Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) is a non-profit organization focused on tort reform in Texas. It was founded in 1994 by several prominent Texas businessmen including Leo Linbeck – CEO of Aquinas Companies, Dick Trabulsi the owner of a liquor store chain in Houston, and Richard “Dick” Weekley the co-founder of Weekley Homes.
TLR’s primary focus centers on stopping “frivolous lawsuits” and lawsuits involving “outrageous claims of damages.” Over the past two decades, TLR PAC has invested significant resources in helping elect men and women they believe will vote to strengthen protections for businesses and business owners against frivolous lawsuits. In the past TLR often found themselves on the opposite side of political fights from the powerful Texas Trial Lawyers Association, but as the organization has moved towards the center recently, TLR is now often pitted against more conservative organizations like Empower Texans.
1.Supporting the establishment
In the early 2000s, prior to TLR winning any major legislative battles, the group often found itself at odds with those in Austin, even in the Republican party. To change this, they leveraged significant resources to help elect men and women they believed to be more in line with their position on tort reform. Fast forward to today and you’ll see TLR in a quite different position. The vast majority of Republicans in the Texas legislature are supported by TLR, with the exception of some of the more conservative members of the Republican caucus. The interesting takeaway from this is that their support of these candidates has come despite any major legislative victories in the past four sessions.
Since Speaker Joe Straus took control of the Texas House, TLR’s efforts to build upon their successes in the early 2000s have been met with stiff resistance. Despite this fact, the list of those who received the most money from TLR in the 2016 cycle is a who’s-who of establishment legislators, including $55,000 to Speaker Straus, $50,000 to State Representative Paul Workman, $47,500 to State Representative Cindy Burkett, $35,000 to State Representative Charlie Geren, $27,500 to State Representative Todd Hunter, and so on. While TLR is poised possibly to win a legislative victory this session regarding what some would consider frivolous hail storm litigation, one has to wonder why — despite significant financial resources they’ve given to those in power — the victory has taken so long.
2. Prominent supporters
TLR’s list of major donors is as impressive as any in the state, including some of the state’s wealthiest and most successful business owners and entrepreneurs. Outside of Mr. Weekley, in the 2016 cycle they received $600,000 from Robert McNair, owner of the Houston Texans, $600,000 from Houston businessman W.E. Bosarge, Jr., $400,000 from Hilcorp CEO Jeff Hildebrand, and $300,000 from Holt Cat owner Peter Holt. Massive gifts like these aren’t rare for TLR, as TLR PAC is often one of the biggest spenders during election season. Their significant financial resources are often viewed as the muscle behind TLR’s advocacy initiatives.
3. Spending big on consultants
In the 2016 election cycle along, TLR spent over $800,000 on political and fundraising consultants, nearly 20% of their overall spending. Over $540,000 went to Murphy Nasica, roughly $102,000 to Berry Communications, $95,000 to KC Strategies, and $70,000 to Elizabeth Blakemore Fundraising. Big spending big on political consultants isn’t all that rare, as some organizations have small staff and thus must rely on third parties to execute many of their day-to-day activities. But this level of financial support is rare, even for most political action committees.
Most interesting donation:
Despite TLR’s recent trend of supporting more establishment-minded legislators, the largest recipient of funds from their PAC in the 2016 election cycle was conservative State Senator Bryan Hughes, to the tune of $260,000. State Sen. Hughes, a lawyer himself, has long been an ally of tort reform and is considered by virtually everyone in the Capitol to be a conservative fighter. In addition to TLR PAC supporting his campaign, State Sen. Hughes also received $50,000 from TLR’s education-focused group, Texans for Education Reform, and an additional $15,000 from Dick Weekley himself.
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 the session for updates.