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The Texas Tribune’s New CEO is a Longtime Democratic Operative

Sonal Shah, Who Worked to Defeat Texas Republicans, Now Leading "Nonpartisan" Media Outlet

Sonal Shah, a longtime Democratic political operative and donor, became the new Chief Executive officer of the Texas Tribune on January 1, 2023. Before assuming the leadership of the Texas Tribune, Shah had worked on Pete Buttigieg’s Presidential campaign and served in the Obama administration.

Shah has donated thousands of dollars to left-wing political candidates and causes, including Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Annie’s List, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

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Before being hired by the Texas Tribune, Shah openly expressed her disdain for Texas Republicans and conservative public policy on her Twitter account. Shah also voiced her desire to see an increased investment in Democratic Party infrastructure in Texas.

In a Twitter thread posted on November 3, 2020, Shah discussed various areas where she believed resources were needed for Democrats to win elections in Texas. These included community engagement, data collection, candidate recruitment, investing in local organizations, and civics education.

Shah concluded the thread by stating, “DO NOT give up on Texas. This community has grown, they have organized, they have mobilized. All of this through constant and relentless voter suppression. It is an investment that is worth making. In two years we can vote out this governor. We can win in TX. BELIEVE.”

After Beto O’Rourke announced his candidacy for Governor against Greg Abbott on November 15, 2021, Shah retweeted O’Rourke’s campaign announcement video with the comment, “Let’s go #Texas!”

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Work by Republicans to keep sexually explicit and other inappropriate materials out of Texas public schools also drew the ire of Shah. On October 27, 2021, Shah said that an investigation by then-Republican State Representative Matt Krause into books purchased by Texas school districts was “unnecessary” and constituted “wasting money.”

Shah was also critical of the media’s role in the rise of Donald Trump. On January 21, 2021, Shah posted a link to a Washington Post op-ed entitled “The media had a role to play in the rise of Trump. It’s time to hold ourselves accountable.” Regarding the op-ed, Shah commented, “Worth discussing. Our media ushered all this through the door, under the aegis of “balance” and “presenting both sides” — as if racism and white supremacy were theoretical ideas to be debated, not life-threatening forces to be defeated.”

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While the Texas Tribune touts itself as a “nonpartisan” media outlet, comments such as these, coupled with Shah’s extensive history of Democratic political activism, bring the Tribune’s “nonpartisan” stance into question.

Some of the Texas Tribune’s largest donors also have a history of political activism. Arnold Ventures and John and Laura Arnold are listed as the largest all-time donors to the Texas Tribune, having donated more than $5.4 million. Arnold Ventures is a leading proponent of so-called “bail reform” that has been blamed for increasing crime in Harris County and other areas.

Lesley Briones, who formerly served as Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, was recently elected to Harris County Commissioners Court with financial support from both John and Laura Arnold. Briones, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Republican County Commissioner R. Jack Cagle, an outspoken opponent of the “bail reform” efforts advocated for by the Arnolds.

The Texas Tribune has also received $150,000 from the Foundation to Promote Open Society, which Democratic megadonor George Soros funds.

Last year, in conjunction with ProPublica, the Texas Tribune ran an extensive piece accusing several churches of violating Federal tax law. The report focused mainly on churches that allegedly supported Republican candidates, with very little attention to the longstanding practice of some Democratic politicians to actively campaign at churches.

The left-wing bias of the Texas Tribune has drawn the attention of members of the Texas Legislature. State Representative Jared Patterson recently introduced House Bill 845, prohibiting public colleges and universities from financially supporting nonprofit media organizations, such as the Texas Tribune.

Many Texas public universities have financially supported the Texas Tribune, including the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, Sam Houston State University, the Texas State University System, and others.

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