Good Monday Austin:
Why haven’t the Wilks brothers given Gov. Greg Abbott so much as a straw of deer semen this election cycle?
I think this is a question worth contemplating, not only because it is interesting in its own right, but because, when we find the answer, we may understand why it is that Greg Abbott, and not Ted Cruz, is more likely to be next (Republican) president after Donald Trump, assuming that we have another (Republican) president, after Donald Trump.
First some background.
If Tom and Ray Magliozzi of Massachusetts were Car Talk’s Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers, Farris and Don Wilks of Cisco are the frick and frack of right-wing fracking money in Texas and nationally.
The Wilks bothers first burst on the national scene two summers ago.
From Teddy Schleiffer of CNN on July 27, 2015.
Washington (CNN) – Two low-profile Texas brothers have donated $15 million to support Sen. Ted Cruz, a record-setting contribution that amounts to the largest known donation so far in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Farris and Dan Wilks, billionaires who made their fortunes in the West Texas fracking boom, have given $15 million of the $38 million that the pro-Cruz super PAC, Keep the Promise, will disclose in election filings next week, according to sources outside the super PAC with knowledge of the giving.
The siblings earned their riches with the sale of their company Frac Tech for $3.5 billion in 2011, and since then have shuffled large contributions to the leading social conservative nonprofit groups that aren’t required to reveal their donors. But they will no longer be able to avoid detection after giving a historically large and early donation that now make the brothers two of America’s most prominent political donors.
“Our country was founded on the idea that our rights come from the Creator, not the government. I’m afraid we’re losing that,” Farris Wilks, a 63-year-old pastor in the small town of Cisco, said in a statement to CNN. “Unless we elect a principled conservative leader ready to stand up for our values, we’ll look back on what once was the land of opportunity and pass on a less prosperous nation to our children and grandchildren. That’s why we need Ted Cruz.”
Keep the Promise is technically four separate committees that give three families more control over their own super PAC. Most of the attention has focused on Robert Mercer, a New York hedge fund magnate who gave the second-most money to conservative groups in 2014 than any other Republican donor. Mercer has given $11 million of the $38 million raised, according to a leader of the super PACs. Another $10 million comes from Toby Neugebauer, a Houston investor and a personal friend of Cruz’s. The involvement of the Wilks brothers was \first reported by National Review.
Together, their donations give Cruz and his allies more money than any other Republican except Jeb Bush, a surprising achievement for a firebrand senator more embraced at a Tea Party rally than at a black-tie business gala.
Friends and associates of the Wilks brothers say they are unaffected and unassuming, depicting them as hometown-loving Texans who morphed into billionaires over the course of a decade. Intensely private, those close to the pair say they are nervous about the spotlight that will shine on their church and their family thanks to the donations.
“If Dan and Farris walk into a room, they don’t want ever to be known, to be announced. They just come in and sit in the back,” said Luke Macias, a Texas political strategist who has worked with the family. “They are normal people. They dress normal. They show up normal.”
The Wilks money went a long way toward establishing Cruz’s credibility as a candidate when he was a very long shot.
Here from Transparency Texas, formerly AgendaWise, part of Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan’s operation, is a “closer look” at the political giving by Farris Wilks and his wife Jo Ann from Jan. 1, 2015 through March 22, 2017
Farris & Jo Ann Wilks live in Cisco, Texas, a small town between Abilene and Fort Worth. Farris and his brother Dan founded Frac Tech, an oil and gas fracking company which they sold in 2011. The Wilks brothers come from humble beginnings, as the sons of a small town bricklayer.
Farris and Jo Ann Wilks topped the list of individual political donors in Texas by giving $2,432,484.24 to various candidates and PACs.
Here’s an overview of Farris & Jo Ann Wilks’ giving from the last election cycle:
|Farris & Jo Ann Wilks – A Closer Look|
|Total Number of Donations||45|
|Average Donation Amount||$54,055.21|
|Donations to Republicans||$795,234.24|
|Donations to Democrats||$0|
|Donations to Texas House Candidates||$615,234.24|
|Percentage of Donations to Texas House Candidates||25.29%|
|Donations to Texas Senate Candidates||$25,000|
|Percentage of Donations to Texas Senate Candidates||1.03%|
|Donations to Statewide Candidates||$155,000|
|Percentage of Donations to Statewide Candidates||6.37%|
|Donations to Advocacy Groups||$1,637,250|
|Percentage of Donations to Advocacy Groups||67.31%|
|Donations Given Inside Home District||$258,984.24|
|Percentage of Donations Inside Home District||10.65%|
|Donations Given Outside Home District||$2,173,500|
|Percentage of Donations Outside Home District||89.35%|
Key takeaways from Mr. & Mrs. Wilks’ giving:
- Support for Texas’ most conservative advocacy groups.
