The Brief: Fracking Billionaires Become the Latest Big GOP Donors

The latest round of campaign finance filings are documenting the emergence of a new big dollar GOP donor in Texas.

Graphic by Todd Wiseman

The Big Conversation

The latest round of campaign finance filings are documenting the emergence of a new big dollar GOP donor in Texas.

The Wilks brothers of Cisco have already made a splash in the 2016 presidential contest through $15 million given by members of the family to a super PAC backing Ted Cruz.

But the reports filed last week with the Texas Ethics Commission demonstrate a desire to influence a number of legislative races involving House Speaker Joe Straus and his allies as well as some of Straus’ loudest critics.

For instance, as the Tribune’s Jamie Lovegrove reports, Farris Wilks gave a single donation of $500,000 to Empower Texans PAC, the political arm of the influential conservative advocacy group.

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That PAC has distributed money to a group of tea party-aligned House Republicans who are critical of Straus’ management of the House. Wilks family members have also given $50,000 directly to Jeff Judson, who is trying to unseat Straus in the March 1 primary.

The Wilks brothers made their money in the fracking boom of the past decade. As far as divining their motivation for making such hefty contributions, Farris Wilks explained in a November TV interview that “I fear that our nation is going in the direction of socialism, and so I think that maybe we’ve forgotten what has brought us to the place we are as a nation.”

Trib Must Reads

Tiny District to Offer First Four-Day School Week in Texas, by Madlin Mekelburg — Olfen Independent School District, one of the smallest districts in Texas, will transition to a four-day school week in August — the first of its kind in the state.

Cruz Gambles With New Hampshire Trip, by Abby Livingston — John F. Kennedy would be a Republican today, and the New England Patriots are good at that football thing, U.S. Sen Ted Cruz observed as he cozied up to voters in a four-day tour of icy New Hampshire.

Cruz: "Washington Establishment" Shifting to Trump, by Abby Livingston — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz argued Wednesday that the “Washington establishment” has dumped Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in favor of real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Activists Sue 10 Federal Agencies Over Secrecy in Deporting Alleged Criminals, by Julián Aguilar — A coalition of attorneys and immigrant rights groups is suing 10 federal agencies over withholding documents related to how the Obama administration is dealing with deporting criminal immigrants.

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Clinton Campaign Has First Paid Texas Staff, by Jamie Lovegrove and Patrick Svitek — The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign has its first paid Texas staff, and is launching a series of supporter meet-ups across the state to coalesce her support as the March 1 primary draws nearer.

Chancellors: University Expansion is Good for Texas, by Matthew Watkins — The chancellors of Texas’s top university systems defended their ambitious expansion plans to lawmakers Wednesday and some pushed back against the idea of more oversight of their growth.

Falling Oil Prices Leading to Drop in Texas Road Funding, by Jim Malewitz — Because of crashing oil prices, Texas will send far less of its money in the coming years to transportation than it originally expected, Comptroller Glenn Hegar told state lawmakers on Wednesday. But the Republican’s overarching message? Don’t panic.

Texas Conducts First Execution of the Year, by Jolie McCullough — Richard Masterson, who was convicted and sentenced to death for a 2001 strangulation and murder in Harris County, was executed Wednesday night.

The Day Ahead

•    The joint Border Security Committee meets at 1 p.m. in the Capitol extension to hear testimony on the implementation of the sweeping border security bill that Gov. Greg Abbott signed last June.

•    House Speaker Joe Straus is the headline speaker on the final day of the Texas Association of Business Annual Conference in Austin at 10:30 a.m.

•    Today is day four of Gov. Greg Abbott’s international business trip, and he’s spending it attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

•    Tribune CEO and editor-in-chief Evan Smith will have a conversation with Comptroller Glenn Hegar at the Austin Club. The talk starts at 8 a.m. and will be live streamed for those who can't attend in person.

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The Sweet Futility of Texas House Primary Races, Texas Observer

Austin special interest money still flowing for Martinez Fischer despite challenger status, San Antonio Express-News

Legal Memorandum: Is Ted Cruz Eligible for the Presidency?, The Atlantic

2016 Poll: Two-thirds of GOP voters think Ted Cruz is a natural-born citizen, Politico

Mark Cuban among contributors to George W. Bush Institute’s new policy journal, Dallas Morning News

Waller County puts off decision on campus early-voting site, Houston Chronicle

Immigrants keep on coming, San Antonio Express-News

Donald Trump Is Forcing Ted Cruz to Rewrite His Playbook, The New York Times

It’s official: 2015 ‘smashed’ 2014’s global temperature record. It wasn’t even close, Washington Post

Despite sagging economy, financiers give Midland high marks, Midland Reporter-Telegram

State law change could mean longer days at some Bexar County schools, San Antonio Express-News

Convicted Houston killer executed, Houston Chronicle

With land swap, Big Bend state park could net nearly 600 new acres, Austin American-Statesman

Quote to Note

"We’re all here because we love Jonathan. And we don’t love him just because he’s lovable. Admittedly, he’s so cute and cuddly that he’s hard not to love.”

— Midland oilman Tim Dunn discussing why he supports state Rep. Jonathan Stickland at the lawmaker's Defend Texas Liberty fundraiser

Today in TribTalk

To stay competitive, Texas should invest in clean energy, by Mark Holtzapple — The Texas economy depends heavily on the oil and gas industry, which represents 23 percent of our gross domestic product. As global economies shift away from fossil fuels, our state is under severe risk, unless we adapt and embrace clean energy.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    Symposium on Urban Public Education on Jan. 22 at the University of Texas at El Paso

•    A Conversation on Health Care: Bending the Cost Curve on Jan. 28 at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth

•    The Texas Tribune's second Texas-centric Trivia Night on Jan. 31 at The Highball in Austin

•    A Conversation with Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer on Feb. 4 at the Austin Club

•    A Conversation with Sen. José Menéndez on Feb. 11 at the Austin Club

•    The Ticket: A Live Recording and Democratic Primary Debate Watch Party on Feb. 11 at KUT Public Media Studios in Austin

•    A Conversation with Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and Rep. Jose Manuel Lozano on Feb. 25 at Texas A&M University-Kingsville

•    A Conversation with Sen. Carlos Uresti and Rep. Poncho Nevárez on March 23 at Sul Ross State University in Alpine

•    Symposium on Transportation on March 29 at Texas A&M University in College Station

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