety last year by spreading allegations of voter fraud in Tarrant County and in the Texas House district represented by State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. Cook is one of the victims in the criminal case against Paxton and continues pushing to bring Dunn’s political spending into the light through greater disclosure.

Direct Action Executive Director Aaron Harris has aided Paxton in creating scenarios of alleged voter fraud for Paxton’s office to investigate. Harris also filed the judicial complaint against the judge in the Paxton case and then wrote op-eds about it, appearing in newspapers like the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Missing from almost all news coverage of Direct Action Texas’ accusations has been the fact that the group is actually a for-profit company, an LLC, founded by another major donor to Paxton, Dallas hotelier Monty Bennett. Bennett and Harris are business partners in the LLC called “Grassroots Groundgame” operating under the dba “Direct Action Texas.” On its website, the company calls itself a “political advocacy organization in the DFW area.”

Bennett was also central to efforts during the last GOP primary cycle to oust Republican members of the Texas House who support Speaker Straus. Bennett joined with Texas Public Policy Foundation board members Dunn, Jeff Sandefer, Jim Leininger and others in spending more than $3 million against the Straus leadership team and the Speaker himself. In Dunn fashion, Bennett faces a longstanding pending complaint about his political activities before the Texas Ethics Commission. Bennett is accused of not disclosing an estimated $200,000 in local elections in Tarrant County.

Bennett’s Direct Action Texas led the charge claiming voter fraud in Rep. Cook’s race in Hill County and local races in Tarrant County. Those claims were amplified by

But Abbott’s new Secretary of State Pablos, while refusing to publicly give evidence for voter fraud, did tell senators on the Nominations Committee that the controversy over Chairman Cook’s race did not seem to be voter fraud at all. Pablos said the Hill County situation could be attributed to human error, “a failure to follow directions,” and suggested better training.

“I very quickly began to realize, particularly with Hill County, the Secretary of State’s office is there to educate, train, support the counties. In the Hill County situation from what I understand, it was human error, failure to follow procedures,” Pablos said. “We have mechanisms in place that help us identify potential situations like that early on, were able to look for patterns as they emerge, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.”

Bias could be said to exist in all media, but that misses the point entirely., while flogging Rep. Cook with those allegations of voter fraud, also purchased political radio ads in DFW – where AG Paxton’s trial is scheduled – to promote a lawsuit filed against Cook.

All of this unfolding in Texas adds to the public’s growing uncertainty about what constitutes “fake news.” Given that, it is more important than ever that organizations are up front about who is bankrolling their efforts and how their resources are spent.

Can there at least be broad agreement that news organizations do not make political expenditures supporting or opposing candidates and officeholders?

Copyright February 14, 2017, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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