New Report Shines Light on Dark-Money Voucher Push

This past fall, Common Cause Texas, the state affiliate of the national democracy watchdog group, released a report highlighting the outsized influence that a small group of monied donors have on Texas politics, including public education policy. The report, “ALEC-tioneering: Unmasking Money and Influence in Texas Politics,” primarily focuses on the influence of shadow groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), as well as that of individual donors. 

In the lead-up to several special legislative sessions during which Gov. Greg Abbott failed to pass his private school voucher scheme, Texas AFT released a series of articles “unmasking” the true forces behind the voucher push in Texas. While proponents of this scam suggest that the push for vouchers is “parent-led” or “grassroots,” the fact is that this push has been primarily financed by a small group of donors who have funneled dark money to various manufactured or astroturfed organizations, like the Texas Federation for Children and the Educational Equity PAC, among others.  

The Common Cause Texas report explains how ALEC has coordinated with these groups and others to push vouchers in Texas and nationwide. According to the report, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which we unmasked this fall, is both a member and founder of ALEC and has for years pushed ALEC’s agenda in the Texas Legislature. ALEC’s “model policies,” drafted, pre-approved by the group, and distributed to legislators across the country for them to file as their own bills, include:  

  • vouchers 
  • attacks on academic freedom in higher education 
  • efforts to roll back public pensions 
  • other proposals that Texas legislators have pushed in previous sessions 

The report also highlights the influence of Tim Dunn and Farris Wilkes, a pair of right-wing extremist donors who have bankrolled the voucher push. This pair of west Texas oil billionaires funded Defend Texas Liberty, a far-right PAC that supports vouchers and is aligned with Attorney General Ken Paxton, as well as neo-Nazi white supremacist Nick Fuentes.  

This group donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to pro-voucher candidates last cycle and donated millions to state leaders, including a $3 million donation to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick just weeks before he presided over the impeachment trial of Paxton, in which Paxton was ultimately acquitted by the Texas Senate. In recent months, several Republican legislators have disavowed and returned donations received from the group, but Patrick has declined to return his donation.