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CNN Special Reports
Deep in the Pockets of Texas. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired July 24, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very effective. You know, they figured out a long time ago that they could really get a lot of what they wanted by focusing on races that frankly many people weren't paying a lot of attention to. So a billionaire with a ton of money can influence elections like the statehouse race.
BROWN: All right, Ed Lavandera. Thank you. The CNN Special Report. "DEEP IN THE POCKETS OF TEXAS" is next. Thanks for joining us this evening. I'm Pamela Brown. See you again next weekend.
ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN Special Report.
SEN. KEL SELIGER (R), MIDLAND: Wealthy people spend a lot of money to get policy made the way they want it, and they get it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now to sign the law.
LAVANDERA: The average voter doesn't know what's happening behind the scenes.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A Texas bill targeting LGBTQ Plus children.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want to keep it secret.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The Texas law banning abortions.
DOROTHY BURTON, FOUNDER OF CHRISTIANS IN PUBLIC SERVICE: They really believe that they've been given a mandate by God.
TIM DUNN, POLITICAL DONOR: He has set us free from the law.
DR. BOB DEUELL, TEXAS STATE SENATOR, 2003-2015: They want to destroy the public school system.
FARRIS WILKS, POLITICAL DONOR: We are not contending against flesh and blood.
MENDI TACKETT, GRANBURY RESIDENT: The money is all tied back to the same people.
JAMES WHITFIELD, FORMER HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: Follow the money.
SHELLEY LUTHER, TEXAS HOUSE CANDIDATE: I am not comfortable with the transgenders. LAVANDERA: More than 90 percent of your financing came from
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think he would have any comment.
LAVANDERA: We're going to go inside and see if he'll talk to us. Is it about control?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Ted Cruz.
LAVANDERA: The power?
SELIGER: It is a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple.
GRAPHICS: Only ten states allow unlimited donations to state-wide political candidates from individuals and political action committees.
GRAPHICS: Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and Texas.
LAVANDERA: It's Election Day. We're in the city of Sherman, Texas, which is right on the Texas-Oklahoma border. This is a ruby red area of Texas, and the Republican primary is essentially the election that matters here.
Come November in the general election, whoever the Republican is that comes out of the primaries will very likely win whatever seat they're running for here in Sherman.
LUTHER: I thought, I need to run because the people that are running here claim to be conservative but aren't as conservative as they should be.
I am not comfortable with the transgenders. The kids that they brought in my classroom, when they said that this kid is transgendering into a different sex, that I couldn't have kids laugh at them.
LAVANDERA: People outside of Texas who look and say Texas is one of the most conservative states in the country. You're trying to make it even more conservative.
LUTHER: We still have kids that, you know, can have gender mutilation. We just want to make sure that we keep our conservative values.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to another exciting night of Texas high school football.
LAVANDERA: Your experience as a school board member seems to have opened up your eyes to the world of Texas politics.
CHRIS TACKETT, GRANBURY RESIDENT: It did. I felt like I could do more for the community, and school board felt like a good place to try and do that. While I was serving --
MIKE LANG, TEXAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE 2017-2021: I'm running for state representative in District 60. C. TACKETT: We had a new member join the Texas House. He voted against
the interests of the public schools multiple times.
LANG: Christian values, they're under attack in the schools with LGBT --
C. TACKETT: That is what really got me thinking, why?
M. TACKETT: And I think you find in a lot of Texas towns, the school district is kind of the heart of the community, right? So it was kind of strange.
LAVANDERA: So what did you start doing?
C. TACKETT: Well, I started pulling the money. I'm going in and I'm pulling Mike Lang. It was outrageous when you started looking at the pie chart, seeing how big a section was coming from the same donor or just a handful of donors. They'll write massive checks to individual candidates and then write massive checks to all these PACs, which write massive checks to individual candidates.
M. TACKETT: And a lot of people don't have any idea. They don't know.
LUTHER: I'm Shelley Luther. This is what I think about Chinese communist drones flying over my property.
LAVANDERA: You ran for Texas state Senate in 2020.
LUTHER: Yes. I did.
LAVANDERA: You lost that election.
LUTHER: I did.
LAVANDERA: When we look through the campaign finance report back in 2020, more than 90 percent of your financing came from two West Texas billionaires.
LAVANDERA: You have Farris Wilks and Tim Dunn.
LAVANDERA: In this election, it's over 80 percent. What do those men mean to your campaign?
