Empower Texans is a dark money political operation that has spent millions of dollars in recent years trying to push Texas to the far right – and, as our new report shows, worker pension funds and university endowments across the U.S. are unwittingly financing the business operations of its top funder, Tim Dunn.
Empower Texans is backed by a small band of right-wing evangelical oil and gas billionaires and multi-millionaires whose fossil fuel profits are funding the group’s far right agenda. Over the past several years, Empower Texans and its top donors have showered ultra-conservative politicians with millions of dollars, gaining major influence in state politics. The group and its funders have pushed for an anti-transgender “bathroom bill,” opposed marriage equality and women’s reproductive choice, aligned with efforts to purge voter rolls, promoted school prayer, and attacked teachers that support voting.
If you really want to understand what’s driving Empower Texans, you need to look at one person more than anyone else: billionaire oilman Tim Dunn.
Based in Midland, Texas, Dunn is the prime force behind Empower Texans – he started it in 2006, selected its CEO, and remains, by far, its top funder. Dunn has given at least $7,662,500 to Empower Texans PAC since 2008 – and possibly much more through dark money donations. One consultant went so far as to call Empower Texans “a special interest agenda of one person,” while a journalist wrote that Dunn “is probably the most influential donor operating in Texas today.”
Dunn is a hard-right evangelical who pushes small-government libertarianism and extreme social conservatism. He opposes taxes, business regulation, environmental rules, and wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken government power, all while he opposes marriage equality, trans equality, women’s choice, and backs school prayer.
Dunn’s fortune and influence drive the far-right agenda and ruthless tactics of Empower Texans. So it’s worth asking: who funds Tim Dunn?
Our new report reveals that Dunn’s oil company, CrownQuest, oversees the operations of CrownRock, a “joint venture” between CrownQuest and Lime Rock Partners, a Houston-based private equity firm. CrownQuest essentially devotes all its time and personnel to running CrownRock, while Lime Rock Partners provides the financing.
In other words: Lime Rock provides the money for CrownRock to operate, and Tim Dunn operates it. Dunn is the CEO of both CrownQuest and CrownRock.
More precisely, CrownRock is financed by a specific Lime Rock fund, called Lime Rock Partners IV AF. A host of pension funds, college endowments, and foundations from across the U.S. have tens of millions of dollars invested in Lime Rock Partners IV AF.
Some investors in Lime Rock Partners IV AF include the California Public Employees’ Retirement System ($83,686,107), the University of Michigan ($26 million), and Michigan State ($15.6 million).
Moreover, as we show in our report, many other universities and foundations – including Harvard, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Rochester Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, Pomona College, the Rockefeller Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, and others – may also be investing in Dunn’s business operations through Lime Rock Partners IV AF.
To put it another way: millions in worker retirement money, alumni donations, and liberal foundation funds are – unwittingly – propping up Tim Dunn’s business operations and the fortune he uses to continue to finance Empower Texans’s far-right agenda.
The report calls on these entities to reconsider their decisions to invest in Lime Rock Partners IV AF given what’s now known about Tim Dunn and Empower Texans.
The report also sheds light on other major funders of Empower Texans. Second to Tim Dunn in financing the group are brothers Dan and Farris Wilks, both conservative evangelical billionaires who made their fortunes from the fracking industry. The Wilkses have given Empower Texans PAC $2.432 million since 2008.
The Wilks brothers have distributed a whopping $92.9 million to conservative causes and groups they support, such as Texas Right to Life PAC and the Texas Home School Coalition PAC. The Wilks are also give money to so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” in Texas that “use anti-choice propaganda to try to trick people from seeking abortion services,” according to ReWire News. They also fund national rightwing groups like Focus on the Family and the Heritage Foundation, as well as the Koch-backed State Policy Network.
Additionally, the Wilks brothers own the far-right Daily Wire, led by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.
Other major Texas financiers – like Dunn and the Wilkses, all from the oil and gas world – include Kyle Stallings, founder of Desert Royalty Company, and oil and gas company; Dick Saulsbury and his family, who own Saulsbury Industries, an engineering, procurement, and construction company that does a lot of work with the oil and gas industry; and Mayes Middleton, President of Middleton Oil Company and a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
Stallings, the Saulsburys, and Middleton together have given $1,116,500 to Empower Texans PAC since 2008.
To learn more about the small group of rightwing fossil fuel billioniares funding Empower Texans and its ultra-conservative agenda, read our full report.