Michael Quinn Sullivan, the CEO of Empower Texans, an equal parts right-wing media organization and political action committee, says he was offered a backroom deal by Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, a Republican.
Sullivan claims he was invited to a closed-door meeting with Bonnen where, he says, Bonnen made potentially vulgar comments about Democratic freshmen Michelle Beckley and Jon Rosenthal, and offered media credentials to Empower Texans for the upcoming legislative session in exchange for some political asks.
“[Bonnen] would ensure Texas Scorecard reporters received House floor access in 2021 if we would lay off our criticism of the legislative session, not spend money from our affiliated PACs against certain Republicans, and—most shockingly—go after a list of other Republicans in the 2020 primary elections,” wrote Sullivan.
These allegations are notable given the collegial traditions of the Texas House of Representatives, where past Speakers and even Bonnen himself have frowned upon members supporting challengers to incumbents. That Bonnen singled out members of the Democratic freshman class is also notable, and another clear demonstration that the GOP caucus is out for blood in the 2020 elections.
In a letter to Sullivan, Bonnen denied that any such offer took place.
For years, Texas Scorecard, the partisan media arm of Tea Party-aligned Empower Texans, has desperately tried to acquire press credentials for the Texas House floor. In May, a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit filed by Empower Texans that complained their organization was denied media credentials in the chamber.
In 2019, Empower Texans was granted press credentials for the Senate floor for the first time, a controversial move considering the group is a partisan organization that gave $75,000 to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In 2018, the group spent $4 million to help elect conservatives.
Whether Sullivan’s account of the meeting is a tall tale (Bonnen called the whole thing a “misimpression”), the squabble is further evidence of a growing and possibly irreparable rift among state Republican lawmakers who have tried their best to present a unified front this past legislative session.
“You will never please or appease those folks, and I’m sure as hell not going to waste my time trying,” Bonnen said of Empower Texans last month, describing them as a group that raises money off of “attacks and disrespect.”