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Major NAFTA Proponent Among Trump's Texas Fundraisers

As Donald Trump's presidential campaign assembles a fundraising network in Texas, it is turning to a longtime proponent of a historic trade deal with Mexico against which the candidate regularly rails.

Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Fort Worth on February 26, 2016.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

An unlikely ally is stepping up as Donald Trump scrambles to build a fundraising network in Texas.

For years, Laredo banker Dennis Nixon has championed trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, calling it vital to the economy in a state that shares a massive border with Mexico. And now Nixon is helping raise money for a presidential candidate whose campaign has been staked on dismantling such deals.

Usually fundraisers like Nixon, CEO of International Bank of Commerce, a state chartered bank, draw little attention in a general election — especially in a state like Texas, which is known as an ATM for White House hopefuls. But Trump's incendiary campaign — and its inchoate finance operation — is casting an unusually harsh spotlight on the few Texans who are going on the record as fundraisers for him. 

The scrutiny is growing ahead of Trump's first trip to the state as the presumptive GOP nominee. He is expected to attend a trio of fundraisers Thursday and Friday next week in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. 

Nixon was among the Texas business leaders who urged Congress to approve NAFTA in 1993, and his biography on the IBC Bank website says he was "instrumental" in getting it passed. The U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce gave the bank an award in 2008 to mark the agreement's 15th anniversary.

Nixon wrote in favor of NAFTA as recently as last week, when he said it "has been unquestionably good for the Texas economy." In the opinion piece published on the website for Texas CEO Magazine, Nixon argued that increased trade between Mexico and Texas has made the state's economy less dependent on the "boom-and-bust cycle of the oil industry." 

Trump has promised to renegotiate or break NAFTA in an effort to keep more U.S. jobs from moving to Mexico. He has also attacked presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, for signing NAFTA into law, last month calling the trade agreement "probably the worst deal economically that this country's done in 100 years." 

IBC Bank officials said Wednesday that Nixon was not available for an interview. They did not respond to requests for an interview Thursday and Friday. This week, Nixon sent out a fundraising letter on his personal letterhead encouraging Texas Republicans to donate to Trump's campaign, despite "some major disagreements with him on trade, immigration, and his attitude toward Mexico," according to Quorum Report.

Nixon's involvement in the Trump campaign also appears to be befuddling some Mexican government officials. According to an op-ed in Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the Mexican consul in Austin, Carlos González Gutiérrez, has asked the Mexican secretary of foreign relations to inform the brass at IBC Bank that Nixon's prominent participation in the Trump campaign "does not correspond with the fruitful and close relationship that [the] financial institution maintains with Mexico."

Nixon is among the hosts of a Trump fundraiser June 17 in San Antonio, according to an invitation obtained by The Texas Tribune. The other hosts are San Antonio developer Gene Powell, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Trump Victory finance chairman Lewis Eisenberg and Trump campaign finance chairman Steve Mnuchin.

Nixon and Powell are both members of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, whose president, Ramiro Cavazos, is hopeful the two of them will make known their differences with Trump. 

"I can’t think of two better people to shoot straight and honest with the presumptive Republican nominee next Friday in San Antonio about how wrong he is on many issues related to business, related to trade, related to education," Cavazos said.

“If you’ve ever met Dennis Nixon and Gene Powell, they are not wallflowers," Cavazos added. "They are not shy and reserved. They are outspoken, energetic, fact-based, with a lot of passion, and they’ve got money to back it up."

Their involvement has not escaped notice of Democrats. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio tweeted Thursday that Nixon and other Trump fundraisers in the Alamo City "should be ashamed to finance Donald Trump's campaign of bigotry in San Antonio."

Another fundraiser for Trump in Texas, Dallas' Ray Washburne, is also taking heat for his association with Trump. The Tex-Mex chain he owns is facing calls for boycotts, according to local media.

The San Antonio fundraiser is part of a multi-day trip Trump is making to the state next week, mainly to raise money for his campaign. He is scheduled to attend two other fundraisers, one on Thursday in Dallas and another Friday in Houston.

According to invitations reviewed by The Texas Tribune, the hosts of all three fundraisers include Priebus, Eisenberg and Mnuchin. Additional hosts include Trump Victory finance co-chair Ray Washburne in Dallas and Tony Buzbee, a prominent attorney who successfully defended former Gov. Rick Perry in his abuse-of-power indictment, in Houston. 

It remains to be seen whether Trump's events in Texas draw any elected officials. Spokespeople for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus did not return messages Thursday, while Gov. Greg Abbott's office said he will be busy with prior commitments. 

"The Governor welcomes Donald Trump to Texas, a state where he will trounce Hillary Clinton, but unfortunately the Governor will not be able to meet him on this trip due to previously scheduled activities – including speaking at the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas Annual Conference, hosting student regents about higher education, and headlining a fundraising event for the Children’s Tumor Foundation," Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement. 

Attendees are being asked to to give or raise $500 ("Young Professional") to $250,000 ("Chairman's Circle") to attend the fundraisers. Mica Mosbacher, a Houston fundraiser who previously supported Cruz, has said she is hopeful Trump will raise as much as $4 million during his swing through the state. 

An email sent Thursday by the RNC's Texas consultant, Alison McIntosh, demonstrates how focused the committee is on bringing Republicans together behind Trump. It warned prospective donors that Clinton's election would extend the "present administration's expansive overreach and the Democratic Party's control of the Executive Branch for another 4 years." McIntosh also warned a Clinton presidency would lead to a "generational reshaping of the Supreme Court."

"It has been a grueling past year with a crowded field and many of us supporting different candidates," McIntosh wrote. "Today it is time that we unify to defeat the Democrats this November."

Julián Aguilar and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Dennis Nixon, Tony Buzbee and the International Bank of Commerce have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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