Twitter Scuffle Erupts Over Texas Land Office ‘Sponsorship’ of News Outlet

Konni Burton2
AP File Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Senator Konni Burton (R-Fort Worth) raised questions on Twitter early Monday morning about The Texas Tribune accepting money from the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The “corporate sponsorship” by the GLO was being publicly questioned by the 2015 freshman senator.

The Tribune reported this past weekend that the GLO had made some cuts in staff at the Texas General Land Office. At the end of the article, as Tribune routinely does, the publication disclosed that the GLO “has been a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune” and attached a complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors in a link. On that link is the statement that “When it comes to our donors and corporate sponsors, the Tribune is committed to full transparency.” It also states that “When donors or corporate sponsors who have given $1,000 or more to the Tribune are named in our stories, we disclose them on those pages.”

After 6:00 a.m. this morning, the senator from Fort Worth tweeted, “WHAT?! At the end of the story: Disclosure: The Tx Genl Land Office has been a corp sponsor of @TexasTribune.”

After tweeting with “The Interim” @85thLegislature and discussing that the expenditure’s had been made during former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson’s tenure, the conservative state senator from Fort Worth tweeted to Land Commissioner George P. Bush and asked, “Why wld Gen’l Land Office be a corp sponsor of ANYTHING, much less a media outlet? @georgepbush plse tell u’re correcting this too.”

Why wld Gen’l Land Office be a corp sponsor of ANYTHING, much less a media outlet? @georgepbush plse tell me u’re correcting this too.

Land Commissioner Bush replied to Senator Burton’s tweet saying, “Correct—we discontinued sponsorship.” The Senator told Bush, “Excellent. Well done.”

Burton had tweeted to Evan Smith, the CEO, editor-in-chief, and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, and asked “Why would you accept money from a govt agency that you are supposed to be a watchdog over? #txlege”  Smith replied, “@85thLegislature @konniburton $2,500 in 2011 to promote veterans mortgage and adopt-a-beach programs.”

Breitbart Texas spoke with Mr. Smith who confirmed that the dollars being discussed were used for a “marketing campaign” for beaches and a veterans’ mortgage program. Smith said it was a one-time sponsorship that has not been repeated.

Bryan Preston, director of communications at the GLO told Breitbart Texas that the office had “discontinued the sponsorship.” Preston said he was running down the facts but thought the money was spent for digital ads for Adopt-A-Beach and veterans programs.

He later notified Breitbart Texas that “according to our purchasing folks, the $2,500 Texas Tribune sponsorship in 2011 was for online ads of various sizes to run Marine Debris messaging, and announce the Marine Debris Summit set for January 13, 2012 at Moody Gardens.” The GLO spokesman continued, the money spent was also for “email alerts to create awareness of the Adopt-A-Beach Program and GLO’s work to rid the state’s beaches of trash.”

Preston said that the General Land Office oversees the Veterans Land Board, and the Adopt-A-Beach Programs. He said that the agency organizes volunteers to help clean-up the Texas coastline three times a year. Preston said that the veterans programs provide low cost mortgages and opportunities for land purchases for veterans. He told Breitbart Texas that “Texas is the best state to be a veteran.” He said the Veterans Land Board started after 1946 to help veterans return to the states and adjust to civilian life.

GLO spokeswoman Brittany Eck told Breitbart Texas, “Commissioner Bush has implemented a new budgeting process that requires all budget planners and managers, each division of the GLO, to scrap their budgets and start again from zero questioning and verifying each expense.” Eck added, “As a result, overall the agency saved a baseline five percent and will do so again in 2017. By taking a surgical analysis of expenditures, we identified costs such as software the agency had been paying for that was unnecessary or identified a work around to save money. Reducing costs while increasing the efficiency of government is a top priority of Commissioner Bush.”

Breitbart Texas spoke with former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson who said, “The GLO is not a corporation, and has never been a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. The Tribune is a 501(c)(3), and as such is prohibited from accepting money for advertising, therefore when you place an ad, you’re called a ‘corporate sponsor.’” Patterson confirmed that in 2011, the GLO paid $2,500 to The Texas Tribune “for advertising for two purposes. One purpose was to pitch our veterans’ home loan and land loan program, and an upcoming Veterans Land Board (VLB) benefit seminar for Texas veterans. The other purpose was to advertise an upcoming beach cleanup which the GLO has conducted twice a year for over 20 years.”

The former land commissioner continued, “Neither of those ads were paid for by tax dollars. The Adopt-a-Beach program is a government nonprofit, in effect a 501(c)(3) charity, and receives a great deal of individual and corporate contributions, and those contributions are used in the program. The VLB has a marketing/veterans outreach budget and the entire VLB program is funded by providing very low interest loans to Texas veterans and an infinitely small amount of the loan payment revenues fund the entire outreach program.”

Patterson added, “When George P. Bush tweets that he has ‘discontinued’ the corporate sponsorship, he did no such thing. The last and only payment to the Tribune was in 2011, so how did Bush ‘discontinue’ something that had already been discontinued, probably because we discovered veterans don’t read The Texas Tribune, and beach people don’t either?” He said, “Furthermore, the advertisements for the Adopt-A-Beach cleanup and the VLB outreach continue to this day in other media outlets, and radio ads and other media ads continue for both. Did Bush “discontinue” those? Does he intend to?” Patterson told Breitbart Texas, “Insuring veterans know about their benefits, and supporting clean beaches are good things.”

When an individual on Twitter tweeted to Senate Burton and Commissioner Bush that “Advertising on Trib is called ‘corporate sponsorship’ because of their tax status.  GOL paid for ads on Tribune,” Burton replied “Now tell me something that I don’t know.”

The website for the GLO states that Bush is a proud veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and is currently serving as a Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer. It continues, “George P. Bush issued a firm command to his team on his first day in office: ‘Find ways to better serve our veterans.’” The commissioner has launched a new website for Texas veterans stating it offers streamlined access to the benefits that they have earned.”

The Land Commissioner tweeted on September 17th and urged folks to “Sign up today for @TxAdoptABeach next beach cleanup September 26th—I’ll be at the Galveston site.”

In 2014, Burton won her first bid for elected office by winning the Senate District 10 seat for Republicans. Senator Wendy Davis had held the seat since 2009.

Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2