Founded in 1974, the Associated Republicans of Texas (ART) is a state-focused political action committee whose stated purpose is to “keep Texas a conservative, Republican-led state.” With wording like that one would expect their financials to be chock-full of contributions to conservative candidates, but that’s not the case.
Rather than examining voting records or how “conservative” a legislator might be, ART simply works to ensure Republicans hold as many offices at the state level as possible. Since the early 2000’s, ART has definitively sided with the more establishment wing of the Republican Party, preferring legislators who focus on the budget rather than what some might consider “hot button” political issues.
1. Powerhouse Donors
The Associated Republicans of Texas’ donor list rivals any other group in Texas politics. Their supporters include John Nau III, Robert McNair, T. Dan Friedkin, James D. Pitcock, Jr., all of whom rank among the top ten individual political donors in Texas. But ART’s list doesn’t stop there, it is flush with many more of Texas’ wealthiest citizens.
Why so many heavy hitters? Many of these same wealthy donors also give money directly to political candidates, often at extraordinarily high levels. So why also support an outside group like ART that doesn’t advocate for or against specific issues? The makeup of ART’s board of directors might provide some hints. Rather than consisting of politicos, the board is comprised mostly of wealthy political donors. When a donor gives money directly to a candidate, he or she hopes the candidate will support the donor’s priorities or seeks to reward the candidate for past behavior, but the donor has no direct say over exactly how, when, and why that money is spent. By giving to a donor-run group, the donor is likely to have more sway in how the dollars are spent. Of course there’s prestige associated with being part of this wealthy donor group as well.
2. Supporting All Some Republicans
Associated Republicans of Texas assert they are “committed to maintaining the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature and strengthening the future of Republicans in Texas.” With this mission statement, one might assume electing any and all Republicans would be the sole focus of the group, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. A closer look at direct contributions to candidates shows ART donates only to those Republicans who lean moderate to liberal, including State Representative DeWayne Burns, State Representative Jason Villalba, former State Representative Doug Miller, and pro-abortion State Representative Sarah Davis.
It’s no secret the organization has close ties with Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, as Speaker Straus’ campaign account gave ART $200,000 in the 2016 election cycle, making it the second largest donor to ART during that time. It appears to be a cozy circle: Speaker Straus’ campaign account donates to ART, who in turn helps elect and reelect members loyal to the Speaker.
While ART did not spend money trying to unseat any Republicans, they also did not assist many of the more conservative members of the legislature who had primary challenges or tough general elections. Clearly, ART does not believe those Republicans who dare to demand conservative reforms fall under the purview of their mission to “keep Texas a conservative, Republican-led state.”
3. Spending Their Way
ART spent heavily on in-kind contributions to candidates through mailers, polling, and advertising. Much of this was done by hiring moderate/liberal-friendly consultants like Murphy Nasica, Glass House Strategies, Wilson Perkins Allen, K.C. Strategies, and more. This strategy reinforces the point that ART’s board and supporters believe in approaching politics on multiple fronts. Giving to candidates is part of the plan, but not the only part. ART also sees their role as providing outside ammunition, thus assisting campaigns on multiple fronts and theoretically increasing the likelihood of success.
Most interesting donation:
ART’s most interesting donation isn’t a donation at all, but money spent on a news subscription. Austin insiders and politicos are all familiar with the left-leaning news publication Quorum Report (QR), which focuses almost exclusively on Texas politics. Their shtick is reporting on the inner-workings of the Capitol, essentially being the insiders’ insider. Their content requires a subscription, which most legislative offices and insiders pay to ensure they’re up to speed on Capitol gossip. A subscription from a legislator to Quorum Report isn’t all that rare. But when a group like ART, whose stated mission is to elect and help Republicans, pays QR $1,113.89 over the 2016 cycle, it seems a bit odd. Maybe ART likes the content? Or maybe ART likes the fact that QR tends to report favorably on the same moderate Republicans that ART supports? Whatever the reason, Quorum Report isn’t likely to do any unbiased reporting on Associated Republicans of Texas anytime soon.
Our Capitol Crowd series outlines and highlights the politicians, advocacy groups, and donors that have the biggest impact during the 140-day legislative session. Check back throughout session for updates.