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Stepping into GOP primaries, Dennis Bonnen donates to seven Texas House incumbents

Speaker Dennis Bonnen has contributed $15,000 each to seven members of the Texas House who face challenges in the upcoming March primary elections. Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Retiring House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has started doling out campaign funds to fellow Republican members who face challenges in the upcoming March primary elections, clearing up a financial uncertainty that has been on political minds at the Texas Legislature for months.

The speaker recently contributed $15,000 to each of the following members, according to multiple people familiar with the matter: Dan Flynn of Canton, Chris Paddie of Marshall, Geanie Morrison of Victoria, Jared Patterson of Frisco, Briscoe Cain of Deer Park, Dennis Paul of Houston and Phil Stephenson of Wharton.

The speaker’s office confirmed the figures and names to The Texas Tribune on Friday and in a statement said Bonnen’s support “reflects his ongoing commitment to helping Republicans achieve victory, and in doing so, ensuring Texas stays red in 2020.”

“Just as these members fought to get session priorities — including school finance reform, property tax relief, school safety and more — over the finish line,” said spokesperson Cait Meisenheimer, “they are working hard in their primary races to earn reelection.”

The numbers are expected to appear on financial reports candidates file next week with the Texas Ethics Commission.

The contributions were made to members from Bonnen’s political action committee, Texas Leads, a group the speaker created and infused with $3 million from his own campaign account over the summer. The group, the speaker’s office said at the time, would focus exclusively on reelecting GOP members to the lower chamber in 2020.

But before election season could really heat up, Bonnen’s political future was thrown into question when a hardline conservative activist announced he had secretly recorded a meeting with the speaker at the Capitol. That scandal, which involved Bonnen and one of his top allies listing 10 House Republicans for the conservative group to politically target, ultimately led to the speaker announcing his retirement in October — and, soon after, prompted the question of what would happen to the $3 million he had put into Texas Leads.

Until earlier this month, that question was still largely unanswered as campaign finance reports were filed covering, in most cases, the past six months. The group’s balance remained largely unchanged over that time as filings showed Texas Leads paying for items such as staff salaries and office supplies.

Notably, one of the members on the political target list received a contribution from Bonnen: Stephenson. Meanwhile, Drew Darby of San Angelo — who is also facing a primary challenge, was also on the political target list and, like Stephenson, came out against the speaker during his downfall — did not receive a contribution.

Bonnen also notably contributed to Paddie, who helped deliver one of the final blows to the Angleton Republican’s speakership, but not Dan Huberty of Houston, who was part of the same crowd of lawmakers stating they could no longer support the speaker.

It’s unclear whether Bonnen has plans to spend the remaining money still in his war chest for the 2020 cycle before he leaves office.

In addition to those $15,000 contributions, Bonnen also doled out $10,000 to Hispanic Republicans of Texas, a group that focuses on recruiting and supporting Hispanic candidates running for federal, state or local offices, bringing the speaker’s total for this round of contributions to $115,000.

Meisenheimer, the speaker’s spokesperson, said Bonnen, “as an outspoken advocate for creating more diversity in the Party … was eager to support the Hispanic Republicans of Texas PAC after they sought his financial contribution.”

Cassandra Pollock, The Texas Tribune
Cassandra Pollock, The Texas Tribune
Cassandra Pollock is The Texas Tribune’s state politics reporter.

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