Through an extensive network of politically active nonprofit organizations and political action committees he helps bankroll, Midland oilman Tim Dunn is one of Texas’ most prominent political donors. The groups funded by Dunn are well known for engaging in vicious- and frequently deceptive- attacks against Republican candidates and officeholders that they attempt to paint as insufficiently conservative.
While groups funded by Dunn purport to promote conservative values and candidates, Dunn played a crucial role in helping Beto O’Rourke win his initial election to Congress.
During the 2012 election cycle, Beto O’Rourke- a young El Paso City Councilman from a prominent local family- launched a primary challenge to incumbent Democrat Congressman Silvestre Reyes. Generally regarded as a moderate Democrat, Reyes was in his eighth term representing the El Paso area in Congress when O’Rourke launched his primary campaign as a bold progressive. Before serving in Congress, Reyes served in the Vietnam War and spent 26 years in the U.S. Border Patrol, working his way up to the position of Sector Chief.
In that same election cycle, the Campaign for Primary Accountability formed as a federal SuperPAC to target incumbent Congress members in party primary elections. Dunn was tied as the second largest donor to the Campaign for Primary Accountability, donating $500,000 to it during the 2012 election cycle.
The Campaign for Primary Accountability spent $240,000 on efforts opposing Reyes, which benefited O’Rourke. This was the largest amount the group spent opposing any incumbent Congressmember during that election cycle. O’Rourke defeated Reyes by a 50.47%-44.35% margin.
A 2019 article by Molly Hensley-Clancy for Buzzfeed News took a closer look at the Campaign for Primary Accountability’s role in O’Rourke’s first Congressional victory. The article included comments from Jeff Hewitt, who was described as “a veteran campaign operative who ran the arm of the PAC that focused on Democratic races like O’Rourke’s.”
In his comments to Buzzfeed News, Hewitt credited the Campaign for Primary Accountability’s efforts against Reyes for delivering O’Rourke’s victory. “There’s no way [O’Rourke] would have won without the [Campaign for Primary Accountability] on the outside, beating up Reyes and increasing his unfavorables,” said Hewitt.
O’Rourke’s victory over Reyes in 2012 set him on a political trajectory that saw him become a magnet for Democratic fundraising in Texas. Despite defeats against Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott, O’Rourke remains one of the most visible Democrats in Texas. His political action committee, Powered by People, recently reported over $2.5 million cash on hand. These funds are expected to be used to support Democratic efforts in Texas during the upcoming election.
Among other liberal Democrats supported by the Campaign for Primary Accountability during the 2012 election cycle was Dennis Kucinich. Perhaps best known for his unsuccessful Presidential campaigns and support for “Medicare for All” socialized healthcare. During the 2012 election, Kucinich faced off against fellow incumbent Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur in a primary matchup caused by redistricting. The Campaign for Primary Accountability spent $131,880 in support of Kucinich and another $121,294 opposing Kaptur during that election, which Kunich lost by a 56-40 margin.
Among the groups funded by Dunn is the Texans United for a Conservative Majority PAC, which received a $700,000 donation from one of Dunn’s business entities less than a month ago. According to its website, the Texans United for a Conservative Majority PAC “is determined to distinguish between genuine Republicans and the Democrat-enabling lawmakers who are Republicans in name only (RINOs).”
Texans United for a Conservative Majority PAC also received nearly $1.3 million on January 17 from billionaire businessman Farris Wilks who, along with his brother Dan Wilks, are the controlling shareholders of ProFrac Holding Corp. The Texas Voice recently reported that the Wilks family’s business has embraced “woke capitalism” through its promotion of Environmental, Social, and Governance (“ESG”) and Diversity and Inclusion (“DI”) programs that incorporate United Nations sustainable development goals.
Dunn hosted a donor retreat last year, which showcased politically active nonprofit organizations such as Texas Family Project, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, and Texas Gun Rights. These organizations have all faced criticism in recent weeks for waging deceptive ad campaigns against Republican members of the Texas House of Representatives. Unlike donations to political action committees, donations to nonprofit corporations do not have to be publicly disclosed.