LUTHER: Without them I couldn't even run. They're great men. They're great people.
LAVANDERA: You've been a columnist in Fort Worth for how long?
BUD KENNEDY, COLUMNIST, FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM: Oh, my gosh, I tell people since the last century. I followed 18 sessions of the Texas legislature.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: SB-8 has virtually shut down all abortions in Texas. People can now carry handguns in public without any kind of license or training.
LAVANDERA: Do you think Texas can get more conservative than it is right now?
KENNEDY: Texas can very much get more conservative. But I don't think regular Texans are as conservative as their elected officials. I don't think people realize that there are only a handful of millionaires who really control a large number of the members of the Texas House.
LAVANDERA: Who are the people that you think have the biggest sway and control of the Republican Party in Texas?
KENNEDY: Tim Dunn in Midland.
DUNN: I'm going to talk a little bit about my background. I grew up in Big Spring. I worked at Cosden Refinery in the summers going to school.
KENNEDY: For 20 years Tim Dun in midland has been the leader of this Midland oil team.
DUNN: CrownQuest has now drilled about 800 wolfberry wells. I've ended up making more money than I ever thought possible.
KENNEDY: Then you have the Wilks brothers and Cisco.
WILKS: This is where I lived for the first six years of my life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've come a long way.
WILKS: Yes, we have.
KENNEDY: They used to be in the fracking business. They've made billions.
WILKS: We didn't expect a lot of the good things that did happen.
LAVANDERA: I can hear the critics already saying you can't expect me to believe that there's a handful of billionaires that can have this kind of influence on an entire state of nearly 30 million people.
KENNEDY: I don't think anybody can identify any other reason that that money is what's pushing Texans to the far right. These Texas districts are so big and sprawling it's impossible to find somebody that everybody knows. So you have the West Texas money that comes in, handpicks a candidate that nobody has ever heard of and they put $2 million into a campaign and they beat all the local candidates.
There is a difference between these millionaires. They've got a faith in values, component to them, too.
GRAPHICS: Tim Dunn and the Wilks Brothers did not respond to CNN's multiple interview requests. Sermons by Dunn and Farris Wilks, available online, cast some light on their beliefs. CNN has also obtained older sermons that are no longer broadly accessible.
DUNN: There are forces in America today that are trying to shame marriage. Marriage was an honorable thing and it's trying to shame marriage, trying to shame men, trying to shame all kinds of things.
WILKS: A male on male, or female on female is against nature. So this lifestyle is a predatorial lifestyle in that they need your children and straight people having kids to fulfill their sexual habits. They want your children.
LAVANDERA: For people who don't know Farris Wilks and Tim Dunn, what are they like?
LUTHER: Mr. Dunn is super down-to-earth, jeans and like a button-up flannel shirt kind of guy. I did go to Western Texas and talk to them because they wanted to see what I was all about.
LAVANDERA: So you get put through the gauntlet of questions?
LUTHER: Absolutely. Because they want to make sure that I am who I say I am. And I do have those Christian values. They asked me about my childhood and what morals are and what I believe in.
RACHEL GONZALES, PARENT OF LIBBY GONZALES: All right. On your mark, get set --
LIBBY GONZALES, 11 YEARS OLD: Go. I like to do swimming, karate, swimming, and I used to play soccer.
LAVANDERA: What do you want people who are passing these bills to know about transgender kids?
L. GONZALES: We're just normal kids that want and need normal lives.
FRANK GONZALES, PARENT OF LIBBY GONZALES: With the last bill in Texas that passed, HB-25, she's unable to play sports at her school.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A Texas bill targeting LGBTQ Plus children.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The bill will ban transgender youth from participating on the sports team of the gender to which they identify.
F. GONZALES: At this age this is a time where kids are trying to figure out what sports do I really enjoy playing and what sports am I really good at and it promotes a healthy lifestyle, and she doesn't have that ability.
LAVANDERA: You've heard of these Texas billionaires, Tim Dunn, Farris Wilks?
R. GONZALES: Yes. LAVANDERA: The bill's author and primary sponsor, Representative
Valoree Swanson, received campaign funding from Wilks, Dunn and organizations they fund in her 2016 campaign. How involved do you think they are in these issues?
R. GONZALES: Money always talks and if these legislators are getting their funding from them and their funding could potentially stop if they're not doing what these donors are asking them to do, then that speaks for itself.