Two-thirds of Mr. and Mrs. Wilks’ political giving is concentrated among three of the state’s most conservative advocacy organizations: Empower Texans, Texas Right to Life, and Texas Home School Coalition. In fact, the Wilks’ ranked as the top donors to each of these organizations’ PACs this past cycle. Such strong support indicates Mr. and Mrs. Wilks place a great value on the work and opinions of these groups and intend to help candidates in good standing with these respective organizations.
- Keeping an eye on their own backyardWhile Mr. & Mrs. Wilks’ influence runs statewide, they do not neglect local politics. The incoming State Representative representing the area where the Wilks’ reside, Mike Lang, received over a quarter of a million dollars from Mr. and Mrs. Wilks for his campaign. State Rep. Lang replaced longtime State Representative Jim Keffer who choose to retire rather than to seek reelection. Unsurprisingly, former State Rep. Keffer was opposed by Empower Texans, Texas Right to Life, and Texas Home School Coalition following the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature.
- Tidying up the House.
The Wilks contributed a whopping $615,234.24 to various incumbents and challengers running for election to the Texas House. The incumbents they supported consistently rank among the most conservative members of Texas’ lower chamber, including State Reps. Matt Rinaldi, Jonathan Stickland, Tony Tinderholt, Bill Zedler, and Jeff Leach. Mr. & Mrs. Wilks’ focus on the Texas House, their preference for uncompromising conservatives, and their willingness to invest massive financial resources, mean the typical election playbook where moderate Republicans win by simply heavily outspending their conservative opponent might soon become a thing of the past.
Most interesting donation:
Mr. and Mrs. Wilks’ most interesting donation is unquestionably the one they never made. Virtually every other major political donor in Texas contributed to Governor Greg Abbott’s campaign war chest in the past two years, but not the Wilks. While supporting other statewide candidates, such as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the lack of contributions to Gov. Abbott is distinguishable from other political donors of the Wilks’ level and sends the strong signal that they may not be impressed with the Governor’s performance thus far.
Remember, the above analysis comes from Michael Quinn Sullivan’s point of view. The Wilks giving closely tracks that point of view. If the Wilks’ giving “sends the strong signal that they may not be impressed with the Governor’s performance thus far,” that reflected Sullivan’s tentative view of the governor.
On April 30, Michael Quinn Sullivan wrote a piece: Where’s the Governor? With the House slow-boating his agenda, It’s unclear when Greg Abbott will speak out. If he wants his record to include results as strong as his rhetoric, he should do so sooner than later.
Texans were spoiled by 14 years of a very active governor. For better or worse, one never wondered where former Gov. Rick Perry was or what his stance was on an issue.
And lawmakers knew that if they didn’t deliver on his marquee items, he’d call them into special sessions until they did.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has taken a decidedly different position. His advisors have quietly told lawmakers and the Capitol crowd he won’t call special sessions, seeing it as an admission of failure.
But an unspoken failure has been the Texas House essentially ignoring his priorities. While Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate quickly passed Abbott’s emergency items within weeks of them being announced, they’ve mostly languished in the House.
Conservative lawmakers are growing restless, wondering if Abbott intends to back up their efforts promoting his agenda. Some are grumbling privately that maybe he doesn’t believe the conservative rhetoric he espouses. A writer for the Austin American Statesman has gone so far as to note “Abbott tweets like Patrick but governs like Straus.”
It’s unclear when Abbott will speak out, but if he wants his legacy to include results as strong as his rhetoric, he should do so sooner than later.
Things have changed a lot since then.
Much to Sullivan’s delight, the governor did call a special session. These days, Abbott seems to be both tweeting and governing a lot more like Patrick than Straus.
But the new view of Abbott was not reflected in the Wilks’ giving for the last 12 days of June – the first reporting period since the regular session ended and Abbott’s calling a special session.
The Wilks’ giving in this most recent period was to the usual objects of their largesse – Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton, the most conservative members of the Senate and the members of House Freedom Caucus, constituting the dozen most conservative members of the House.
