The Tick Tock of a Flip Flop
Mike Lang is running for re-election, no, County Commissioner, no, re-election, no County Commissioner
Texas politics are interesting. Sometimes things are straightforward. Sometimes you expect one thing and another happens. And sometimes you expect one thing, another happens, and then something else you didn’t expect happens. That last one is what went down with Texas House member Mike Lang, who represents House District 60.
Lang is a two term House member from a very Republican district that runs from Hood county in the East, over to Coleman, Callahan, and Shackelford counties in the West. It’s a big spread with 130,000 potential voters. Over the past few weeks, Lang has announced he was running for re-election, announced he was not running for re-election and would instead be running for a Hood County Commissioner seat, and then announced he would not be running for a Hood County Commissioner seat and would instead be running for re-election to the Texas House. (12/9/19 Update: and then he filed for the Hood County Commissioner race and dropped out of the House race). Yeah, kinda confusing. Let’s walk through the timeline and a few facts.
The 2016 Cycle
As far back as May 13, 2015, Empower Texans (for a great understanding of who is behind Empower Texans, read this) was writing articles about Mike Lang via their texasscorecard.com site. In this initial article, the headline blares that GOP Precinct Chairs Endorse Lang.
Empower Texans didn’t like Jim Keffer. Lang was their guy. According to public filings with the Texas Ethics Commission, by the time the article was written in May 2015, Farris Wilks, one of the primary donors to the Empower Texans PAC, had already given Mike Lang $26,500.
By September 30, 2015, before any sort of filing deadline for House candidates, Empower Texans had seen enough, endorsing Lang for House District 60.
Over the course of the 2016 election cycle, Mike Lang would receive a total of $258,984 from Farris Wilks, an eye-popping 58% of the total $441,909 Lang’s campaign would take in. Empower Texans was there too, giving $5,000. Actually, quite a few of the other PACs funded by those who fund Empower Texans, and those who only give to Empower Texans endorsed candidates followed the play and gave to Lang as well.
- Constitutents Focus PAC gave $40,091
- Rex Gore gave $5,000
- Stacy Hock gave $5,000
- Mayes Middleton gave $5,000
- Dan Wilks (Brother of Farris Wilks) gave $2,500
Mike Lang only had 335 contributors. And one of those contributors gave more than half of his total. From the beginning, Lang was likely a kept legislator.
The 2018 Cycle
As the initial re-election push began, Lang again saw money coming in from the usual sources. On June 28, 2017, Mike Lang received $100,000 from Farris Wilks. The Texas Right to Life PAC (another PAC funded by those behind Empower Texans) gave an additional $3,000 on the same date. Over the course of the election cycle, Lang would take in $555,700 in contributions. The breakdowns are even more eye-popping than in 2016.
- Farris Wilks gave $181,730, almost 33% of the total
- Empower Texans PAC gave $152,800, 27% of the total
- Texas Right to Life PAC gave $41,035, 7% of the total
- Stacy Hock gave $10,000
- Jonathan Stickland (an Empower Texans Legislator) gave $9,436
- Dan Wilks gave $5,258
When you aggregate those affiliated with Empower Texans, Lang ends up with $425,381 of his $555,700 from ET sources. That’s 76% of his fund raising. Mike Lang only had 260 donors in the 2018 cycle. 15 of those donors made up 76% of his contributions, with 3 donors making up 67%. Again, this is a legislator who appears to be doing the bidding of the few, rather than representing the many constituents in the district.
Mike Lang won his election and was named to head the Freedom Caucus, a group made up of Empower Texans favorites. The 86th Session that followed is one that didn’t go well for Empower Texans, with criticism abounding on the various legislators they funded not being able to accomplish their goals.
The 2020 Cycle
Here is where it gets fun. Mike Lang files his 2019 Semi-Jul report, where it shows, even after all of the money coming in over the previous two cycle, Lang only had $9,639 cash on hand, receiving only $4,860 in contributions.
When you compare Lang’s Semi-Jun 2017 contributions to his Semi-Jun 2019 contributions, the difference is truly stark. From $121,605 coming from 55 donors (with a HUGE $100,000 check from one person, Farris Wilks) in 2017 to $4,860 coming from 6 donors in 2019. Notice none of the Empower Texans folks are on the 2020 list.
So what seems to have happened?