LAVANDERA: Your senator here in the Dallas area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Bob Hall is ranked as the top conservative in the Texas Senate.
LAVANDERA: Received nearly half of his 2018 campaign funding from the Wilks and Dunn network.
GRAPHICS: On June 22, 2022, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank where Tim Dunn is vice chairman, called on state legislators to prohibit gender-affirming medical care for transgender children in Texas.
GRAPHICS: Rep. Valoree Swanson and Sen. Bob Hall did not respond to CNN's multiple requests for comment.
LAVANDERA: When we return --
BURTON: A friend of mine called me, twice, she said, Dorothy, please don't do that interview.
LAVANDERA: Former employee to Tim Dunn --
ZACHARY MAXWELL, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, REP. MIKE LANG: You were kept under lock and key.
LAVANDERA: -- and conservative Texas lawmakers.
DEUELL: You can take an unqualified person and make them look like a legitimate officeholder.
LAVANDERA: Speak out for the first time on camera. Is this about being conservative or is it about control?
SELIGER: It's about control. Being conservative isn't good enough. They dance to whatever tune Tim Dunn wants to play.
LAVANDERA: Texas isn't the only state in the country where we've seen really conservative legislation take hold, but what makes Texas different is that it's usually on the forefront of pushing that legislation, and even conservative Republicans here in Texas will tell you that this isn't all just about political ideology, that there's something else happening here.
DUNN: No matter what rules you grew up with, none of them are enforceable in God's kingdom.
LAVANDERA: This is the private school that Tim Dunn founded back in 1998. This is Midland Bible Church. Tim Dunn has preached here many times.
DUNN: He has set us free from the law. There's no condemnation for those who walk according to the spirit.
LAVANDERA: We're here in Midland, Texas, it's part of your own district. It's also home to Tim Dunn.
GRAPHICS: Republican Sen. Kel Seliger has served in the Texas Senate since 2004. He agreed to speak on camera about Tim Dunn's influence on the Texas legislature.
LAVANDERA: You're voting record is just as conservative as many of the people who might be supported by these West Texas billionaires and you voted for the abortion bill. You voted for the no-permit gun carry bill.
LAVANDERA: And the bill that limits the discussion of race and gender in classrooms, you voted for that as well.
LAVANDERA: So why haven't the Tim Dunns and Farris Wilks supported you? It seems like you're doing stuff that they would agree with.
SELIGER: My voting record is very conservative. Is it 100 percent conservative? No. There are 100 percenters and you're either owned or not owned.
GRAPHICS: In 2004, Tim Gunn gave Sen. Kel Seliger's campaign $1,000.
LAVANDERA: In 2006 Dunn actually donated $500 to your Senate campaign, and since then Dunn has donated to Texas politicians and political action committees across the state. None of that money has gone to you.
SELIGER: I met him in my first campaign, and we talked, and I told him that I would be open-minded toward what was his sole issue in 2004 which was taking public money and giving it to private schools. Once I looked at the legislation there I couldn't support it, and so I guess that was alienating.
LAVANDERA: We went back and looked at some of your campaign donation numbers and what stood out was that if you look over your entire political career as a state senator, your largest donor accounted for about 4 percent of your total campaign funding. Does that make you a different kind of public servant?
SELIGER: I would like to think so. You want to make sure people know that it's about them, not about money.
LAVANDERA: So the way you describe this is it almost sounds like, you know, Senator Joe Smith to make up a name, if they've got a ton of money that's coming from these West Texas billionaires, those billionaires are really the elected official.
SELIGER: It is a Russian-style oligarchy, pure and simple. 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.
WILKS: The cornerstones of our government are crumbling and starting to come apart, and it's because of the lack of morality, the lack of the belief in our heavenly father.
LAVANDERA: For more than a decade, you were winning elections out here in east Texas.
GRAPHICS: Former Republican Sen. Bob Deuell served in the Texas Senate from 2003 to 2015. For the first time, he agreed to speak on camera about Tim Dunn's and Farris Wilks' influence on the Texas legislature.
DEUELL: I look at myself more as a Reagan conservative, someone that was interested in good government and policy.
LAVANDERA: In all of your time in the Texas Senate, you never received any money from Tim Dunn, Farris Wilks?
DEUELL: Oh, no.
LAVANDERA: Any of the PACs that they represent?
LAVANDERA: And someone who says, look, I have a hard time believing that a couple of guys who were donating to candidates across the state can really have this much influence. I just don't buy it.
