When Gov. Greg Abbott announced a crowdfunding initiative to build a border wall with Mexico, he promised total transparency.
That hasn’t been the case, says Texas Tribune politics reporter James Barragán, who, after some dogged reporting, finally broke a blockbuster story about the wall funding this week. He found that 98% of the funds pledged to build the wall – or $53.1 million out of $54 million total – has come from one out-of-state billionaire.
Listen to our chat with Barragán about his wall-funding reporting, plus more on the ongoing redistricting process at the Texas Legislature and the block on Texas’ abortion ban, in the audio player above. And read a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity, below.
Texas Standard: A few weeks ago, we talked about how there had been this huge flow of money donated to Gov. Greg Abbott for a border wall fund. Now we know a little bit more about who’s behind it. What did you discover?
James Barragán: Well, we found out that one Wyoming-based billionaire, Timothy Mellon, is responsible for nearly all of the $54 million in donations that have been given to that border wall fund. Timothy Mellon – you may you may know his last name from the famous Mellon family fortune from Andrew Mellon, the banking tycoon; that money is still around. And so he’s he spent $53.1 million to help Texas build their border wall.
Did you say Wyoming? What does that have to do with the border wall? And has he made any statements about this?
He is based in Wyoming. He runs his own company, Pan Am Systems. It’s a rail and freight transportation company. He hasn’t made any comments. He did not give us a comment about why he’s involved in this. But we do know that he’s interested in immigration causes. And we also know that he’s a big Republican and big Trump donor. President Trump, as we know, was a big advocate for a border wall, and so I think those interests are similar.
Let’s move on to something else. This week, the Texas Senate approving some new political maps, and a new district in Tarrant County seems to be getting a lot of attention. What’s going on?
That’s because there’s been big growth in the Black, Hispanic and Asian population in Senate District 10 in Tarrant County. And those groups have voted together generally over the last decade to elect Democrats who are their candidates of choice in that area. That Senate district has swung back and forth between Democrats and Republicans over the last decade, but it’s now held by a Democrat, and it looks like it’s swinging Democrat now. In the redistricting and the redrawing of the district, the district would get taken out all the way out to seven other counties to the south and west of Tarrant County, which are more rural and more white. And that’s important because folks are saying that it would dilute the voting power of those voters of color in Tarrant County that have so far held the power there.
Also, this week, a federal judge temporarily blocked Texas’ new abortion law, Senate Bill 8. What does this mean for the law going forward?
Some providers are starting to resume their work. Others are still cautious because the way the law is written, the providers could still face consequences if a higher court then rules the law lawful or constitutional and then puts it back on the books and they’ve actually performed abortions. So some providers are performing abortions, but it’s sort of a very cautious approach right now.