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How the State’s Far-right Movement Has Been Accelerated by Two Texas Megadonors

Handguns may be carried concealed by gun owners without permits or training. State officials are looking into the parents of transgender children. Abortion access reqauires women to travel hours outside of their state.

Texas at the moment: Despite Texas’ longstanding status as a stronghold of Republican politics, the state has recently moved further to the right than it has in decades as a result of new laws and policies.

According to elected officials and political analysts in the state, West Texas played a significant role in the transformation. Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, two local billionaires with a stake in the oil and fracking industries, have secretly contributed money to some of Texas’ most extreme right-wing candidates, helping to reshape the state’s Republican Party to fit their worldview.
Dunn and his wife Terri have given more than $18 million to state candidates and political action committees over the past ten years, while Wilks and his wife Jo Ann have contributed more than $11 million, making them two of the top donors in the state.

According to a CNN analysis of Texas Ethics Commission data, the beneficiaries of the energy tycoons’ combined spending include the legislators who lean to the far right and the authors of the most well-known conservative bills passed in recent years. Additionally, Dunn and Wilks control the state’s legislative agenda through a network of non-profits and advocacy organizations that promote conservative policy positions.

Critics, including some former associates, claim that Dunn and Wilks expect loyalty from the candidates they support, punishing even the most ardently conservative legislators who disobey them by funding their opponents in the primary. The billionaires’ influence has caused Austin to resemble Moscow in some ways, according to longtime Republican state senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo.

Seliger declared, “Pure and simple, it is an oligarchy in the Russian tradition.” “Really, really wealthy people are willing to spend a lot of money to have policy made the way they want it, and they get it.”

To the “hard right,” dragged

Requests for comment from Dunn and Wilks were repeatedly ignored. In previous interviews and opinion pieces, Dunn has argued that his political spending is concentrated on increasing the transparency of Texas’ state government for its constituents, while Wilks has claimed that his contributions are directed at electing conservative leaders who uphold conservative values.


Former colleagues of Dunn and Wilks who spoke to CNN said the billionaires are both particularly interested in education issues, with their ultimate goal being to replace public education with private, Christian schooling. In addition to Dunn preaching at the church his family attends, Wilks serves as the pastor of the church his father founded. They portray a nation under attack from liberal ideas in their sermons.

In a sermon delivered in 2014 at his exclusive church, the Assembly of Yahweh 7th Day, Wilks lamented the “crumbling and beginning to fall apart” of our government. And it’s due to a lack of morality and a lack of faith in our heavenly Father, according to the speaker.

National repercussions result from Texas’ far-right shift The state legislature has become a testing ground for far-right policy that is beginning to take hold across the US thanks to the candidates Dunn and Wilks backed.

Dunn and Wilks have had less success in the 2022 primary elections than in previous ones: almost all of the GOP legislative incumbents opposed by Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee that is primarily funded by the pair, won their primaries this spring, and the group spent millions of dollars supporting a far-right opponent to Governor Greg Abbott who lost by a significant margin.

The candidates they are challenging from the right, starting with Abbott, have embraced more and more conservative positions, on issues ranging from transgender rights to guns to voting, according to experts, who claim that the billionaires’ current struggles are in part a symptom of their past success.

According to Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram who has covered 18 legislative sessions in Texas, “they dragged all the moderate candidates to the hard right in order to keep from losing.”

Kennedy claimed that ordinary Texans aren’t as conservative as their elected officials. Texas has shifted to the right because there is money available,

investing in politics pays off

The moderate Republicans who controlled the state House of Representatives over the past ten years killed a large number of the most conservative bills in the Texas legislature on issues like private school vouchers, guns, and LGBT rights. Thanks to people like Valoree Swanson, that changed last year.

In a district covering Houston’s Republican-dominated northern suburbs, Debbie Riddle had held office for 14 years when Swanson, a political activist and Sunday school teacher, challenged her.

Politicians were taken aback when first-time candidate Swanson, who ran to Riddle’s right, outraised the incumbent. Empower Texans, a political action committee that Dunn founded and largely funded with the help of Wilks, was her biggest supporter. She defeated Riddle by more than ten percentage points in the Republican primary and went on to win the general election with ease.

Swanson achieved a significant legislative victory last year when she wrote the legislation prohibiting transgender students from participating in K–12 school sports teams that don’t reflect their genders at birth. The sports bill was approved by a legislature that is now firmly under the control of the GOP’s right flank following the retirement of the moderate former House speaker, whereas other transgender-related bills had failed in previous years. People who watched it thought it was proof that the billionaires’ early investments in Swanson’s first campaign had been profitable.

Scott Braddock, the editor of Quorum Report, a publication that has been covering the legislature for decades, said of Dunn and Wilks, “They’re effectively investing their money and they’re moving the needle on policy in Austin.” In order to reshape Texas in accordance with their vision, “these are extreme people who are investing a lot of money in our politics.”

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Swanson is hardly an outlier; all 18 of the current Republican senators from Texas and nearly half of the Republican representatives in the Texas house have accepted funds from Dunn, Wilks, or organizations that they support. Major recipients of the billionaires’ spending include Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Texas is one of just 10 states that permit individuals to contribute an unlimited amount to state-level political candidates, giving Dunn and Wilks more sway than they otherwise might have.

Dunn and Wilks have become involved in national elections despite concentrating on state politics. With a combined $15 million contribution, Wilks, his brother Dan, and their wives were among the top contributors to the super PACs that supported Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016. And in recent years, Dunn has contributed millions of dollars to super PACs supporting the former president Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

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