DEUELL: I had one senator literally open a book and said I think I could vote for that because I haven't really voted against them on anything so far. What kind of public policy -- I'm not going to name them but someone that's still there.
LAVANDERA: But that's what governing has become in Texas.
DEUELL: It's scorecard voting. That's -- what we used to call them. Scorecard voters. They don't look at the merit of an issue.
LAVANDERA: What is this scorecard?
KENNEDY: You have the Dunns and the Wilks. They are going to put up a big money challenger against anybody who doesn't vote the way they want. And so the Republicans in Texas they are watching their scorecard. Am I conservative enough?
You know, oh, my gosh. Are the Wilks brothers going to send an opponent up against me?
GRAPHICS: Since 2007 Texas state lawmakers have been graded on a scorecard that claims to measure their "fiscal responsibility" and "governing philosophy." The scorecard is published by Texas for Fiscal Responsibility, a non-profit organization chaired by Tim Dunn.
KENNEDY: They let everybody know before a vote, they said, this will be a scorecard vote. Records are going to be kept, you know, how you voted on this. They handpick those bills, but they publish the list and who is the most conservative based on their scorecard.
LAVANDERA: And that scorecard still exists?
KENNEDY: They do it every election, every cycle.
LAVANDERA: We're driving through downtown Cisco.
MAXWELL: I call it the heart of Texas. Austin is about three and a half hours southwest of us.
This is the Texans for Fiscal Responsibility Web site where the scorecard if you will is published. This is my former boss, Mike Lang. 2017 session he got an A-plus. 2019 he got an A-minus.
LAVANDERA: This is a scorecard that's going to show up in Republican primary voter mailboxes come primary season.
MAXWELL: Right, right. So this is Senate, this is whenever I was still in the House. So Jonathan Sticklund, there you go. Top 98.
LAVANDERA: He's no longer a lawmaker?
MAXWELL: Now he is the treasurer of the PAC that Farris Wilks and Tim Dunn primarily funded with millions of dollars.
LAVANDERA: Defend Texas Liberty.
MAXWELL: Yes, Defend Texas Liberty PAC.
LAVANDERA: There's no coincidence that he has one of the highest ratings on this Web site for that particular year, and now he works for them.
Former Representative Mike Lang, he got campaign money from Farris Wilks and his PACs. You were his former campaign manager?
LAVANDERA: And then his chief of staff?
LAVANDERA: Before you went to work for Mike Lang, you used to work for Empower Texans, Tim Dunn's organization.
MAXWELL: I have to be very careful with what I say because I'm underneath a non-disclosure agreement myself.
LAVANDERA: The Wilks family is from Cisco. Did you know about them when you were growing up here?
MAXWELL: Yes. We go way back to one of my really close friends, actually Dan's daughter, Farris' brother. Farris and his side of the family and that's more the political side of the family and then you've got Dan and his wife Stacy. You know, they're more philanthropic. A little less on the political side. I think they got into politics a little bit and were just like I don't think that's for us.
LAVANDERA: How well do Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks know each other?
MAXWELL: They have a relationship for sure, and I think that it has grown. I mean, if you look at some of their public expenditures, it's pretty obvious that they share a lot of the same beliefs and they share a lot of the same organizations that they fund.
LAVANDERA: Coming up --
BURTON: They really believe that they have been given a mandate by God to take dominion over society.
LAVANDERA: You heard Farris Wilks talk like that?
BURTON: Yes, they really believe that.
LAVANDERA: Former Representative Mike Lang, do you think he could have won without the money that he got from Farris Wilks and his ads?
MAXWELL: Absolutely not. There's no way. It takes money to run a campaign, and as you can see from Mike's donor list, it's not going to get you very far.
LAVANDERA: Well, what kind of influence did Farris Wilks have over Mike Lang?
MAXWELL: Whenever he called, he answered. There was a lot of control.
LAVANDERA: Farris Wilks and his people expected Mike Lang to vote the way they wanted him to vote every time? You're his chief of staff. How would that work?
MAXWELL: A lot of time the reps are controlled through other arms so, for example, Texas Right to Life. They put out these vote recommendations.
GRAPHICS: During Lang's campaign and first term in office, Texas Right to Life PAC received 58.58 percent of its funding from Tim Dunn and the Wilks brothers.
MAXWELL: Of course, they tell you, oh, they're just recommendations. They're just how we feel. I'm not telling you, you have to vote this way, but if you don't.
