Many Texas lawmakers praised House Speaker Dennis Bonnen at the end of the recent legislative session for his leadership style – that he was instrumental in preventing interparty rivalries and confrontations from derailing the session. But now his reputation could be at risk because of an alleged quid pro quo scandal.
Lauren McGaughy has been reporting on the alleged scandal with colleague James Barragán for The Dallas Morning News. She says she can’t yet prove all of the allegations, but what she does know for sure is that Bonnen met in June with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, who runs the group Empower Texans.
“They funnel a lot of money, I mean, hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, into races against conservatives that they think aren’t conservative enough,” McGaughy says.
She says Bonnen and Sullivan weren’t friends, which made the meeting even more of an anomaly.
Sullivan alleges on his blog, Texas Scorecard, that Bonnen asked him to attack – through his blog – 10 House Republicans, in exchange for granting Capitol press credentials to Texas Scorecard staff.
“Sullivan alleges this very clear quid pro quo, but Speaker Bonnen has denied it emphatically, saying he would never do that, that Sullivan is no friend of his and that he would never go after his own members,” McGaughy says.
But Sullivan claims he secretly recorded his conversation with Bonnen, and has released some of that audio to members of the Texas House. McGaughy warns that no one in the media, including her, has heard the recording, nor has it been released to the public.
“We’re going off of what lawmakers say; second-hand information,” she says.
But she says lawmakers who have heard it told her that the recording validates Sullivan’s claims.
In addition, Sullivan alleges that Bonnen offered to revoke the press credentials for a rival publication to Sullivan’s, The Quorum Report.
“The allegations that the speaker would offer this as a sweetener just added a whole other level of complication to these accusations,” McGaughy says.
For Bonnen’s part, McGaughy says he responded via letter to fellow House Republicans, saying the meeting took place but that the quid pro quo allegations weren’t true.
“That Michael Quinn Sullivan was lying, essentially,” McGaughy says.
Now, Democrats and Republicans in the Texas House want Sullivan to release the recording.
“It’s time that Sullivan backs up his allegations to the public,” McGaughy says, describing their stance.
Written by Caroline Covington.