Recording Reveals Texas House Speaker’s Alleged Offer of Official Influence in Exchange for Political Action

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (AP File Photo/Eric Gay)
AP File Photo/Eric Gay

A political writer released the long-awaited recording of a meeting he held with the two top Texas Republican House leaders. The tape replays what has been alleged to be a quid pro quo offer from the Speaker of the Texas House in exchange for political action against certain legislators by the writer’s political action committee.

Dallas-based WBAP radio’s Chris Salcedo published the full audio recording of the June 12 meeting between Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), then-House Republican Caucus Chairman Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), and Texas Scorecard blogger Michael Quinn Sullivan. The audio recording purportedly reveals Speaker Bonnen making offer of an official action by the Texas Speaker of the House — the issuance of House Floor press credentials for Texas Scorecard — in exchange for Sullivan taking political action, including the spending of PAC funds, against a specific list of Texas House members in the upcoming 2020 primary election cycle.

In the recording, Bonnen can be heard saying, the Texas Tribune reported:

“Is there any way that for 2020 we sort of say … let’s not spend millions of dollars fighting in primaries when we need to spend millions of dollars trying to win in November,” Bonnen says. “I wanted to see if we could try and figure that out. … If you need some primaries to fight in — I will leave and Dustin will tell you some we’d love if you fought in. Not that you need our permission.”

“Well, no you do,” Bonnen said. “We can make this work. I’ll put your guys on the floor next session.”

“Or take them off,” Sullivan suggested.

Amid laughs, Bonnen said, ‘Here’s what I won’t do. I’ll do what [Lt. Gov. Dan] Patrick did — and I’ll take Braddock off” the House floor, referring to Scott Braddock, a reporter for the Capitol insider publication Quorum Report.

At the 13:50 mark in the recording Bonnen says, “I need you firing harder that way [against Democrats and specified moderate Republicans] than these ways [conservative Republicans], does that make sense?” He continues, “So, let me tell you what I want to do for you. Real quick, you need to hear what I want to do for you.” Sullivan responded, “I don’t need anything.” Bonnen countered, “Well no, you do. We can make this work. I’ll put your guys on the floor next session.”

Sullivan spoke with Salcedo regarding the recording and the meeting.

Sullivan wrote on Texas Scorecard on Tuesday that he recorded the meeting because he believed he might be placed in legal or political jeopardy by issues discussed in the meeting.

“I recorded the meeting not to capture the ‘locker room’ talk or gossip that is typical of meetings in the Austin swamp, but to ensure Bonnen could not lie about the meeting or distort its purpose in the future,” Sullivan wrote. “I had in mind the lies he told (publicly and without any consequence so far) about Chris McNutt of Texas Gun Rights, and I have heard stories of him doing the same to others, so I wasn’t going to let him do it to me.”

Explaining the potential legal repercussions from the meeting, Sullivan wrote:

My legal jeopardy arose because Bonnen combined two actions in a way I believe was intentional. First, he offered an official act: granting media credentials for Texas Scorecard reporters that he and his leadership team have so far denied. In exchange, he requested I take actions benefiting him directly.

The granting the credentials is significant. His team’s refusal to do so is the subject of a federal lawsuit, currently on appeal before the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. The Speaker of the Texas House has ultimate charge over the functions and operations of the House, even if it is routinely delegated to other members or staff. As speaker, Bonnen had the power to ensure the team of Texas Scorecard reporters finally received credentials… if I played along.

Second, Bonnen and Burrows had laid out a path for me to challenge lawmakers who we do not support and may have challenged anyway. Indeed, I was being given the go-ahead by the no-primaries-in-2020 House Speaker to “pop” them! Worse, the Bonnen-Burrows list was formed — according to them — to target a subset of lawmakers who voted against a ban on taxpayer funded lobbying. (That’s legislation Democrats and some Republicans voted to kill at the end of the session; it remains a top issue for grassroots conservatives.)

Sullivan stated the list of targeted Republicans includes Steve Allison, Trent Ashby, Ernest Bailes, Travis Clardy, Drew Darby, Kyle Kacal, Stan Lambert, John Raney, and Phil Stephenson, Breitbart Texas reported in July.

Speaker Bonnen responded to the release of the recording, claiming it makes it “immediately clear that no laws were broken.”

“I have repeatedly called for the recording to be released because it will be immediately clear that no laws were broken,” Bonnen wrote in a statement provided to Breitbart Texas. “This was nothing more than a political discussion – the problem is that I had it with that guy. My colleagues have always deserved the facts and context this recording provides, and with clear evidence now disproving allegations of criminal wrongdoing, the House can finally move on.”

Texas Government Code Title 5, Section 556.004(c) states: “A state officer or employee may not use official authority or influence or permit the use of a program administered by the state agency of which the person is an officer or employee to interfere with or affect the result of an election or nomination of a candidate or to achieve any other political purpose.”

The Texas Ethics Commission notes that a state officer commits an offense if “with intent to obtain a benefit or harm another, you misapply any thing of value belonging to the government that has come into your custody or possession by virtue of your public office or employment. Penal Code § 39.02(a)(2). Simply stated, this means that you are to use government property for governmental purposes, not for personal or private purposes.” An offense under this section ranges from a Class C misdemeanor to a felony of the first degree depending on the value of the state property being “misused.”

The Ethics Commission also defines bribery “as a public servant, you commit the offense of bribery if you solicit, offer, or accept a ‘benefit’ in exchange for your decision, opinion, recommendation, vote, or other exercise of official discretion. Penal Code § 36.02. Common sense should tell you if something is a bribe. If it is, don’t take it.”

Houston criminal defense lawyer and Fox 26 News legal analyst Chris Tritico told Breitbart Texas during a Tuesday phone interview, “I don’t know how the speaker will survive this. What he said in the recording clearly meets the elements of a bribery charge under Texas law.”

Penal Code § 36.02(a) states:

A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly offers, confers, or agrees to confer on another, or solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept from another:

(1) any benefit as consideration for the recipient’s decision, opinion, recommendation, vote, or other exercise of discretion as a public servant, party official, or voter;

(2) any benefit as consideration for the recipient’s decision, vote, recommendation, or other exercise of official discretion in a judicial or administrative proceeding;

(3) any benefit as consideration for a violation of a duty imposed by law on a public servant or party official; or

(4) any benefit that is a political contribution as defined by Title 15, Election Code, or that is an expenditure made and reported in accordance with Chapter 305, Government Code, if the benefit was offered, conferred, solicited, accepted, or agreed to pursuant to an express agreement to take or withhold a specific exercise of official discretion if such exercise of official discretion would not have been taken or withheld but for the benefit; notwithstanding any rule of evidence or jury instruction allowing factual inferences in the absence of certain evidence, direct evidence of the express agreement shall be required in any prosecution under this subdivision.

“Despite the speaker’s denials, he clearly said it,” Tritico explained. “He made an offer to take the official action of securing House press credentials in exchange for actions taken by Mr. Sullivan’s PAC.”

 Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior political news contributor for the Breitbart Texas-Border team. He is an original member of the Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX and Facebook.

Editor’s note: Michael Quinn Sullivan briefly served as a contributor for Breitbart Texas in 2014.

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