LAVANDERA: So the tentacles of this political operation are long.
LAVANDERA: And can squeeze very tightly.
GRAPHICS: Former State Rep. Mike Lang did not respond to CNN's multiple requests for an interview.
MAXWELL: We're coming up on the Assembly of Yahweh. Farris' church.
WILKS: We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the world rulers of this present darkness.
BURTON: You've got to be you. You start changing one time for people, and it's over.
I went to seminary after being on city council for my fourth term. It's almost like hallowed ground here. After I graduated in 2013 and founded an organization Christians in Public Service to help train public servant leaders who are Christians how to serve of God's way. Had nothing to do with government. I'm just speaking around the country, training, teaching.
LAVANDERA: From a conservative theological viewpoint.
BURTON: Exactly. I don't know anything else.
LAVANDERA: Do you get invited to speak at the Christian Values Summit?
BURTON: Right. I became one of the speakers. I was on the circuit from 2015 through 2016. The pastor who was sponsoring this, he says my brother-in-law supports it. I didn't know who his brother-in-law was, and so it turns out his brother-in-law was Farris Wilks. They speak and they speak on liberty and freedom and Christianity and government and all those things.
I was doing it because we were all Christians, and we were all wanting America to be better. We wouldn't be the country that we are today if it had not been for the involvement of the church.
We went to D.C. to CPAC. Farris is always there. Very quiet man, very nice man. You would look at him, and you would never think that he was a billionaire.
LAVANDERA: What made you want to break away from the Christian Values Summit? BURTON: When I began to put it all together. Being theologically
trained and having been in politics for so long, in Texas, I'm going to say this because I don't know how else to say it, we know shit from sugar in Texas. They really believe that they have been given a mandate by God to take dominion over society and run all these areas. And they call it the seven mountains or the seven pillars, government, religion, education, the family, business, media and arts and entertainment.
They believe that they have been given that mandate by God in Genesis 1:28 when God says, I give you dominion over the earth, to have dominion over the fish and the sea and the birds and the air.
LAVANDERA: By dominion you mean --
BURTON: Take control.
LAVANDERA: -- and establish the rules by which we live and --
LAVANDERA: -- play and --
BURTON: Yes, that's dominionism.
LAVANDERA: Have you heard Farris Wilks talk like that?
BURTON: Yes, yes. They really believe that. If I had not known theology better, I would have believed it, too. But that's not what God meant. That's not what God said. Dominion is not domination. He said take dominion which means actually caretaker, manager, not overtake and dominate. It's a theological error, but it's one that they operate from and one that they really, really believe.
WILKS: Our families are under attack. And our place it's men and leaders, and the home is under attack.
DAVID BROCKMAN, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF RELIGION, TEXAS CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY: Dominionism is so much more a broader agenda than Christian nationalism.
LAVANDERA: What is Christian nationalism?
BROCKMAN: Christian nationalism is a religious and political ideology that believes that America's founders intended for the United States to be an explicitly Christian nation governed and guided by biblical Christian principles. That the nation has departed from those principles and that it should become a Christian nation again.
DUNN: America chose God as king over a tyrant. Today the choice is still before us.
LAVANDERA: Tim Dunn, Farris Wilks. Is it fair to say that they are Christian nationalists?
BROCKMAN: Those sermons suggest that they hold certain Christian nationalist beliefs, and they are putting their money to support Christian nationalism.
WILKS: We're seeing a trend in our nation that will force us and the Christian community to be sure what our values are going forward because I think that we will be persecuted and so it's time that we stand up.
LAVANDERA: When you say Christian nation, I take that to mean you don't believe in separation of church and state.
BROCKMAN: Some Christian nationalists say church-state separation is a myth. Rafael Cruz --
RAFAEL CRUZ, TEXAS SENATOR TED CRUZ'S FATHER: Separation of church and state is not in the constitution. It's not in the Declaration.
BROCKMAN: The pastor and father of U.S. Senator Tet Cruz, talk about separation of church and state as being a one-way wall of separation, that is, it's meant to keep the government out of religion but not to keep religion out of government.
CRUZ: The word of God tells us we should be having an influence upon government. Every area of life. It's about time that we draw a line in the sand and we say no more. We will take it no more.
BROCKMAN: That's not church-state separation. That is Christian domination.