In the most recent filing period for the last 12 days of June, Farris Wilks (in some cases the donations were in both his name and that of his wife) gave $100,000 to Long, $50,000 each to Patrick and Paxton, $50,000 to Rep. Briscoe Cain, $25,000 to Sen. Bob Hall, $5,000 each to Sens. Don Huffines and Paul Bettencourt, and $2,500 each to Reps. Matt Rinaldi, Tony Tinderholt, Jeff Leach, Bill Zedler, Kenneth Biedermann, Valoree Swanson, Matt Krause and Matt Shaheen.
He also gave $5,000 to David Middleton, a board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Empower Texans Foundation, who is challenging Rep. Wayne Faircloth.
(With all this giving, Farris Wilks offers a variety of occupational identities on the fundraising forms, I suppose just to keep it fresh: CEO, rancher, retiree, business executive, business owner, bishop of the Assembly of Yahweh 7th Day Church in Cisco, and, my favorite, “entrepreneur billionaire.”)
In the same reporting period, Dan Wilks gave $51,000 to Paxton, $50,000 to Patrick, $5,000 each to Sens. Konni Burton, Bettencourt and Hall, and $2,500 to state Reps. Matt Schaefer, Tinderholt, Leach, Rinaldi, Biederman, Shaheen, Lang, Swanson and Krause.
But nothing for Abbott.
Not that Abbott needs it. He raised more than $10 million in those 12 days, leaving his campaign with nearly $41 million in cash.
But still, my sense is that the failure to give Abbott a donation reflect that for Sullivan and the Wilkses, Abbott remains on probation.
I wondered. Was it possible that the Wilkses actually sat out the 2014 race between Abbott and Wendy Davis.
It turns out they didn’t.
In 2014, the Wilks made three in-kind donations to the Abbott campaign of the use of an airplane- two times in February, one time valued at 10,850 and the other at $4,627.50 – and a third time for $10,500 in August.
But what really caught my eye when I found those February contributions to Abbott, were the two other in-kind contributions to the Texas Deer Association Political Action Committee listed just below it. One, in March 2016, was of “one doe,” valued at $1,250. And the other, from March 2015, was of “1 straw of deer semen,” valued at $1,500.
The Wilks are consistent.
Just as they supported Ted Cruz, who ran for president by going to war against the leadership of his party and his fellow Republicans in Washington, in Texas they support those candidates, particularly Patrick and the members of the House Freedom Caucus, determined to root out what they consider to be enemies within the GOP who are not down with their Christian conservative agenda.
Lest it be forgot, bathrooms were Cruz’s last-ditch issue in his attempt to derail Trump in the Indiana primary. Trump, who simply couldn’t figure out what the problem was, or why this was an issue.
“People go, they use the bathroom they think is appropriate,” Trump said.
For Michael Quinn Sullivan and Patrick and the House Freedom Caucus and, I presume, for the Wilks bothers, the special session offers a divine opportunity to smoke out and, if they can, force out House Speaker Joe Straus.
Abbott earned credit with them for calling the special, but if he does not join in the effort to oust Straus, he will again be found wanting.
From Sullivan last Monday: 10 Million New Reasons To Buck The Obstructionist Straus. Greg Abbott raised $10 million in 12 days without an opponent, but House Speaker Joe Straus wants GOP lawmakers to shut down his agenda.
Republican lawmakers heading into the special session called by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are facing what should be an easy choice: side with obstructionist House Speaker Joe Straus, or advance the agenda of the state GOP and their party’s governor.
Those same lawmakers should notice that even as Straus’ home county GOP was taking a vote of “no confidence” on his leadership and fidelity to the party platform, Gov. Abbott was raising more than $10 million pushing a conservative reform agenda.
That’s the reform agenda Straus compared to “horse manure” a few weeks ago.
Abbott now boasts a campaign war chest in excess of $40 million with no viable re-election opponent in sight. House members should be wondering how he might use some of that money should they decide to side with Straus.
If any are in a reflective mood, House Republicans might remember that Straus has spent extravagantly on campaigns… for himself. What he has not done is help even his own crony-lieutenants (just ask Doug Miller and Wayne Smith).
On public policy, the special session will give lawmakers plenty opportunities to buck Straus. And Abbott’s fundraising ups the ante.
UPDATE: At a policy event in Austin on Monday, Abbott said that he’ll be watching who opposes the conservative agenda. “No one gets to hide.”
On Thursday, the Central Texas Republican Assembly became the latest local Republican organization to vote no confidence in Straus.
But it is not evident to me why Abbott would want to complicate his cruise to second term by presiding over a smoldering summer session that ends up revealing a party ever more at war with itself. Or how it would serve his presidential ambitions.
