A group of Texas House Republicans is making a multimillion-dollar effort to defend the party's majority in 2020 with the speaker sidelined and Democrats pushing to flip the chamber.
Earlier this month, the group quietly filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to create Leading Texas Forward PAC, with famed Republican strategist Karl Rove listed as the treasurer.
One of the House Republicans involved in the political action committee, Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday the goal is to raise about $5 million this cycle, mainly to protect GOP incumbents in the general election. But he said the group could also get involved in primaries to boost incumbents as well as open-seat races. The PAC will not work against incumbents of either party, Geren added.
Democrats are effectively nine seats away from the majority, and the group's formation comes as House Republicans regroup after the scandal that caused Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, to announce last month he will not seek reelection. Bonnen had set up a PAC to protect the majority seeded with $3 million of his own campaign funds — money whose fate remains unknown.
Geren said Tuesday he has not spoken to Bonnen about what he will do with the $3 million.
The TEC paperwork for the PAC lists five House Republicans as "contribution decision makers" and "expenditure decision makers": Geren, as well as Reps. Drew Darby of San Angelo, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Four Price of Amarillo and Chris Paddie of Marshall. Noting the form only allowed five names, Geren said several more House Republicans are involved, though two of the people he named — Reps. Craig Goldman of Fort Worth and Greg Bonnen of Friendswood — later said they are not affiliated with the group.
The group includes several Dennis Bonnen-appointed committee chairmen.
Rove's involvement is also notable — and it is not his only project this cycle focused on keeping Texas red. The former top adviser to President George W. Bush is also helping with the Texas GOP's Volunteer Engagement Project, an effort to revive the party's nuts-and-bolts functions ahead of 2020.
Leading Texas Forward PAC will not have to file its first fundraising report until January.
The form that established the group was filed Nov. 1, one day after House Republicans huddled in Austin to plot their path forward for 2020 in the wake of Bonnen's downfall. Members of Gov. Greg Abbott's political operation, along with the deep-pocketed groups Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Associated Republicans of Texas, were involved with the meeting. Plans for the new PAC were not mentioned, according to some at the meeting.
Democrats argued that the PAC's creation shows Texas Republicans are increasingly worried about their prospects in 2020.
"The fallout from the disasters of Donald Trump and Dennis Bonnen continues," state party Executive Director Manny Garcia said in a statement. "Republican desperation is in the air."
Cassi Pollock contributed reporting.
Karl Rove and Texans for Lawsuit Reform have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.