Those Verifying Michael Quinn Sullivan's Allegations Were Showered with Empower Texans' Cash
AUSTIN, TX — Of the three Texas representatives who have listened to the Michael Quinn Sullivan recording, two are recipients of an outsized amount of Empower Texans campaign cash and the third lost the contest for speaker to Bonnen and is alleged to be among those Republicans targeted for electoral defeat by the House Speaker. He might carry a grudge.
Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan alleges that in a secret, backroom meeting with Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and State GOP Caucus Chair and Rep. Dustin Burrows, Sullivan’s Empower Texans news website, Texas Scorecard, was offered press credentials on the House floor next session if Empower Texans would target 10 Republican state representatives for defeat this election cycle. San Angelo’s State Rep. Drew Darby is said to be on that list.
Not many believed MQS, as he is referred in the press for the initials of his three-word name similar to likely names of Texas Country Music crooners, until MQS offered select politicos and state representatives the opportunity to listen in the presence of MQS’s attorney to the recording of the scandalous meeting.
So far, three state reps have accepted the invitation. We followed the money and motivations of each representative in light of the reporting that all three said the contents of the recording matched MQS’s description – and was evidence proving — Bonnen planned to target for electoral defeat 10 of his fellow Republican representatives.
Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R - District 92, Bedford) accepted the invitation to listen to the recordings early this week. Stickland joined conservative talk show host Chad Hasty on Lubbock’s KYFO 95.1 FM on August 1 to share the contents of the recording as he recalled.
“This audiotape shows that you've got a blatant case of politicians saying one thing, and doing something completely different, in a very, very shocking way. I mean, you literally have him address the duplicity that he knows is going on with this, and talks about it, and laughs about it at different points...I think this shatters trust and relationships at the most basic levels in the Texas House...I think this is going to upend Texas politics,” Stickland is reported to have told Hasty.
Stickland went on to say that MQS has “under-reported the severity of what I heard last night on the audio recording. There’s more damaging stuff than he has even led on to. … There’s some stuff in there that’s flat out mean and kinda rude.”
Hear the entire radio interview with Stickland here:
Campaign finance records show that Stickland is as a politician practically created by Empower Texans, the conservative advocacy organization MQS heads.
VoteSmart.org lists Empower Texans contributing $141,800 to his 2018 campaign. Midland oilman Timothy M. Dunn contributed $102,000. Dunn is Empower Texans’ chief benefactor and the chairman of the board of the conservative group MQS heads. Also listed with a large donation to Stickland’s campaign is Eastland oil billionaires Farris C and Joann Wilks. The left-wing Texas Observer ran an exposé on Farris Wilks, reporting that he has over time donated $1.25 million to Empower Texans as well.
The next highest donation to Stickland’s campaign came from Mrs. Darlene Pendery who contributed $50,000. Pendery was the subject of a dust-up at a Republican fundraising event involving House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
According to an account in Texas Monthly, pro-gun activist Chris McNutt was seated near Bonnen at the dinner and the two exchanged words. Bonnen asked McNutt to cease approaching members of the Texas House at their homes. Bonnen saw the act as an implied threat to the members Bonnen is charged to protect.
The Texas Tribune reported that an upset Bonnen left the $25,000 per table fundraising event prior to his promised time to speak, before Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The Tribune reported it was Pendery who invited McNutt to the GOP of Texas dinner, possibly forcing the confrontation.
The case of how Bonnen allegedly treated McNutt when McNutt was handing out fliers in support of Constitutional Carry gun rights in Bonnen’s neighborhood is what MQS said prompted him to record the June 12 backroom meeting with Bonnen.
In April, immediately prior McNutt’s visit to Bonnen’s neighborhood, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Texas DPS had placed Bonnen’s Lake Jackson home under surveillance “amid concerns that an outraged gun rights activist was headed there.”
Bonnen went on Hasty’s Lubbock radio show and claimed McNutt was a gun-wielding crazy man and part of “groups that make their living attacking Republicans,” a statement that can also be taken as a veiled insult of MQS’s Empower Texans.
Bonnen characterized McNutt’s pro-Constitutional carry lobbying efforts at the homes of four state representatives as, “Extraordinary offensive, and despicable.”
