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Abbott's Office Promised Help to Major Donor

A major donor to Gov. Greg Abbott sought and received help from the office of the governor after complaining that Democrats and their top contributor were on the verge of defeating a controversial bill insurance companies wanted.

Gov. Greg Abbott

A major donor to Gov. Greg Abbott received an immediate offer of help from the office of the governor after complaining that Democrats and their top contributor were on the verge of defeating a controversial bill insurance companies wanted, records obtained by The Texas Tribune indicate. 

In a May 20 email, Texans for Lawsuit Reform CEO Richard Weekley told Abbott that the pro-insurer bill was “good policy and good politics,” and he complained that Democratic mega-donor Steve Mostyn and the candidates he supports stood to gain if the legislation failed. (Ultimately, it did fail.)

Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) and Weekley have given Abbott at least $720,000 since 2001, records from the Texas Ethics Commission show.

“Governor, TLR and I believe that you are going to need to personally intervene,” Weekley wrote. “Having Mostyn rape the insurance companies of hundreds of millions of dollars will harm consumers across the state as well as hurt the politicians who Mostyn will try to defeat.”

In a P.S., he added, “We can’t let the House, composed of 98 Republicans and 52 Democrats, have a legislative victory for Mostyn, who gave over $25,000,000 to Democrats over the last five years.”

This is the response Weekley got a few hours later from the governor’s office: “We are working it. Spoke with the Speaker about it earlier today.”

The email was provided to the Tribune, which requested copies of emails sent by Abbott himself. So was it indeed the governor who responded to Weekley?

Without explanation, the governor’s office blacked out identifying information about the sender, so it’s impossible to know with absolute certainty. The governor’s press office did not respond to questions via email or phone and has previously declined comment on the trove of emails obtained by the Tribune.

Jason Embry, a spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus, said the Republican House leader "doesn't discuss his private conversations with the governor — even the conversations that didn't happen." Embry did not elaborate.

Democrats predictably pounced on the email.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said on Twitter, “This is what 'pay-to-play' look(s) like in Texas.” 

Texas Democratic strategist Matt Angle said it demonstrates Abbott is going to bat for donors instead of ordinary Texans.

“Greg Abbott only gets fully animated when he is in a position to help a donor or a political supporter,” Angle said.

At issue was Senate Bill 1628, which would have erected hurdles for homeowners and businesses that wanted to sue insurance companies that don't deal with them fairly, or don't adequately pay out on claims made under property and casualty insurance policies, such as losses after a storm, fire or accident.

Whatever Abbott did to help TLR and Weekley, it didn’t work. The legislation died in committee in the final days of the recently concluded session after a wide swath of business interests — from oil and gas companies to auto dealers — said it would weaken their insurance policies and put them at a disadvantage in disputes over property damage claims.

Sherry Sylvester, a spokeswoman for TLR, said the urgent tone of the email shows Weekley was concerned about homeowners who she said are losing coverage amid frivolous lawsuits filed by trial lawyers seeking to cash in on hailstorms in Texas.

“Already, over 10,000 people have lost homeowners’ insurance coverage and more are sure to follow in the wake of a litigation machine conceived and perpetrated by Steve Mostyn,” she said, noting his hefty contributions against Republicans, “including Abbott.”

She said Texans would “pay for this massive lawsuit abuse through higher insurance deductibles and premiums and reduced or lost coverage.”

Mostyn said the email revealed a major flaw in TLR’s strategy, contending that the relentless focus on him instead of the policy doomed the legislation.

“The whole email is, 'Mostyn gives money to Democrats,' and refers to me as a rapist. It’s an embarrassment to them and their organization,” he said. “The policy was going to be detrimental to any insured in the state, including businesses. There was no policy reason behind it. It was all political.”

Disclosure: Steve Mostyn was a major donor to The Texas Tribune in 2010. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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Politics State government Greg Abbott Texas Legislature