GRAPHICS: The Wilks brothers have donated $25 million to media organizations, think tanks, law firms, activist groups, and speakers in the Christian Nationalist Movement since 2011.
LAVANDERA: Coming up --
DEUELL: They want to destroy the public school system as we know it.
LAVANDERA: Have you ever been targeted like that in your education?
WHITFIELD: Never, never.
LAVANDERA: And later -- do you think that their vision is to take their political involvement beyond Texas?
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): God isn't done with America yet.
WILKS: How do you protect your children and educate them at the same time? The people that are supposed to be the shepherds are not teaching the truth.
WHITFIELD: Every school I've been a principal, I've been the first black principal. Those kids are amazing. This is at Heritage. This is the PTSA had an ice cream social, like meet the new principal.
LAVANDERA: You were the first black principal of Colleyville Heritage High School. Do you think about what that means?
WHITFIELD: I didn't really think about it. While I knew there was so much to the job, it was just like hit the ground running.
LAVANDERA: When did it all turn?
WHITFIELD: Over the course of the last school year, that's when things changed.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In the summer a former board candidate accused Whitfield of advocating for critical race theory as principal. Whitfield was placed on leave after the accusations.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The school board voted to not renew Whitfield's contract meaning he's officially out as principal at Colleyville Heritage.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Whitfield says this all start back in the summer of 2020 when he penned a heartfelt note to the school community after George Floyd's murder.
LAVANDERA: Can you read some of the letter for us?
WHITFIELD: "Dear family, I trust this message finds you safe and well. As I type these words it's 4:30 in the morning, and I can't sleep. I encourage us all not to grow weary in the battle against systemic racism, commit to being anti-racist.
"While there are great obstacles to face please know that I am with you on this journey towards reconciliation of our nation. Sincerely, James."
LAVANDERA: Have you ever been targeted like to in your education career?
WHITFIELD: Never, never. Never had any issues, any concerns. My time in the district was great up until that July 26th school board meeting.
STETSON CLARK, FORMER SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE: I was first made aware of Mr. Whitfield's extreme views on race when a concerned friend of mine shared with me a letter.
LAVANDERA: Stetson Clark, school board candidate, was the first person to call for you to be fired?
WHITFIELD: Right, right.
GRAPHICS: True Texas Project, a local activist group, paid for advertisements supporting Stetson Clark's school board campaign. The group's largest donors are Tim Dunn and PACs he funded. CLARK: Because of these extreme views I asked that a full review of
Mr. Whitfield's tenure in our district be examined and that his contract be terminated effective immediately.
LAVANDERA: He described systemic racism as a conspiracy theory.
CLARK: Encouraging all members of our community to become revolutionaries by becoming anti-racist. He is encouraging the disruption and destruction of our districts.
WHITFIELD: Do you want that kind of person who lacks that level of understanding to be responsible for making decisions that are in the best interest of kids and educators on a daily basis?
GRAPHICS: Stetson Clark did not respond to CNN's request for comment.
LAVANDERA: I wanted to read this other letter. So there's this group called the Texas Public Policy Foundation and they wrote a letter on November 8th, 2021, and the vice chairman has been Tim Dunn. It's a right-wing think tank, and I wanted to read part of it to you. It says, "Education Freedom, setting the captives free would break the woke stranglehold of critical race theory, queer theory, sexual anarchy and hate America curricula. Bad Education will lose funding, and that means the indoctrination will not survive."
When you hear that kind of language about Texas public schools, what's your reaction?
WHITFIELD: It really has nothing to do with critical race theory. It has nothing to do with a lot of things that they're spewing. They want to disrupt and destroy public schools because they would much rather have schools that are faith-based.
DUNN: The bible is a book mainly about politics, but the most important thing to do is don't surrender. It doesn't matter what they tell us if we stand and we are vigilant. We will win.
WILKS: For our children we must be sure that they know how to follow toward teaching rather than social conscience. When the bible plainly teaches one thing and our culture teaches another, what do our children need to know what to do.
LANG: Good afternoon, I'm Mike Lang. House representative from HD-60. I'll tell you what oil and gas is great for our school districts.
LAVANDERA: Did Farris Wilks ever former state representative Mike Lang on how to vote on any specific legislation regarding public schools, for example?
MAXWELL: Farris would make sure that Mike is toeing the line. Make sure that he's supporting specific legislation. Anything that was in any sort of way propping up the current system, a public school was not an OK stance to have.
What did you do in school?
