In a thread posted to Twitter this past weekend, independent journalist Merissa Hansen accused Texas Scorecard and its reporter, Robert Montoya, of publishing an article based almost entirely on her original research without any form of credit or attribution.
Hansen publishes a website (http://merissa.substack.com) that focuses on questionable dealings and potential corruption in the Harris County government and has over 80,000 followers on her Twitter account, @merissahansen17. Her work is often featured by prominent Houston-based radio talk show host Michael Berry and is frequently shared online by conservative social media influencers.
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Last week, Hansen took to Twitter, accusing the website Texas Scorecard of stealing her research. Hansen tweeted, “I have reached out to you multiple times regarding your staff writer Robby Montoya stealing a year-long investigation I conducted in Harris County. I have the evidence and proof Robby took my investigation, and then called me morning of and refused to let me read the article. Not once did he source nearly 90% of the work he stole from me. This is plagiarism and stealing. Not once has anyone from your publication apologized or acknowledged what they did.”
Hansen’s tweet was meant to be addressed to Texas Scorecard Publisher Michael Quinn Sullivan but erroneously tagged a parody account. Hansen told The Texas Voice that she has attempted to contact Sullivan with her concerns directly, but her phone calls have gone unreturned.
In February 2022, Hansen published two in-depth articles examining possible political connections to entities Harris County Commissioners’ Court awarded COVID relief funds.
On February 13, 2022, Hansen published an article entitled “Drain the Bayou Part 1: Catholic Charities,” which examined the ties between Harris County Commissioner and Catholic Charities. According to Hansen’s report, Harris County Commissioners Court awarded Catholic Charities $83 million in federal funds.
In a follow-up article published a week later entitled “The Democrat Charity Alliance,” Hansen reported on housing and rental assistance programs approved by Harris County Commissioners Court. In this article, Hansen wrote that Harris County Commissioners Court had awarded over $35 million to an organization called “Coalition for the Homeless.” Hansen’s article also examined political ties to those involved in these housing programs, including the business partner of County Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ wife serving as board chair of Coalition for the Homeless.
On April 6, 2022, Texas Scorecard reporter Robert Montoya published an article entitled “Incestuous Dealings in Harris County Government Raise Alarms.” In his article, Montoya wrote, “For around two years, one citizen has looked into connections between county-level politicians and a constellation of organizations. Unfortunately, this individual has been unable to get local mainstream media to follow up on these findings, and so came to us.” However, Montoya never identified the “citizen” as Hansen, nor did Montoya’s article cite the original research that Hansen had publicly published in the weeks prior.
While Montoya’s article stated, “Texas Scorecard launched an investigation to verify the findings, and we supplemented it with our own research,” a comparison of Montoya’s article with Hansen’s articles shows that the vast majority of the information reported by Montoya had initially been uncovered by Hansen and published in her articles.
Hansen confirmed to The Texas Voice that she did not intend to be an anonymous source and had reached out to Montoya in the hopes that her work would be highlighted.
“I spent a long time digging through records and putting my articles together. I contacted Robby [Montoya] about my findings and sent him my articles. We were in communication about what I had found, but he only informed me he was publishing an article an hour before it was published,” said Hansen. “I was shocked and upset when I saw that he took my research and didn’t give me any credit or even link to my articles. He took full credit for the investigation, but the work was all mine.”
As an independent journalist, Hansen relies on subscriptions to her website to support her work. Texas Scorecard, Montoya’s employer, has ties to prominent billionaires who are prolific political donors. Tim Dunn, who serves as a director of Texas Scorecard’s parent organization, Citizens News Guild, Inc., made over $7.3 million in political contributions in 2022 alone. Farris Wilks, who made over $3.2 million in political donations in 2022, has supported Texas Scorecard through his family foundation, the Thirteen Foundation. In 2019, the most recent year in which tax returns for the Thirteen Foundation are publicly available, it contributed $675,000 to Citizens News Guild, Inc. (then known as the Empower Texans Foundation).
The Texas Voice attempted to contact Robert Montoya for comment via e-mail but received no response.