Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Former Rep. Jonathan Stickland’s name has been removed from the website of Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee and major donor to top Texas Republicans, where he served as president.
Defend Texas Liberty's website now lists Luke Macias, who previously served as the group's director, as its president. The change to Defend Texas Liberty’s website follows more than a week of outrage after The Texas Tribune reported that Nick Fuentes, an avowed white supremacist and Adolf Hitler admirer, had spent nearly 7 hours at the offices of a consulting firm, Pale Horse Strategies, that is also owned by Stickland.
Defend Texas Liberty is a major donor to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton as well as other influential Republicans. The group is funded almost entirely by two West Texas oil tycoons, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, and was a key defender of Paxton during his impeachment trial this summer. Defend Texas Liberty gave $3 million in loans and donations to Patrick months before he presided over Paxton’s acquittal on all impeachment trials in front of the Texas Senate.
Neither Macias nor Stickland responded to requests for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday, so it's still unclear what, if any, role Stickland will have with the PAC moving forward. But he could remain a fixture in the state's far-right wing through Pale Horse Strategies, which works with groups that are funded by or closely associated with Defend Texas Liberty.
Last year, Pale Horse Strategies received more than $828,000 for consulting and contractor services from Defend Texas Liberty as the PAC donated more than $5 million to challengers to more moderate, incumbent Republicans. Since the acquittal of Paxton – with whom the PAC is closely allied – Defend Texas Liberty has promised to again spend big on primary challengers to those who supported the attorney general's removal from office.
Stickland's apparent departure from Defend Texas Liberty was met with mixed reactions among Republicans, with some applauding the move but demanding more transparency on his meeting with Fuentes and the Texas GOP's future relationships with Pale Horse and Defend Texas Liberty. In a letter Wednesday, 13 out of 64 members of the Texas GOP's executive committee said the party should not accept any donations from Defend Texas Liberty until Stickland is "removed and disassociated from [Defend Texas Liberty] and its benefactor organizations and a full accounting of the meeting is provided."
"Further," they wrote, "we encourage donors to dissociate themselves from [Defend Texas Liberty] and Stickland until these steps are taken and demonstratively verified."
A spokesperson for House Speaker Dade Phelan – who has previously called for Republicans to return donations from Defend Texas Liberty – echoed those concerns in a statement on Wednesday.
“Removing Jonathan Stickland as President of Defend Texas Liberty is frankly a hollow gesture so long as Pale Horse Strategies is getting paid handsomely to oversee every shadow organization that falls under the Dunn/Wilks umbrella," said Cait Wittman, Phelan's director of communications. "The moment for them to take decisive action against Stickland and all those in attendance was 10 days ago. They should wholly terminate Stickland’s employment and completely clean house, or risk solidifying their legacies as the billionaires who bankrolled a sexual predator and invited Hitler followers into the party with full pockets and open arms.”