Meet the Texan billionaires buying up the state's political machinery

Wilkes and Dunn are not a country duo (Brooks and Dunn are on tour) but rather three Texas billionaires: Farris and Dan Wilks from Cisco and Tim Dunn from Midland. Together, they comprise part of a mega-wealthy elite that's bought its way into local politics across the Lone Star State. In 2020, Jon Francis unsuccessfully ran for the state legislature, primarily with resources from the family political machine. His loss to Rep. Glen Rogers in the Republican run-off election was contentious, as the margin was only 678 votes.

As Chris Tackett explains, "Tim Dunn, Chief Executive Officer of Crown Quest Operating, Vice-Chairman of Texas Public Policy Foundation. Dunn gave $5,420,320 to 8 Republicans and 2 PACs. $5,150,000 was to the Defend Texas Liberty PAC…. Farris Wilks, a billionaire from the sale of FracTec, he and his brother own more than 672,000 acres of land in six different states across the West, becoming America's 12th-largest landowners. Wilks gave $2,340,117 to 6 Republicans and 3 PACs ($2.1 mil to Defend Texas Liberty)."

In Texas, there are no limitations on campaign donations to candidates. Tackett has been researching and compiling data from the Texas Ethics Commission. Using Data Studio, he has created powerful interactive data tools, with infographics, charts, and spreadsheets, designed in accessible and easily readable formats. This Tackett Twitter thread breaks down the graphic above into its specific parts. The details reveal the depth of the influence of a handful of people on the shift to the far-right at local, state, and national levels.

CNN aired "Deep in the Pockets of Texas," in July of 2022. As Ed Lavandera, from CNN reports, "In a state known for its independence, Texas is usually at the forefront of legislation – and its conservative Republicans tell Lavandera that what's happening now goes beyond ideology…In addition to financing candidates, they fund political action committees and the scorecard by which legislators are ranked, maneuvering lawmakers to take positions espoused by the billionaires. Even by Texas' conservative standards, the state has adopted some of the most stringently conservative legislation ever seen in the state's modern history."

The influence of these donors is well beyond the borders of Texas, as Lavandera also explores in the documentary.

CNN also reports that other Republicans are critical of the brothers and their networks: "Kel Seliger, a longtime Republican state senator from Amarillo who has clashed with the billionaires, said their influence has made Austin feel a little like Moscow. 'It is a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple,' Seliger said. 'Really, really wealthy people who are willing to spend a lot of money to get policy made the way they want it — and they get it… That's the law of the jungle now in Texas. The majority of Republican Senate members just dance to whatever tune Tim Dunn wants to play.'"

For a fascinating discussion of "cowboy conservatism," see the book The Conservative Sixties, by David Farber and Jeff Roche.