One complaint of many Texans concerns the corrupting access and influence certain lobbyists with deep pockets enjoy with lawmakers. In fact, politicians on the campaign trail like to rail about the supposed evils of lobbyists. It’s an easy applause line. So what then to make of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s decision (or that of his proxies) to give a Texas Senate press pass to the right-wing lobbying group Empower Texans? Colossally poor judgment? Or something more insidious?
If you have any doubt about whether it’s a lobbyist or not, consider that Empower Texans gave some $75,000 to Patrick’s reelection campaign. At a time when the general public is increasingly disillusioned with and confused by the work-a-day press, the lieutenant governor has only muddied waters further about what’s legitimate news media and what sure ain’t.
If the Waco Tribune-Herald secures a press pass to the floor of the Texas Senate, it does so to gain ready access to state legislators who, from our experience, welcome the opportunity to explain or justify their positions on specific issues and legislation. The press is their conduit to the voters back home — and one with more accuracy and reach than, say, increasingly polluted, distrusted social-media avenues or even a lawmaker’s own public relations staff. A lot of times our close conversations with lawmakers help clarify or bolster our understanding of legislation — and, we hope, our reading public’s understanding.
Empower Texans has a very different agenda and strategy. Unlike legitimate news media, it uses cold, hard cash to financially back politicians who support political stances important to Midland oilman Tim Dunn. To Republican lawmakers who dare resist, Empower Texans represents a force that can bankroll primary election opponents. It has kept scorecards of how lawmakers performed in bowing to Dunn’s standards (or those of Michael Quinn Sullivan, president and CEO of Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility). For some Republicans, this group is more feared than respected.
All this begs another question: If a right-wing lobbying group masquerading as the press is to be given a press pass, how about groups on the left wing of the political spectrum? It would seem only fair in the political arena. How about other lobbying groups that defy easy political categorization but produce, say, a newsletter online? Is that a news operation, too? Or has Lt. Gov. Patrick simply caved to a powerful lobbying group that donated big-time to his reelection campaign and might even help him discipline senators at a time when Democrats are making gradual inroads at the State Capitol.
To make all this more absurd, Empower Texans is backing a bill to end taxpayer-funded lobbying of legislators by cities and counties on the rationale that they advocate against their own taxpayers. Interesting theory, considering that, for instance, our elected Republican officials in McLennan County are currently trying to battle unfunded mandates passed along to both the county and we the county taxpayers by — you guessed it — the Texas Legislature.