Editor’s Note: This op-ed was originally submitted to papers around the state, and published on the Dallas Morning News website with changes that were not approved.
There has recently been a campaign deploring the influence of “outside groups” in elections. It is important for taxpayers and voters to understand that the primary outside group the insiders fear is us—the educated and motivated voters.
For years, insider incumbents have relied on financially dominating their political opponents in order to win over voters and avoid scrutiny of their voting record. Yet efforts by “outsiders” to shine a light on what really happens inside our state capitol is causing a fundamental shift in the status quo.
This can be demonstrated with a few numbers, beginning with 1.5%. That’s the approximate percentage of all campaign spending attributed to the Empower Texans PAC (ETPAC), the main outside group identified by the insiders as their political bogeyman.  If you presume most of the 98.5% of other funds are supporting insiders, the disproportional fear of ETPAC’s funds shows their efforts clearly pose a threat to insiders.
As it stands today, $113.5 million has been spent on Texas legislative and statewide campaigns during this campaign cycle. Of that, $1.6 million was spent by ETPAC. That is a lot of money, but a small portion of the total.  So why the fuss?
Because the distinction insiders make is that ETPAC is an outsider. That means ETPAC is willing to take the often-unpopular stance of backing challengers against insider incumbent politicians. It also means that what the insiders loathe is having their voting record exposed in primary elections.
Most Texans know there is a swamp in Austin as well as in DC.  That’s why the concept of term limits is so popular.  But we have term limits in Texas: the primary elections.  About 85% of districts are single party, so the decision whether to replace an incumbent is made in the primary election, this year on March 6th.
In the Austin Swamp, insiders use a phrase that’s illustrative: “campaign talk.”  By this they mean, “The things we have to say to get elected so we can come to Austin and do what we know is best for voters who don’t really understand what is good for them.”  Take property taxes for instance.  Incumbent legislators consistently campaign against high property taxes in their campaign talk. Meanwhile, property taxes just keep going up. ETPAC has historically backed challengers to incumbents whose actions in Austin contradict their promises to voters.
Empower Texans remains outside the swamp and informs voters who want their representatives to do in Austin what they campaigned on during election season.  One means is the “Fiscal Responsibility Index.”  It rates votes on legislation by criteria that is announced before the votes are taken.  In this manner, it is a blind test of whether legislators deliver on their campaign promises.  It is a transparent process where voters can do their own investigation.  Perhaps this explains why this voter education tool is particularly hated by many insider incumbents.
Meanwhile, ETPAC also supports incumbents who stand with voters—those who defy the insider culture and actually vote for the policies promised during their campaigns.  Such “rebels” are often punished by the Austin lobby with a well-funded primary challenger. ETPAC works to ensure these outsider incumbents have sufficient funding to defend their voting records.
There is no mystery why business groups band together to donate to incumbents as a means to protect their businesses from adverse regulations.  And it is easy to understand why incumbents get most of their campaign funds from these and other special interest groups and their supporters. But Empower Texans has a different goal, and that is to empower voters to impose term limits on politicians who don’t follow through on their promises.  ETPAC’s single-digit percentage of total campaign funding in Texas has an outsized impact precisely because Texans disagree with the Austin Swamp. Texas voters actually know much better than politicians what is best for Texas.
If all of us outsiders stick together, we can drain the Austin Swamp.
You can easily access publicly disclosed election finance data for yourself at www.transparencytexas.org

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn is chairman & CEO of CrownQuest Operating, LLC. He graduated from Texas Tech University in 1978 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Dunn is also the chairman of the board of directors of Empower Texans. He is also vice chairman of the board of directors at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Dunn and his wife have six children and 15 grandchildren (with one on the way!).