Group of TPPF board members spent heavily against Texas House GOP leadership


The Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation promotes itself – and has been promoted in various media outlets – as merely a conservative free market think tank.

The group, founded by “school choice” advocate James Leininger of San Antonio, says its “mission is to promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas and the nation by educating and affecting policymakers and the Texas public policy debate with academically sound research and outreach.”

But that “sound research,” criticized by some Republicans as “sometimes suspect,” is far from the only way in which a group of TPPF’s board members has tried to affect policymakers in this state.

They’ve also chosen to open their wallets as part of a full-court press to defeat Republican candidates who are part of Speaker Joe Straus’ Texas House governing coalition – including the speaker himself.

An analysis of political contributions made public through Texas Ethics Commission filings shows that a small group of 11 people, a majority of whom are TPPF board members, were very much in the fight during the GOP primary to the tune of $3.2 million.

TPPF Vice Chairman Tim Dunn, who of course also chairs the anti-Straus group Empower Texans, was joined in spending heavily against the Straus team by TPPF board members Jeff Sandefer, Kyle Stallings, Mayes Middleton, Windi Grimes, Stacy Hock, and Chairman Emeritus Leininger.

When combined with the spending of fracking billionaire Farris Wilks of Cisco, hotelier Monty Bennett of Dallas, janitorial services executive Don Dyer of Austin, and Dick Saulsbury of Midland, the group put their dollars to work trying to unseat GOP members like Representatives Byron Cook, John Frullo, Charlie Geren, Wayne Smith, John Rainey, Dan Flynn, Debbie Riddle, Jason Villalba, Paul Workman, Gary VanDeaver, and others.

Wilks, a billionaire who is among the newest entrants to the battlefield, was the biggest contributor to group’s efforts, donating $1.6 million.

At least on paper, Chairman Dunn was among the smallest contributors at just $103,000.

In all, the group appears to have played in about 30 Texas House races through direct contributions to candidates and PACs.

Some of the group’s top beneficiaries included Rep. Jonathan Stickland, challenger to Straus and former TPPF President Jeff Judson, and Thomas McNutt, who unsuccessfully challenged Chairman Cook.

Of course, the TEC reports do not provide a full picture, given that key players in this effort are also politically invested in groups that do not disclose donors.

Chairman Dunn operates a 501 (c)(4) nonprofit corporation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, and a PAC all under the same name: Empower Texans. Dunn is the chairman of the first two organizations. Michael Quinn Sullivan is treasurer of the PAC and serves as a spokesman and blogger.

Another TPPF board member, Kevin Sparks, was busy this primary season running something called the “Constituents Focus PAC,” which received at least $200,000 from Sandefer.

That PAC supported many of the same candidates supported or endorsed by Empower Texans, including McNutt, Brent Golemon, Mike Lang, Read King, Jim Landtroop, Tony Tinderholt and Bo French, who failed to unseat Chairman Geren.

Copyright May, 2016, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission. 

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