You didn’t know Abbott wants to be president?
From Holly Bailey of Yahoo News! Saturday:; Gov. Greg Abbott may be looking beyond Texas, as he runs even farther to the right
Abbott’s popularity in a fast-growing state that is as strongly identified with Republican politics as California is for Democrats has already sparked whispers among GOP insiders always on the lookout for who might be worthy White House material. Abbott’s aggressive reelection campaign has only added to the speculation about whether the governor, emboldened in part by the example of Donald Trump, has higher ambitions than another four years in the Texas statehouse.
“I wouldn’t put him in the category of he goes to bed at night dreaming of being in the White House because he clearly is a guy who enjoys being governor of Texas,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based lobbyist and political consultant who has close ties to Abbott world. But after Trump’s victory last November, Miller noticed a change: “I felt at that time his national antenna had gone up. He’s the governor of Texas, and in the political field, the person who is governor from Texas, the most conservative state, it puts you in the profile [of White House hopefuls]. I think he started thinking about it.”
Another longtime GOP campaign hand was less circumspect — though he declined to be named to speak more freely. “Abbott is from the land of George W. Bush and Rick Perry, who both ran for president,” he said. “You don’t think he’s looking at the White House right now and thinking he can do so much better?”
On some issues, Abbott is further to the right than Trump — though it’s unclear whether he is there out of personal conviction or the fear of being outflanked by other prominent Texas conservatives. That includes Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, a fiery former talk radio host and tea party conservative from Houston who is the tonal opposite of the more restrained Abbott, who tends to operate with what a friend describes as a “judicial temperament.”
Their differences in style has led to criticism, even from Republicans, that Abbott has allowed Patrick too much control of the agenda in Austin. People close to governor insist he is leading, not following, but some also acknowledge the pressure Abbott has faced in keeping up with a party that has moved further and further to the right.
“The biggest challenge for Abbott right now is the danger of getting flanked on the right, and he knows that,” a close ally of Abbott said. “And the atmosphere just keeps getting more and more conservative. You don’t think we can get anymore conservative, and then we do. And so he just has to keep going that way, to stay ahead of the needle.”
Abbott this week convened a special session of the state legislature to tackle unfinished business from last spring’s session, including the “bathroom bill” championed by Patrick that seeks to restrict which public restrooms transgendered Texans can use. The bill is modeled after a controversial law passed by North Carolina in 2016 and partially repealed by officials there earlier this year after widespread boycotts, including from the National Basketball Association, which pulled the All-Star Game out of Charlotte.
Abbott initially seemed to try to stay out of the fray as Patrick promoted the bill, which like the North Carolina law, has sparked threats of boycotts, including from the National Football League and dozens of corporations who have threatened to relocate jobs elsewhere. But he later signaled his support for the bill. When Patrick, who is head of the state Senate, failed to reach a deal with state Rep. Joe Straus, the moderate Republican speaker of the House, the governor called the state legislature back to work, with the bathroom bill as one of the leading agenda items.
Abbott has said the bill is necessary to clarify state law because of mixed signals from the federal government. But some in Texas have wondered if there are other political motivations at work. That includes persistent rumors that Patrick had considered a primary challenge against Abbott next year — something Patrick, who has announced his own bid for reelection, has repeatedly denied.
The Texas governor launched his reelection bid against the backdrop of the special session in what seemed to be a move to raise his public profile. In a shift, he’s threatened to publicly shame Republicans who break with his agenda, suggesting he might campaign against them next year — a move that was cheered by his most conservative supporters. He’s become more active on social media including Facebook and Twitter — where, like Trump, he seems to be trying directly engage and energize his base.
But I think that ultimately Abbott, as far right as he has traveled and is prepared to travel “to stay ahead of the needle,” isn’t really entirely politically or temperamentally in sync with Michael Quinn Sullivan and Dan Patrick and the House Freedom Caucus and the Wilks brothers, and they all know that.
He is the governor of Texas seeking a second term and he is better off with a Texas Republican party that is not tearing itself apart.
He depends on donors and support from people for whom Straus is not Satan and Patrick is scary.
Ted Cruz executed a remarkably strong race for president running from the furthest right, most disruptive reaches of the party.
But, that was pre-Trump.
Post-Trump, it seems likely the party and the country may be looking for a presidential candidate who is not all about endless conflict and, if Abbott is indeed interested in being that candidate, he may be better off without so much as a straw of deer semen from the Wilks brothers.