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Lubbock Rep. Dustin Burrows silent; Lubbock CO. GOP, House Speaker Bonnen demand release of alleged recording of meeting

Updated: Aug. 1, 2019 at 11:16 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Two Texas lawmakers are facing scrutiny after allegations by a Conservative political activist who claims he was offered media credentials in exchange for a list of Republican lawmakers to target politically.

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the CEO of Empower Texans, which is a conservative political media organization. He also runs TexasScorecard.com, a political news commentary website. Empower Texans and Texas Scorecard have been seeking long denied media credentials for access to media events and the House floor in the State Capital.

Sullivan’s Allegations

On July 25, Sullivan came forward in a blog post on Texas Scorecard, making claims about a meeting he attended with House Speaker Bonnen and Representative Dustin Burrows, of Lubbock, who is currently serving as the GOP Caucus chairman, that occurred on June 12.

Sullivan said in his post that during the June 12 meeting, Bonnen insisted he would get media access for Texas Scorecard staff in 2021 if they would, “lay off our criticism of the legislative session, not spend money from our affiliated PACs against certain Republicans, and — most shockingly — go after a list of other Republicans in the 2020 primary elections.”

Sullivan claims in his blog post Bonnen left the room, leaving Burrows to discuss the list and read the names of 10 Republican lawmakers that Sullivan says they wanted politically targeted.

“Targeting” is a political term in which organizations go into specific districts of certain representatives and attempt various methods of undermining either incumbents or their opposition.

According to Sullivan, the list named Steve Allison, Trent Ashby, Ernest Bailes, Travis Clardy, Drew Darby, Kyle Kacal, Stan Lambert, John Raney, and Phil Stephenson, but Sullivan says Burrows made efforts to highlight Tan Parker, of Denton County.

Shortly after the meeting, Sullivan sent a letter to Speaker Bonnen, and received a response from Bonnen on June 27. In the letter, Bonnen says Sullivan had a “misimpression” of the June 12 meeting, claiming “no offer was made [to you] of any kind."

Bonnen ended his letter saying, “The granting or denial of media credentials is a matter for the House Business Office and the House Administration Committee.”

Bonnen’s response to Members of Legislature

Shortly after Sullivan’s July 25 post, Bonnen sent an email to members of state legislature, attempting to explain his side of the story, with no response from Burrows. Bonnen starts his email by saying, “there is no reason you should know the events that led to my June 12th meeting with MQS (Michael Q. Sullivan). But here’s how the meeting came to be.”

In his email, Bonnen states he met with Sullivan and Tim Dunn, Chairman of the board of directors for Empower Texans, in January of this year to address what he called “continual attacks on House Republicans and the Texas House,” by Sullivan and Empower Texans that were, “unfounded and counterproductive to what their stated goals for the state are.”

Bonnen says while in an airport, he ran into Sullivan who asked for a time to meet with Bonnen, who says he agreed.

Bonnen claims in his email Sullivan texted him after the Airport conversation to confirm the meeting, and says Sullivan was characterizing the meeting as Bonnen’s idea, but says they still set the meeting for Jun 12. Bonnen’s email then says he spoke with Rep. Burrows., who would be in Austin, and he asked Borrows to join the meeting. Bonnen claims he invited Burrows to “help me explain to MQS (Sullivan) the need for Empower to not engage in Republican primaries this election cycle. He agreed to attend.”

Bonnen states he and Burrows “attempted to explain how important it is for his organization to not engage against House Republicans in the upcoming March primaries because of the importance of the November general election cycle.” Bonnen says they told Sullivan: “as long as his organization continues to be actively involved in supporting and opposing candidates in political races, his organization will have a difficult time qualifying for media credentials under House Rules.”

Bonnen refers to a letter sent by Sullivan that he called “contrived... put together, he says, with the assistance of lawyers,” that details Sullivan’s claims about his side of the June 12 meeting.

“I believe this entire effort, right down to the contrived text following our airport terminal conversation,” Bonnen says in the email, “was a strategic decision on his part to bolster his legal attempts to force access to the House floor during Session, despite his open political activities, and to create further chaos among our caucus.”

Bonnen’s July 26 email does not mention a list of members to target in any way.

Bonnen’s denial of targeting claims

On Monday, July 29, Bonnen issued a prepared statement to the Dallas Morning News, saying “at no point in our conversation was [Michael Quinn] Sullivan provided with a list of target members. I had one simple reason for taking the meeting — I saw it as an opportunity to protect my Republican colleagues and prevent us from having to waste millions of dollars defending ourselves against Empower Texans’ destructive primary attacks, as we have had to do the past several cycles.”

Representative Dustin Burrows, who was approached by Sullivan but did not respond for comment, his role was finally detailed by Bonnen, who asked Burrows not to give a statement on the meeting.

“I asked Chairman Burrows to be present as a witness to our conversation. I also asked him not to comment on this matter because this was an attack by Sullivan on me as the Speaker, and I wanted the opportunity to communicate with Members directly in an email that I sent on Friday evening,” Bonnen said. “I have apologized to Chairman Burrows for everything he has gone through -- at no fault of his own -- as a result of simply doing what I asked him to do.”

Sullivan’s alleged recording

On Wednesday, July 31, two Republican lawmakers said they listened to what Sullivan has claimed is a recording of the June 12 meeting.

“Honestly, I was caught off guard,” Republican state Rep. Steve Toth told the Texas Tribune, after he listened to Sullivan’s recording of the meeting in Bonnen’s office and said, “What I derived from the audio tape — it’s very clear — is that Speaker Bonnen was not truthful about a list not being provided.”

Republican State Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, who is said to be on the alleged list, later told The Dallas Morning News that what he heard is “consistent with” what Sullivan has alleged.

The Texas Tribune noted that Toth, who also served in the House from 2013 to 2015, has received roughly $55,000 in donations from Empower Texans PAC or Texans for Fiscal Responsibility PAC, another political action committee tied with the group, since 2012, filings with the Texas Ethics Commission show.

Sullivan has not made the recording public. Bonnen in a statement demanded Sullivan release the entire recording.

KCBD has reached out to Rep. Burrows who has not offered a public comment yet. The Lubbock Republican Party has not given a comment on the situation, other than for Sullivan to release the entire recording.

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