The hotly contested primary race for state House District 64 in Denton County is among more than two dozen Republican state representative races drawing funding from a conservative political action committee challenging leadership in the GOP-run Texas House.
The Accountability First Political Action Committee, an Austin-based group founded by oil and natural gas entrepreneur James Jones of Austin, is helping fund Denton insurance agent Read King’s attempt to unseat incumbent state Rep. Myra Crownover of Denton in the March 4 GOP primary election.
It’s not the first time Accountability First has gotten involved in a Denton election — it also contributed $5,910 in October to fund opposition to last year’s bond election for the Denton school district. The $312 million bond package was nonetheless approved by voters in November.
Crownover, 66, a former schoolteacher, is one of 12 Republican incumbent state representatives being targeted by the group. Critics recently told The Dallas Morning News that the group is working with other conservative groups that have clashed with local school boards and teacher organizations with the goal of perhaps unseating Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. Straus’ GOP primary opponent, Matthew S. Beebe, also of San Antonio, has also received funding from the group.
Jones told The News that the PAC is promoting limited government and individual responsibility. Each of the candidates who received funding from the group has been asked to sign a pledge promising to adhere to strict spending limits and to oppose tax increases.
King, 44, has reported receiving $11,945 in contributions and $5,587 in pledges, largely for voter management software, from Accountability First from October through last Saturday, Feb. 22. The contributions make up about 31 percent of his total contributions; a Denton businessman has contributed another $15,000, or about 39 percent.
King reported having $7,939.59 on hand as of Saturday, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Crownover has far outpaced King in contributions, collecting $147,286 between July 1 and Saturday. Her contributors include a number of individuals and a broad range of political action committees, including PACS representing bankers, builders, developers, the health care industry, engineers, university interests and the energy industry.
She reported having $224,617 on hand as of Saturday.
Crownover said the intervention of the Accountability First PAC in the race is “a raw power play.”
“There are six millionaires in Austin and one millionaire in Midland who want to control the Texas House,” she said. “I don’t think that’s how our constitution was set up to work.”
She said she stands on her record, and won’t accept any contribution $5,000 or higher.
“I know Denton County and I think they know and trust me,” Crownover said. “I don’t know why anyone would listen to someone who has never lived in Denton County. ... I’ve always been able to vote my conscience.”
King said he signed the organization’s Liberty Protection Pledge and welcomed the contributions from Accountability First and support from other conservative organizations in Texas because they match his values and concerns.
“I signed it absolutely,” he said. “It was a list of principles that match up with the Republican Party platform point by point and [it] matches up with my politics. ... There was no coercion to sign it. These are principles I agree with.”
He questioned the large amount of cash that Crownover has on hand and the heavy contributions she has received from industry PACs.
“I have a little over $5,000 in my bank account,” he said. “She still has over $200,000 in her bank account. If there’s a story about who’s owning a politician here, there may be a better story there.”
In addition to cash contributions, King also has tapped into a network of campaign consultants and advertising executives used by other candidates backed by Accountability First.
Jeremy Blosser of Arlington, a campaign manager who has been paid thousands of dollars by the King campaign, has also received payment as a campaign manager or consultant for two other candidates being supported by Accountability First.
More than a half-dozen of the Accountability First-backed candidates, including King, also reported using the same solicitation/fundraising company, Piryx of San Francisco.
Accountability First is largely funded by nine businessmen, and has worked in conjunction with Empower Texans, a conservative grassroots group led by activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, The News has reported.
Staff writer Bj Lewis contributed to this report.
DIANNA HUNT can be reached at 940-566-6884 and via Twitter at @DiannaHunt.