A few members of the Texas House are rushing to accept an apology from House Speaker Dennis Bonnen for saying “terrible things” about other lawmakers in the meeting he requested of me on June 12. They want to forgive and forget—especially Democrats who are at the head of the line. But what about his unethical use of power?
Forgiveness is divine, but political posturing as a replacement for principled action is bad for Texas and Texas Republicans.
The problem is not what lawmakers are forgiving, it is what they are willfully ignoring. As distasteful as the things Bonnen said about various members—Republican and Democrat—might be, his loyalists seem too willing to look past his quid pro quo offer of official actions in exchange for political activities.
In our meeting, Speaker Bonnen insisted that I listen to what he said he could do for me. I was equally insistent that there was nothing I needed from him.
That’s when Bonnen made his proposal: He would grant Texas Scorecard’s wrongfully withheld media credentials if I would play ball with him in political campaigns.
He has lied about every aspect of the meeting to which he invited me—because the truth is indefensible. He wants forgiveness for saying bad things behind people’s backs, but hopes his fellow Republicans will ignore his attempted public corruption and secret attacks on them.
Several Republicans – so far including Drew Springer, Jeff Leach, Craig Goldman, Scott Sanford, Matt Shaheen, and Mayes Middleton—have indicated a willingness to condone explicitly unethical behavior and blatant abuse of Republican Caucus bylaws that Speaker Bonnen himself put in place and demanded be enforced. (It’s worth noting that all have stuck their fingers deeply in their ears, refusing our invitation to listen to the recording.)
Bribes, attempted bribes, and every other sort of unlawful quid pro quo proposal should be treated as an emergency. When a person offers a bribe, he is not offering a gift—he is aiming a gun.
The person initiating the bribe is attempting to control the recipient. Even if recipients don’t agree to the scheme, they can be fingered as part of a conspiracy. Unless they want to be held hostage, they must take reasonable actions to get out of the trap.
When I left the meeting on June 12, I immediately sought legal counsel. And I didn’t just talk to one lawyer. By my count, I talked to five.
On the advice of counsel, I gave Bonnen an opportunity to recant—privately. Instead, he chose lies and misrepresentations to set his trap in motion. And so I chose to escape his trap.
Dennis Bonnen explicitly offered to take official actions for my organization that are the subject of our federal lawsuit if I played along with his political games. Since he refused to recant his offer, I had no choice but to act through public disclosure. Here’s why.
Most of what he proposed, I actually want to do. I think the names on his target list are, on the whole, bad news for Texas taxpayers. They conspire with the Democrats and work actively against conservative reforms.
If qualified candidates show up to challenge these representatives, and those candidates apply for and earn the Texans for Fiscal Responsibility endorsement, I would gladly work to support those candidates financially. I didn’t need or want some offer from Dennis Bonnen to decide to do that.
Yet, our organization is currently in the federal courts on the issue of the Texas House improperly denying media credentials to Texas Scorecard’s reporters. If I took the actions he proposed, and we apply for credentials in 2021 as planned, he could then claim I was seeking a payoff for political activity. If, as the media claims, he is bothered by my public criticisms of him and his leadership team, wouldn’t this be a perfect way to end my criticisms permanently? And haven’t we seen similar efforts by political leaders against some of my closest friends and allies?
Republican officials—from grassroots activists to statewide elected officials—should decide if they are satisfied with swimming in the Austin sewer. They can accept corruption, or they can demand a clean culture that allows our best chance for reforms to improve Texas.
Like everyone, Bonnen deserves forgiveness. But as a public servant, Republicans should demand accountability from him first. Do they know if he promised anything to the Democrats who have stated they have already forgiven him? Will we ever know? And can we trust Dennis Bonnen if he claims he offered nothing in return?