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Texans For Lawsuit Reform: Inside the Numbers

A Look Inside the Spending of the Top Contributor to Republican Legislative Candidates

Since its founding 30 years ago, Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) has established itself as a dominant force in Texas politics, especially among Republicans. With a political war chest of over $29 million as of earlier this year, TLR is well positioned to be once again the top donor to Republican legislative candidates in the 2024 general election. 

During the 2022 general election period, between the primary runoff and the general election dates, TLR donated over $5 million to Republican candidates and other organizations that supported Republican candidates. The vast majority of these funds went to efforts to elect Republican lawmakers and judges. The amount spent by TLR was more than any other group spent to help Republican candidates defeat their Democratic opponents in the last election. 

During that same time period, the Defend Texas Liberty PAC donated just $87,000 to Republican legislators and legislative candidates who had Democratic opponents. During the 2022 election cycle, Defend Texas Liberty was the primary vehicle for political giving by prominent donors Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks. The Republican Party of Texas made only $30,000 in direct financial contributions to Republican legislative candidates during the 2022 general election.

Luke Macias, a political consultant who now serves as President of Defend Texas Liberty, openly rooted for the defeat of Republican Texas House candidate Jamee Jolly in the 2022 general election. Jolly was the Republican nominee for Texas House District 70, a swing district in Collin County. She was narrowly defeated in the election by Democrat Mihaela Plesa. Jolly received significant financial support from TLR in her race against Plesa.

During the most recent legislative session, Plesa voted against Republican priority legislation such as a ban on child gender modification, a prohibition of drag shows in front of children, a ban on legislation to crack down on illegal immigration, a ban on sexually explicit books in schools, and other critical conservative legislation. Plesa was particularly strident in her opposition to Senate Bill 4, a bill championed by border security advocates that made illegal entry into Texas a criminal offense. In a statement published in the House Journal, Plesa claimed that the bill “perpetuates divisive stereotypes and dehumanizing rhetoric.”

Other organizations within Dunn and Wilks’ political network include Texas Scorecard, True Texas Project, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Texans for Strong Borders, Texas Family Project, and Texans United for a Conservative Majority, among others.

Republicans won 86 seats in the Texas House in the 2022 general election, up from 83 in 2020. These gains were largely credited to the work of TLR, the Associated Republicans of Texas, and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan. On the other hand, Defend Texas Liberty was not engaged in any successful Texas House race where a Republican faced a viable Democratic challenger. 

In 2020, there was significant concern among Texas Republicans that the Texas House was in grave danger of flipping to Democratic control. TLR played an instrumental role in keeping the Texas House in Republican hands, spending over $12.7 million on efforts to elect Republicans in the months leading up to the 2020 general election. Despite predictions from political pundits that Republicans would lose seats in the Texas House in 2020, there was no net change in the partisan makeup of the Texas House after the election. 

Although TLR and other donors rallied to keep control of the Texas House in Republican hands, Wilks and Dunn largely sat on the sidelines while the Texas House was under attack by Democrats in 2020. According to campaign finance records on file with the Texas Ethics Commission, Wilks did not donate to any Republican Texas House candidate in the months prior to the 2020 general election. Dunn’s involvement in Texas House races during the 2020 general election was limited to supporting his close allies Tony Tinderholt and Jeff Cason.

While TLR has donated to some Democrats, those donations have primarily gone to moderate Democratic lawmakers representing districts where a Republican candidate is not viable. Perhaps most prominent of these lawmakers was former Democratic State Senator Eddie Lucio, who frequently voted with Republicans on pro-business, pro-life, and school choice legislation. Some of the Democratic lawmakers supported by TLR, such as State Representatives Ryan Guillen and J.M. Lozano, eventually switched parties and became Republicans. 

A review of campaign finance records by The Texas Voice showed that approximately 99% of the funds contributed by TLR during the 2022 general election period went to support Republicans. 

Despite TLR’s strong support for Republican legislators and legislative candidates who faced viable Democratic opponents, TLR has been the subject of criticism in recent months from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and some of his allies- particularly those affiliated with Dunn and Wilks. Paxton was impeached by the Texas House last year after a group of whistleblowers within his office reported him to law enforcement with allegations that he had abused his office. After a trial, the Texas Senate acquitted Paxton of the articles of impeachment brought against him. 

Paxton and others have alleged that TLR was responsible for or was otherwise involved in Paxton’s impeachment. TLR has vehemently denied these allegations. “TLR had nothing to do with the House investigation of Ken Paxton and did not even know of its existence until the House General Investigating Committee’s public hearing on May 24, 2023,” said TLR in a statement issued in August. Neither Paxton nor his attorneys or allies have presented any evidence that TLR was involved in or had advance knowledge of Paxton’s impeachment. 

While TLR supported former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman in her Republican Primary challenge to Paxton in 2022, it stayed neutral in the Republican Primary runoff between Paxton and George P. Bush. It endorsed Paxton in the general election against Democratic challenger Rochelle Garza. Over the course of his political career, TLR has contributed over $1.4 million to Paxton. TLR was also among the top donors to Paxton’s 2018 race for Attorney General, when he faced an aggressive challenge from Democrat trial lawyer Justin Nelson. Paxton defeated Nelson by a slim 3.6% margin in that election.

During the 2024 Republican primary elections, TLR supported candidates who both supported and opposed Paxton’s impeachment. State Representative John Smithee, who was one of the most vocal opponents of Paxton’s impeachment in the Texas House, received $50,000 from TLR in his successful Republican Primary campaign against opponent Jamie Haynes. TLR was the largest donor to Smithee’s campaign. 

TLR was also the largest donor to some of the most conservative members of the Texas House in their recent contested Republican Primary campaigns, including Texas House Freedom Caucus members Briscoe Cain and Ellen Troxclair.  

In a 2019 podcast, Matt Rinaldi- the outgoing Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas who is also currently employed as an attorney for Wilks- was complimentary of TLR and its efforts. “TLR is an incredibly helpful organization to conservatives. They do great work. We would not be where we are in Texas without them,” said Rinaldi. As a candidate for and member of the Texas House of Representatives, Rinaldi received over $175,000 in campaign contributions from TLR. 

Over the last 30 years, TLR has been active at the Capitol, advocating for “tort reform” bills and other legislation concerning Texas courts and the civil justice system. The legislation supported by TLR over the years has had little to no opposition among Republicans and has frequently passed with bipartisan support. Supporters of these bills have credited them with playing a large part in the “Texas Miracle” of continued economic prosperity in the State. 

Lawsuit reform has long been a staple of the Republican Party of Texas platform. The current platform includes language that states, “We support further reform to discourage frivolous lawsuits”, as well as language opposing “the abusive use of class action lawsuits.”

Most notable among TLR’s priority bills during the 2023 legislative session were House Bill 19, to create a specialized business court, and Senate Bill 1045, to create a statewide intermediate appellate court- the Fifteenth Court of Appeals, that will hear cases involving constitutional issues and lawsuits involving the State. Most cases that the Fifteenth Court of Appeals will hear are currently heard by the Austin-based Third Court of Appeals, which consists entirely of Democratic justices. The Fifteenth Court of Appeals will be elected by voters statewide. 

Senate Bill 1045 passed with only one Republican- State Representative Drew Darby- opposed. House Bill 19 was not opposed by any Republican. Both bills were signed into law by Governor Abbott. 

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