Q. What is Empower Texans, and why are they meddling in Plano’s election?
A. Because Shelby Williams and Lily Bao represent the last best hope for the extremist right wing agenda of this fake grassroots group funded largely by three Midland billionaires.
Anyone who follows Texas politics is familiar with Empower Texans (ET). But what many Plano citizens may not realize is that Empower Texans is actively working to take control of Plano’s City Council — and there’s no reason to believe that ET has Plano’s best interests in mind.
While ET touts itself as a “grassroots group,” data guru Chris Tackett prefers to call them an “AstroTurf group.” In fact, Empower Texans reflects the intentions of just nine very wealthy individuals with an ideological agenda that’s not related to what most Plano citizens need or want.
As Tackett writes, “When your PAC takes in $5.8 million in an election cycle (1/1/17–12/31/18), when 96.8% of that comes from nine donors, when your total donor count is just 261, when those same nine are funding a plethora of other PACs to create a false chorus, you are simply AstroTurf.”
ET is the project of just a few oil billionaires from West Texas and their families and friends. The primary funders are Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, who together donated $4,205,000 of the $5,859,479 that ET raised in the last mid-term cycle (Jan 1 2017-Dec 31, 2018) — 72% or nearly 3/4 of the donations. All but about 10% of the remaining money came from seven individuals.
Tackett says: “Those in ET World love to gaslight and accuse others of the thing they are actually guilty of, they just don’t want you to notice. They excel at stoking fear and resentment. [Editor’s note: Sound familiar, Plano?] They are playing the long game and have taken over many of the levers of power in the Republican Party. But those behind Empower Texans are nothing but radical libertarians with a Christian nationalist / dominionist agenda.”
Beyond just Empower Texans, this group of wealthy individuals has been spreading their money around various non-profit groups that they control. This is to make it harder for observers to track the money that is being spent. “When people talk about Dark Money being spent in politics, it’s groups like this spending the money.” (From 2016, the most recent reporting available; reflects donations, not necessarily spending)”
· Empower Texans PAC — $534,590
· Empower Texans (Texans For Fiscal Responsibility) — $1,402,498
· Empower Texans Foundation — $1,144,302
· Texas Public Policy Foundation (Tim Dunn and other ET folks on the board) — $18,029,964
· First Liberty Institute (Tim Dunn and Kyle Stallings on the board) — $8,033,823
· Convention Of States Foundation aka Citizens For Self-Governance (Tim Dunn on the board) — $4,018,603
· Lucy Burns Institute aka Ballotpedia (Tim Dunn on the board) — $4,318,964
· WallBuilder Presentations (co-creators of the Project Blitz playbook, supported financially by Farris Wilks and his Thirteen Foundation) — $3,333,700
· Prager University (not a real university, just a collection of online videos, supported financially by Farris Wilks and his Thirteen Foundation, as well as Dan Wilks and his Heavenly Fathers Foundation)
Empower Texans buys politicians at all levels all over Texas but focuses on the cities and especially suburban areas. Why? Because a key agenda of Empower Texans is to reduce funding for public schools and enable private school vouchers funded by tax dollars. They want to support private religious, i.e. Christian, schools, at the expense of public schools, and that doesn’t fly in rural Texas because there are few options for private schools.
Empower Texans is very active here in North Texas. Our House District (HD) 66 representative, Matt Shaheen, received $35,000 from the ET PAC, and another $7500 from ET9 donors (core ET funders), or 22.3% of his total fundraising haul of $190k. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, husband of Senate District-8 freshman Angela Paxton, received $265,000 from Tim Dunn, one of the controlling figures of ET. And Dan Patrick received $27,951 from ET and ET front group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility; Patrick received nearly $650,000 from ET from 2010–2016.
Starting in 2017, Empower Texans has been coming after our Plano city council and Mayor. That year, Lily Bao proudly touted her Empower Texans endorsement when she ran against Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and lost. Two other ET-backed candidates ran for city council. Anthony Ricciardelli and Rick Smith won election to Place 2 and Place 8, respectively, via run-off.
Having lost the mayor’s race, ET continues to come after Plano City Council. This year, ET supported candidates are running for two places, Lily Bao, running for Place 7, and Shelby Williams, running against incumbent Ron Kelley for Place 5. Lily and Shelby both sound remarkably similar in their candidate forum stump speeches. The both repeatedly claim that:
· The Mayor and city council are owned by outside developers.
· Their supporters are only “The People,” and they are not beholden to outsiders.
· They profess to have the support of “hundreds” of actual Plano citizens.
· They keep saying that “Plano is at a crossroads” and that Plano citizens “face a stark choice
But here is the truth about Shelby and Lily: they are both deeply tied to Empower Texans. Because ET has become so unpopular across Texas, they have become adept at concealing their support. They’ve done this by changing their names — Empower Texans, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Scorecard, and also by donating individually. Lily and Shelby are accusing their opponents of taking money from developers for allegedly nefarious reasons — but to most voters, they are downplaying their ties to Empower Texans, which are clear when you look at how ET-controlled media outlets gush about Shelby and Lily.
On Facebook, there are two key Empower Texans pages:
· Empower Texans Metroplex Bureau
— Shelby Williams has at least 19 favorable mentions in posts since December.
— Lily Bao has at least 11 favorable mentions in posts since December.
· Empower Texans
— Shelby Williams has four mentions in posts since December.
— Lily Bao has one mention since December.
Texas Scorecard is the main Empower Texans presence online.
· Shelby has at least nine authored articles or mentions in articles since December.
· Lily Bao has at least eight mentions in articles since she ran for Mayor in 2017, and five mentions since declaring her candidacy for city council in February of this year.
Empower Texans is a group that demands fealty; they do not tolerate politicians who do not toe the line dictated by the Dunn/Wilks cabal. ET attacked the previous Texas House Speaker, Joe Strauss, relentlessly because he wouldn’t support their agenda (unlike Lt Gov Dan Patrick, who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from ET World). In the 2018 Republican primary, an ET-backed candidate challenged Republican Texas State Senator Kel Seliger (SD-31/Amarillo) because of Seliger’s refusal to support ET on private school vouchers (Kel won the primary and had no Democratic challenger in the general election.)
Plano voters: Don’t believe Empower Texans-backed candidates who tell us they are “for the people” and “not beholden to outsiders.” Make no mistake, like any other candidate backed by ET, Lily and Shelby will be beholden to outsiders in Midland, and most of us won’t like the results.
In the May 4 election, Plano DOES have a stark choice to make. Empower Texans-backed candidates currently hold two places on Plano’s City Council, which includes seven places plus the mayor. Four places are up for election in May, and Empower Texans is running candidates in all four. A majority of ET-backed councilmen will be devastating to Plano.
Here’s the real stark choice: Do we want city council members who are committed to Plano and its citizens, or do we want people who are beholden to a fake grassroots group of ideologues dominated by nine very wealthy individuals outside of Plano and Collin County? That choice is easy to make.