By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune
“Defend Texas Liberty backs Brent Money in special election to replace Bryan Slaton” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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Defend Texas Liberty PAC, the far-right group under fire for hosting white supremacist Nick Fuentes, is getting involved in a critical special election for the Texas House, the first major test of its influence since the Fuentes controversy.
The PAC has been sending mail, making calls and blasting text messages into House District 2 in northeast Texas, according to voters there. The PAC’s activities have been mainly attacking a leading Republican candidate, Jill Dutton, but one voter said a caller also solicited support for Dutton’s main GOP rival, Brent Money.
The group’s support became clearer when campaign finance reports came out at the end of October and showed it had donated $35,000 to Money, who previously made a point of saying he had taken “no money” from Defend Texas Liberty.
The Nov. 7 special election is to fill the seat of former state Rep. Bryan Slaton, a Royse City Republican and heavily funded ally of Defend Texas Liberty who tormented House leadership. The House expelled him in May after a committee investigation found the married lawmaker got a 19-year-old intern drunk and had sex with her.
Dutton’s campaign said Money “should disavow [the PAC’s] support immediately.”
“Nick Fuentes states openly that he ‘will destroy the GOP,’” Dutton campaign spokesperson Matt Brownfield said in a statement. “In that respect, he shares the same objective as Defend Texas Liberty PAC, who has spent millions of dollars attacking conservative Republicans like Jill Dutton and Greg Abbott. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting disgraced Rep. Bryan Slaton, and then never condemned him after his unanimous expulsion.”
Money’s campaign said it had no comment on the PAC’s involvement in the race. Defend Texas Liberty did not respond to a request for comment.
Money opposed the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton and has been critical of the direction of the House under Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont. Dutton has treaded more lightly on such topics, saying at a recent forum that she “respect[s] the process” that happened in both chambers regarding impeachment.
Slaton’s legacy already loomed over the race in its early stages as his former supporters gravitated toward Money, a Greenville lawyer. But more recent events have turned it into an all-out proxy war between House leadership and Defend Texas Liberty.
The PAC was a top supporter of Paxton as the House impeached him in May and then the Senate acquitted him last month. It gave $3 million to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as he was preparing to preside over the trial, funding that Phelan called out after the acquittal.
Paxton has endorsed Money as part of a political revenge tour to remake the House GOP caucus.
The PAC’s post-trial triumph got cut short earlier this month, though, when The Texas Tribune reported it had hosted Fuentes at its leaders’ offices near Fort Worth. The story prompted condemnation from many Texas Republicans, especially House leadership, and Patrick ultimately decided to use the $3 million to buy bonds for Israel. Jonathan Stickland, the former president of the PAC who hosted Fuentes, has since been replaced, according to Defend Texas Liberty’s website.
The intraparty war is all coming to a head in the special election for HD-2, a solidly red seat covering three counties east of the Dallas area. The candidates include Dutton, the former president of the Republican Women of Van Zandt; Money, and three other Republicans: Heath Hyde, Doug Roszhart and Krista Schild. One Democrat, Kirsten Washington, is also running.
While Money has the support of the Defend Texas Liberty universe, Dutton has the backing of groups that align with House leadership more often than not, such as Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Associated Republicans of Texas. Paxton especially blamed Texans for Lawsuit Reform for instigating his impeachment, a charge it has denied.
The latest campaign finance reports, covering Sept. 29 through Oct. 28, show Money got two donations from Defend Texas Liberty — $25,000 and $10,000 — both in October amid the fallout from the Fuentes meeting. The $35,000 made up 60% of Money’s total receipts for the period.
Dutton was heavily funded by her Austin-based backers. Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Associated Republicans of Texas made up 90% of the $235,000 in contributions she disclosed receiving.
The mailer targeting Dutton features an illustration of her face juxtaposed with that of Beto O’Rourke, the two-time Democratic statewide candidate. It says she is “fundraising with Beto O’Rourke donors” but does not provide any citation for the claim.
The text messages echo the O’Rourke-related attack and ask voters to sign a petition to oppose Dutton.
Two voters, who asked not to be named, said they got phone calls this week where a person rattled off attacks against Dutton and then asked them to support Money. One of the voters said the person identified themselves as representing Defend Texas Liberty, while the other voter said they did not catch the start of the call.
In any case, few have doubted the group’s preferred candidate is Money. Its new president, Luke Macias, was pictured speaking at a Money campaign event last month.
Money also has the support of a Defend Texas Liberty-allied group, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, whose new executive director, Andrew McVeigh is Slaton’s former chief of staff. McVeigh and every other male Slaton staffer refused to cooperate with the committee investigation that led to his expulsion, according to its report.
Money has sought to downplay his ties to Slaton, highlighting how broader his base of support is and arguing the race is only about him. In early August, Money was asked on his Facebook page if he had taken money from the Wilks family and Tim Dunn — the primary funders of Defend Texas Liberty PAC — and he replied, “No money from any of them or any of their entities.”
Disclosure: Facebook and Texans for Lawsuit Reform have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/10/27/texas-house-special-election-defend-texas-liberty-brent-money/.
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