According to Bonnen, McNutt knew these representatives were in Austin while the legislature was in session and targeted these representatives’ families at their homes while the representatives weren’t there to defend their families. Bonnen claimed McNutt even flashed a gun at the district office of Rep. Dustin Burrows in Lubbock.
Bonnen told Hasty that McNutt’s “despicable and gutless” actions were, “A clear effort to intimidate and threaten.”
During the episodes in Lubbock, McNutt announced he was headed to Lake Jackson south of Houston to protest at Bonnen’s home. That’s when the Texas DPS positioned armed guards at Bonnen’s home and the statewide press heralded that a gun rights guy named McNutt was headed there for a showdown. . MQS claimed Bonnen lied and mischaracterized the peaceful protests by McNutt. Empower Texans requested body cam footage of the Texas DPS troopers confronting McNutt. What people saw was a meek exchange of pleasantries between DPS troopers and McNutt in Bonnen’s neighborhood. The video, MQS claimed, proved Bonnen was a liar.
It was Bonnen’s alleged lies about McNutt that convinced MQS to secretly record his backroom meeting with Bonnen June 12, MQS wrote.
After Pendery’s $50,000 contribution, Empower Texans’ contributing author and Midland oilman Kyle Stallings gave $30,000 to Stickland’s campaign. At least $473,800, or 62 percent, of Stickland’s $759,663.49 campaign war chest in 2018 was connected with Empower Texans. The data is at VoteSmart.org.
The Texas Tribune reported that Rep. Steve Toth had also listened to the MQS recording and backed MQS’s description of the meeting.
According to VoteSmart.org, Empower Texans gave Toth $10,000 last year. Toth’s biggest contributor is a PAC called Accountability First that donated $22,642 his campaign last year. This PAC targeted former Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus’ allies in 2017 and 2018 and is reported to be affiliated with Empower Texans’ money. It was a “shadow PAC” of Empower Texans, the Chronicle and Dallas Morning News reported in 2014.
Don Dyer, who has one story with his byline on ET’s Texas Scorecard website, donated $15,827 to Toth’s campaign. Dyer owns a janitorial service in Austin and is connected with heading a PAC to oust Straus earlier this decade. Dr. James Leininger, a medical doctor and medical device entrepreneur who has connections with MQS and ET, donated $10,000 to Toth.
In all, of Toth’s $138,309.48 campaign war chest gathered last year, at least $58,469, or 42 percent, is affiliated with Empower Texans.
The Texas Tribune reported that Bonnen’s former opponent in the race for speaker of the house in 2018 Travis Clardy (R- District 11, Nacogdoches) also listened to the recording and backed MQS’s description. He has no recognizable ET-affiliated donors on his campaign donation roster at votesmart.org. Clardy, an attorney, seems instead to be tightly aligned with real estate lobbying groups like the Texas Realtors PAC. See his donors here.
However, Clardy was on Bonnen’s alleged target list. “Clardy, for his part, was one of the last candidates to exit the open speaker’s race, which created wounds between him and Bonnen that have not yet healed,” the Tribune reported.
All three representatives who have listened to MQS’s recording and reported that the recordings aligned with MQS’s characterization of the June 12 meeting have a either a beef with Bonnen or were previously given lots of ET-connected campaign donations to color their perception of what was presented on the recording.
Bonnen hasn’t made a public statement since the contents of the recordings have trickled out. Before the witness accounts of the recordings from Stickland, Toth and Clardy went public, Bonnen sent an email to members of the House.
“This is but another chapter in MQS’s ongoing effort to divide and ultimately destroy the Republican majority in the Texas House. His organization did not enjoy political success during the most recent session of the Texas Legislature, and as a result, we were able to deliver one of the most productive sessions in memory. MQS and Empower Texans are well known for their questionable conduct and brand of activism that has alienated a majority of the Republican Party,” Bonnen wrote.
In a statement this week, Bonnen denied there was a hit list. “At no point in our conversation was Sullivan provided with a list of target members,” he said in a statement.
MQS has yet to release the recording to us, opening speculation about the motivation of those vouching for the recording’s validation — and veracity — of Empower Texans’ leader’s allegations that Bonnen sold out his Republican caucus in the Texas House.
MQS, release the recording now! Until then, we’ll follow your money.
Get more stories like this by signing up for our daily newsletter, The LIVE! Daily.