Tension between Patrick, Phelan escalates amid controversy over conservative PAC donation

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said he’s keeping $3 million in contributions from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC even after the group’s leader was seen meeting with a Nazi sympathizer.

By Sarah AschOctober 13, 2023 12:01 pm,

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick doubled down this week on his decision to keep $3 million in political contributions he received from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC earlier this year.

House Speaker Dade Phelan called on Patrick and other politicians who got money from the PAC to donate the funds after the Texas Tribune reported this week that the group’s leader met for several hours with Nick Fuentes, an avowed Nazi sympathizer. Patrick in turn called on Phelan to resign.

The tension between the two GOP leaders has reached a boiling point – and all this just as another special session kicks off at the state Capitol.

Hogan Gore, who covers politics for the Austin American-Statesman, said the Defend Texas Liberty PAC is funded by several big-name Republican mega-donors from West Texas.

“Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, those two guys have kind of been funding the Republican Party and kind of the furthest wing – the deepest shade of red of that party – for the past couple of decades. And the Defend Texas Liberty PAC is kind of the latest iteration of that,” he said. “The PAC itself is led by Jonathan Stickland, who’s a former representative from North Texas. And he’s kind of taken over and really taken up that mantle of the ultra-conservative cause.”

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Gore said we don’t know much about what was said in the meeting between Stickland and Fuentes, a self-described white supremacist.

“He’s a Nazi sympathizer. He’s had some pretty pretty out-there comments about a lot of things in the past, the past several years tied to elections, just a number of different things. He’s on the front of all those conspiracy theories on the Republican front. He’s kind of echoing and voicing and making himself known on those issues,” Gore said. “That meeting happened for about seven hours. The Texas Tribune did a wonderful job reporting on that. They were on the ground, and got photos of him entering the building with Stickland.”

The consequences for the already strained relationship between Patrick and Phelan are being felt.

“It’s kind of amazing that you think, ‘how can this fight between Phelan and Patrick escalate more than it has?’ And here we are, it has escalated some more. I think that that just further frays this relationship,” Gore said. “Phelan has gone on the offensive and said people need to denounce this PAC; they need to send back the money and they need to disavow themselves; and the party itself needs to kind of remove this element from what they’re doing and what they’re operating on at the state Capitol.”

Patrick, meanwhile, said he spoke with PAC donors who called the meeting with Fuentes a “serious blunder” and assured him it wouldn’t happen again, Gore said.

“That was not a satisfactory answer to some in the lower chamber. Some very conservative members of the [House] have gone out and said they’re donating the funds per Phelan’s request,” Gore said. “It’s just another step and distance between these two chambers. Phelan obviously isn’t going to step down and resign. He has the support of his chamber. Patrick is obviously going to rail against Phelan because it’s good for him politically. It gives him somebody to shoot at and go after. And so this just further frayed that relationship in a way we didn’t expect earlier this week.”

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