For years, the Texas Association of Business has declined from being a pro-business, free-market organization to a fixture of the Austin lobby dedicated to defending corporate handouts. But during the last legislative session, the organization shifted radically to the left as it attacked conservative lawmakers and fought against the Texas Privacy Act – a bill designed to protect businesses from local non-discrimination ordinances that would force them to permit men in women’s bathrooms and changing facilities.
The shift seemed inexplicable. But now internal documents leaked to Texas Scorecard show that TAB’s transition was funded by the radical LGBT lobby, with only token funding from its corporate members, including a $100,000 kick-back to TAB.
According to the documents, TAB received $130,000 of its $200,000 campaign budget from national LGBT groups, including the Gill Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign. The group also received funding, presumably courtesy of taxpayers, from the cities of Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. No Texas business contributed more than $15,000 to the effort.
The funding breakdown reveals that TAB has become nothing more than an AstroTurf effort for the radical LGBT lobby. In fact, the documents reveal a $100,000 kickback to TAB for its efforts, with $300,000 being raised for the LGBT effort but only a $200,000 campaign budget.
Equally stunning is where all of those dollars were spent. The documents confirm that TAB paid former Republican State Rep. Jim Keffer $30,000 to lobby his former colleagues.
However, the documents reveal for the first time that $2,500 of the campaign went to wine and dine just one lawmaker, State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana), who is the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, which has handled legislation relating to privacy in public accommodations.
The documents contain an entry of $2,500 for a “KTOB Dinner with Chairman Cook.” The Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders hold a Kentucky Derby Trainer’s Dinner at the Hyatt Regency in Louisville, Kentucky, in the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
In recent years – particularly since the election of Joe Straus as speaker of the Texas House – Austin lobbyists have funded a pilgrimage of House legislators to the annual horse race.
Wining and dining Cook appears to have been a good investment. In the days following the event, he refused to vote out House Bill 2899 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R–Carrollton) – the House bill relating to public accommodations – despite the bill having 80 Republican coauthors.
The documents also reveal the source of a much-ridiculed economic study promoted by TAB claiming that passing the Privacy Act would cause significant economic harm to the state. That claim now appears to have emanated from an economics firm that is also employed by the City of Austin.
The campaign budget also reveals $27,500 in payments for “advertising” to the Texas Tribune and “TexasGOPVote.” It is not known whether those payments went for actual advertising or to buy coverage favorable to the LGBT cause.
After the House killed bills on the subject during the regular session, Gov. Abbott placed legislation protecting the privacy of women and girls in public bathrooms and changing facilities on the call for the special session. The Senate has already passed a bill, but it is being obstructed again by Straus, Cook, and other House Republicans.
Editor’s Note: Since publication, readers have noted that “KTOB” may refer to “Keep Texas Open for Business.” We have requested comment regarding the details of the dinner from Cook’s office and will update this article if he responds.