LAVANDERA: The goal is to knock the legs out.
MAXWELL: The goal is to knock the legs out. 100 percent. He has gotten direct phone calls saying, you know, just want to make sure that you're on the right path. From Farris.
LAVANDERA: When we return --
Do you think the average voter in this state understands the magnitude of what this political movement is pushing?
MAXWELL: No, they don't.
LAVANDERA: Clearly you knew then you were a target?
SELIGER: That's the law of the jungle now in Texas.
LAVANDERA: There are more than 17 million registered voters in Texas, but less than two million people voted in the 2020 Republican primary.
Do you vote in primaries?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted early voting.
LAVANDERA: Have you ever heard of Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
LAVANDERA: And if I told you that they are West Texas billionaires who donate millions of dollars to candidates all over the state, would that surprise you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
LAVANDERA: Does it bother you in any way?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
LAVANDERA: How so?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you help the little people?
LAVANDERA: Can you talk about the influence that those two men have on the state's Republican politics?
LUTHER: I think what you're getting at is what do they want for this money that -- yes, nothing. He wants me to do what I say that I represent.
LAVANDERA: Did you vote for Shelley Luther?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did.
LAVANDERA: Wilks and Dunn have donated the lion's share of the campaign financing for Shelley Luther's campaign, so I'm wondering if that bothers you in any way, or does it influence how you vote?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I knew more about them possibly if it was bad, but, no, because I think all of them get money from somewhere.
LAVANDERA: Do you just get inundated with these flyers in the mail all the time?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got I don't know how many flyers in the mail and e-mail on my phone.
LAVANDERA: So the Texas scorecard scores candidates on who's the most conservative 100 percent, and they kind of go down the line. Did you know that it was a West Texas billionaire that was behind that scorecard?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I did not.
LAVANDERA: Does that make you question it at all or make you weary of it in any way or does it make you embrace it a little bit more?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now that I know, it might, yes. It probably would affect me more. I should have found that out I guess.
LAVANDERA: I don't mean to make you feel --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't, because, like I said, I did all the information-gathering that I could.
GRAPHICS: Shelley Luther lost to Rep. Reggie Smith in the Republican primary for House District 62. Luther received 41.3 percent of votes cast.
SCOTT BRADDOCK, EDITOR OF QUORUM REPORT: This is the Texas House of Representatives. 150 members from all over the state come in to make the laws we all live under, the 30 million people.
LAVANDERA: How long have you covered Texas politics?
BRADDOCK: About 20 years. They don't have to win the election to have moved the needle in Texas.
GRAPHICS: Defend Texas Liberty PAC, funded mainly by Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, donated to 25 Texas politicians in the 2022 Republican primaries. 12 won.
BRADDOCK: Let's say you're a Republican representative in the Texas House and you get a well-funded challenger and that challenger is funded by somebody's West Texas billionaires, and therefore, you have a tough race. You'll adopt some positions that you otherwise might not have adopted.
LAVANDERA: They force Republicans to the right, whether they win or lose.
BRADDOCK: That's right.
LAVANDERA: When Bob Hall runs against you in 2014, did you know much about him?
DEUELL: Well, we did our research. With basically money from outside the district, all this West Texas money made him into a viable candidate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bob Deuell turned his back on life and on disabled patients. Proudly paid for by Texas Right to Life.
LAVANDERA: Texas Right to Life has spent over $150,000 on mailers, voter guides and political consultants for Bob Hall who ran against you and beat you back in 2014.
DEUELL: Pro-life issue is very important to Republicans and then all of a sudden one of the older, you know, established pro-life groups is saying that I'm not pro-life, you know, which is ridiculous.
LAVANDERA: I just want to be clear about how conservative of a senator you were. You co-authored an abortion bill in 2013 that was considered among the strictest in the country. The bill became law, I think it closed 22 of 42 abortion clinics in Texas at the time. In 2016 the Supreme Court said your provision in particular was so restrictive it was actually unconstitutional. I'm not bringing that up to --
DEUELL: No, that's fine. If I did it, I did it. Go ahead.
LAVANDERA: And I'm not bringing that up to debate the merits of the bill or your policy, but it's just to ask that, why would a group called Texas Right to Life then turn around and try to knock you out as a legislator?
DEUELL: Because I didn't do what they wanted me to do on the end of life issue.
LAVANDERA: What was it about your end of life bill that caused you so many problems?
