TLR's Quiet Assault on the Free Market

Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) might claim to support the free market, but many of its biggest backers appear to have other agendas. Do a little digging into the group's supporters, and you'll find the classic hallmarks of market interference: government subsidies, protection for manufacturers of inferior products, and even the promotion of monopoly power. Click on the stories to the right to learn more.

1. Interference in Real Estate Market

If you think TLR promotes personal responsibility and small government, think again. In 2003, billionaire homebuilder Bob Perry, TLR's single-biggest backer, pushed for the establishment of a brand-new state agency: the Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC). The TRCC handled complaints from people who purchased defective homes from leading homebuilders. Homeowners accused the TRCC of protecting the homebuilders and making it harder to hold them liable for shoddy workmanship. According to one consumer-rights advocate, Perry had purchased his own government agency and was running it himself.

2. An Austin-Approved Monopoly

TLR claims to support the free market. And as any true conservative will tell you, monopolists are the free market's worst enemies because they reduce competition and keep prices high. Yet one of TLR's top backers runs a monopoly that state officials created especially for him. Here's how it happened: In 2007, the head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) overruled his staff in granting billionaire Harold Simmons a monopoly license for his waste-disposal business. Then the TCEQ official quit his job so he could go to work as a lobbyist for Simmons. There's more: Simmons profits from the waste-disposal business, but Texas taxpayers could end up legally liable for accidents and cleanups.

3. The King of State Contracts

Mike Toomey is TLR's head lobbyist. Since 2008, Toomey has used his influence in the Capitol to help his corporate clients win state contracts worth at least $2 billion in taxpayer funds, including UnitedHealthcare's controversial new contract with the Texas Employees Retirement System. Toomey was working for the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the "Gardasil" HPV vaccine when Governor Rick Perry tried to mandate its use on all Texas girls.

4. Big Government Subsidies

TLR's biggest backers also happen to be some of the state's biggest recipients of taxpayer-funded handouts. The residents of Andrews County loaned TLR mega-donor Harold Simmons $75 million to build a waste dump. Texas taxpayers gave a company partially owned by TLR backer Bob McNair $35 million to build a research center. They also gave McNair's sports franchise nearly $200 million to build a stadium. Then there's the controversial Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF), which has moved hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into the hands of privately held companies—including millions in grants to companies tied to TLR co-founder Leo Linbeck, Jr. and his family.

5. Electricity Deregulation Scam

TLR mega-donor Bob McNair lobbied along with Enron's Ken Lay to have Texas's electricity market deregulated. They argued that it would lower utility rates for Texans. After deregulation passed, McNair was able to sell his power company for more than $1 billion. It didn't work out so well for average Texans, though. Their electric bills are now nearly 17 percent higher than the national average. According to news reports, those bills will soon be on the rise again.

6. Skyrocketing Gas Bills

By 2003, TLR had become one of the largest supporters of State Sen. Ken Armbrister's campaign. That year, Armbrister filed a bill allowing gas companies to increase consumers' rates without a meaningful review process. Texans have paid $156 million more for gas service because of the bill.