Empower Texans publically pivoted away from some of the local races and toward re-electing Donald Trump. And did they pivot? You betcha. Well, at least their big donors did. You can see it via a few different filings.
In the 2017 Semi-Jul report, Empower Texans had taken in $473,764 from 144 different contributors, significant contributions from a handful of donors.
Fast forward to the 2019 Semi-Jul and you see the contributions PLUMMET to $18,010 from 25 contributors. Let me say it again. Comparing the 2017 Semi-Jul to the 2019 Semi-Jul, you see the Empower Texans PAC go from $473k to $18k. That’s a HUGE change. The swoon for Empower Texans looks much like the swoon for Mike Lang. Where did the dollars go? The Trump Victory PAC.
- Tim Dunn — $150,000
- Dick Saulsbury — $110,000
- Saulsbury’s kids — $490,000
- Kyle Stallings — $75,000
- Farris Wilks — $50,000
- Dan Wilks — $50,000
- Windi Grimes — $45,000
- Holloway Frost — $35,000
- Stacy Hock — $35,000
Just adding these up, there is $1,040,000 that in past years might have gone to Lang or Empower Texans that has now been utilized elsewhere. All Trump Victory PAC amounts are publicly available via the Federal Election Commission.
Let’s get back to the timeline.
On August 19, 2019, Mike Lang announces he’s running for re-election and immediately gets a primary opponent.
Just over a month later, on September 25, 2019, Lang makes another announcement, this time that he won’t be running for Texas House. Hood County Commissioner was his new focus. From Lang’s announcement:
The fight starts at home and we need experienced servant leaders. I believe we can make Hood County a shining example of what local control truly embodies. Though in a different arena, I am still called to fight. This fight has been long overlooked by conservatives, and it starts at the local level.
There was a lot of speculation as to why Lang would make this decision. Was it because of the difference in pay? A Texas House member only makes $7,200 per year, while a County Commissioner in Hood County makes over $70,000. That’s a big difference. Or maybe it was the $9,000 in cash on hand I referenced above. If the big donors, who have made up more than 76% of your campaign in the last cycle have walked away, knowing you have an opponent and the election will cost some money, maybe you pivot to a race where $9,000 is a pretty good sum. We didn’t get to linger on those questions very long.
Two days later (September 27,2019), Lang had changed his mind, making it official the next day via a press release.
What changed in two days? Is the fight not in our backyards anymore? Or did someone just decide to write a really big check?
(12/9/19 Update) Word is the big check came from Farris & JoAnne Wilks, to keep Lang in the House race due to a Republican challenger announcing (Kellye SoRelle) who didn’t seem interested in playing ball with the Wilks. Soon after, another Republican entered the field, Glenn Rogers, so things were getting crowded.
So even though Governor Abbott endorsed Lang for re-election on 11/18/19, word started leaking out that the Wilks were continuing to shop for candidates, as they didn’t feel Lang was “conservative enough” (can you even imagine) and had cozied up to Speaker Bonnen too much in the last session. This means if they found someone else, Lang’s financing might be in jeopardy.
Well, based on the 12/9/19 filing of the Mineral Wells mayor, Chris Perricone, the Wilks may have found their man and Lang is back to County Commissioner.
A few points of speculation, but this is pretty much the timeline.
- 8/19/19 Lang is running for re-election to the Texas House (not much money coming in)
- 9/25/19 Lang is running for Hood County Commissioner
- Check from Wilks
- 9/27/19 Lang is running for re-election to the Texas House
- 11/18/19 Endorsement from Greg Abbott
- Wilks shopping for candidates, find one and decide to stop funding Lang
- 12/9/19 Lang is running for Hood County Commissioner
With campaign finance, there are defined times we get a peek behind the curtain. The next time we get a peek behind Lang’s curtain (and those still running for HD60), will be the 2020 Semi-Jan report, coming out in the middle of January. You’d better believe there will be some scrutiny to see if any of these candidates appear to be completely beholden to the few, and even though Lang is running for a different race, we still get to see his finances. Hopefully the folks in HD60 and across Hood County are paying attention.
NOTE: If you like the pie charts used above and want to see that kind of information on every member of the Texas House and Senate, plus major PACs, you can see all of it from the 2018 and 2020 election cycles via my website, christackettnow.com. All data is pulled from the Texas Ethics Commission and is compiled to make it easy for regular people to follow the money and know who is behind their legislators.