DEUELL: Well, they wanted no matter what the patient's condition is, if the family said treat them, treat them even though it might be very cruel to the patient to do so.
LAVANDERA: That was too extreme.
DEUELL: Yes. I'm pro-life but one or two issues, and they turned on you.
LAVANDERA: That 2014 election, you end up losing by 300 votes.
DEUELL: Three hundred votes. Yes.
LAVANDERA: And the year after your loss, Wilks gave Texas Right to Life PAC 80 percent of their money.
You had two close elections, both against Michael Canon, the second was in 2018 and Canon received more than half of his money from Wilks and Dunn, and you won that by about 15,000 votes to almost push you into a primary runoff there.
LAVANDERA: Clearly you knew then you were a target?
SELIGER: It was no mystery and no surprise. That's the law of the jungle now in Texas and that's why a lot of Republican House members, the majority of Republican Senate members just, they dance to whatever tune Tim Dunn wants to play.
GRAPHICS: Sen. Kel Seliger is retiring from the legislature after 18 years representing Senate District 31. Kevin Sparks, a Midland oilman and Tim Dunn's longtime colleague, won the district's Republican nomination. Sparks will run unopposed in November.
LAVANDERA: When Ted Cruz ran for president in 2016 Farris Wilks and his brother Dan gave $15 million. Cruz only had $23 million in his super PAC at that time. Do you think that their vision is to take this political agenda beyond Texas?
MAXWELL: Absolutely. I think they are starting to push more local and trying to build up.
LAVANDERA: School board races, city council races, county commissioner races, they are not as sexy as the statewide Senate race or a presidential campaign.
LAVANDERA: But those are the offices that have far more influence on people's lives.
GRAPHICS: Sen. Ted Cruz said in a statement to CNN, "It's a shame that CNN is focusing their time and energy on demonizing people of faith. Dan Wilks and Farris Wilks are the epitome of the American dream. They are good friends, and our country is stronger because of the tireless work they do."
R. GONZALES: Do you want your own cards, or are you going to be on my team? Don't look at my cards.
L. GONZALES: I have no idea why people don't understand that I'm just a girl, an 11-year-old girl living in Texas with amazing hair.
LAVANDERA: In December of 2021 on a Web site called Texas Scorecard, and this is an organization Tim Dunn launched several years ago and he remains on the board of directors, there's this article titled "Cowards in the Pulpit." And in the last section the author writes, quote, "This is a time that requires physical boldness, not spiritualized cowardice, we need strong pastors, we need shepherds in the pulpit willing to kill the wolves literally." It was one of Tim Dunn's top political advisers that wrote that. What
you do think kill the wolves literally means?
R. GONZALES: I'm scared to even hypothesize.
F. GONZALES: It makes me think of the crusades in the Dark Ages.
LAVANDERA: I imagine from where you sit maybe someone views you as the wolves.
R. GONZALES: Sounds like it.
F. GONZALES: Sounds like it. It's strange to think that. It really is.
LAVANDERA: Do you worry that it's just an escalation of the rhetoric, it's an escalation of the anger in our politics and ultimately that could mean something very bad for you guys?
F. GONZALES: When you use inflammatory speech like that it riles the base. Having an enemy is a strong way to unite people, and it seems like that's what they are trying to do.
GRAPHICS: The author, Michael Quinn Sullivan, wrote on social media, "The piece wasn't about LGBTQ stuff. The comment was about weak lefty pastors."
LAVANDERA: We have been trying to reach Farris Wilks and Tim Dunn for weeks. We're calling Farris Wilks' office here in Cisco, Texas.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think he would have any comment anyway. But thank you for reaching out.
GRAPHICS: Dan and Farris Wilks did not respond to our multiple interview requests. Both men last spoke to CNN in 2016 after donating to Ted Cruz's super PAC.
GRAPHICS: In the statement, Dan Said, in part, "We need a true leader in Washington, a leader that will stand up for biblical morals." Farris said, in part, "Our country was founded on the idea that our rights come from the creator, not the government."
LAVANDERA: This is CrownQuest operating, Tim Dunn's business, and we're going to go inside and see if we can track him down to talk to us. They took my name and number down. They are going to get the message to the assistant.
GRAPHICS: Tim Dunn defended his political spending in a 2018 op-ed in the "Midland Reporter-Telegram." He wrote, "It is important for taxpayers and voters to understand that the primary outside group the insiders fear is us -- the educated and motivated voters."