TLR vs. The TEA Party
July 30th, 2012, by Mark McCaig
The battle royale in the Republican runoff between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz has provided the clearest example of the rift between the Texas political establishment and the conservative grassroots since the emergence of the “TEA Party” movement nearly four years ago. The U.S. Senate primary runoff has implications far beyond how Texas will be represented in the halls of Washington for potentially the next several decades. This election has drawn a line in the sand between the most powerful political donors in Texas and their primary vehicle for political influence, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and the “TEA Party” grassroots that comprises the current base of the Texas Republican Party.
Two super PACs have been established to support the election of Dewhurst to the U.S. Senate – the Texas Conservatives Fund and Conservative Renewal PAC. The vast majority of the major individual donors that have bankrolled these super PACs have close ties to Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who has donated over $2 million to TLR over the years, has donated $1 million to the Texas Conservatives Fund and another $500,000 to Conservative Renewal PAC.
Houston homebuilder Bob Perry has also made significant contributions in support of Dewhurst. Perry, who has also contributed more than $2 million to TLR, has contributed $400,000 to the Texas Conservatives Fund. Many “TEA Party” activists remember the role Perry played in killing the “sanctuary cities” bill that was one of their top legislative priorities during the last legislative session. These conservative activists resent Perry for actively working against them and some have even used Perry’s support of Dewhurst, coupled with the ultimate death of the “sanctuary cities” bill, as a talking point in support of Cruz.
Simmons and Perry are just the most significant examples of the financial nexus between TLR and Dewhurst. Other major TLR donors who have also supported pro-Dewhurst super PACs include James Pitcock, Nancy Kinder, Kenny Troutt, Bob McNair, Woody Hunt, Red McCombs, Peter Holt, Paul Foster, Tucker Bridwell, Peter O’Donnell, Robert Rowling, Kelcy Warren, Charles Tate, Drayton McLane, Erle Nye, Forrest Hoglund, Ned Holmes and Charles Lawrence. The connection between TLR and the Dewhurst campaign goes beyond major donors – TLR’s top leadership has also contributed directly to Dewhurst campaign. TLR President Dick Trabulsi, TLR Chairman and CEO Dick Weekley, TLR co-founder Leo Linbeck, Jr. and TLR uber-lobbyist Mike Toomey have each written checks to Dewhurst.
There are also implications in this race involving attacks on lawyers and the civil justice system. The Dewhurst campaign has used much of its advertising attempting to make an issue out of Cruz and his work as a lawyer as well as some of his clients in his private law practice. These attacks have fallen flat. Likewise, Dewhurst has frequently touted his record on “tort reform” and his support of federal legislation to impose Texas-style medical malpractice damage caps nationwide.
However, Dewhurst’s support of this federal legislation only goes to further demonstrate the rift between him and the “TEA Party” movement. While Cruz has not taken a position on legislation to impose medical malpractice caps nationwide, one of the key tenets of the “TEA Party” movement is a vigorous defense of the 10th Amendment and state sovereignty. For these reasons, some “TEA Party” favorites in the U.S. Senate such as Tom Coburn and Mike Lee (both of whom have endorsed Cruz) have opposed such an unprecedented federal intervention into state tort law. It goes without saying that TLR and its supporters would certainly be in a fiery uproar if federal legislation was proposed that would preempt the state tort laws they supported.
Should Cruz pull off an upset and defeat Dewhurst, it will send a strong message to other elected officials and potential candidates that support from the largest established political donors in Texas not only doesn’t guarantee victory, but that it very well can be a fatal albatross around the neck of a campaign. It would also send the message that elected officials who promote the agendas of special interest groups like TLR and its major donors are doing so at their own political peril.
Author’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Quorum Report
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