Grassroots or Astroturf?

Chris Tackett
5 min readApr 11, 2019


Empower Texans pretend to be grassroots, but when your PAC takes in $5.8 million in an election cycle (1/1/17–12/31/18), when 96.8% of that comes from 9 donors, when your total donor count is just 261, when those same 9 are funding a plethora of other PACs to create a false chorus, you are simply AstroTurf.

Those in ET world love to gaslight and accuse others of the thing they are actually guilty of, they just don’t want you to notice. They love to call others RINOs (Republicans in name only). The reality is they are the ones masquerading as Republicans.

They excel at stoking fear and resentment. They are playing the long game, and have taken over many of the levers of power in the Republican Party. But those behind Empower Texans are nothing but radical libertarians with a Christian nationalist / dominionist agenda.

To illustrate that the Empower Texans PAC IS NOT GRASSROOTS, let me put forward some PAC donor counts:

  • 2009–121
  • 2010–112
  • 2011–7
  • 2012–22
  • 2013–14
  • 2014–53
  • 2015–182
  • 2016–104
  • 2017–190
  • 2018–105

The Empower Texans PAC HAS NEVER had 200 donors in a year.

Donor counts are low. But how about the money going in? Here are the Empower Texans PAC dollars in:

  • 2009 — $62,641
  • 2010–$85,886
  • 2011 — $907
  • 2012 — $106,978
  • 2013 — $1,178,753
  • 2014 — $2,806,973
  • 2015 — $854,679
  • 2016 — $534,590
  • 2017 — $2,269,908
  • 2018 — $3,589,571

Now let’s consider the Empower Texans PAC donors & dollars at the same time. I’ve got them both on an attached chart. While the donors have never gone over 190, the dollars have surged, from a few tens of thousands to multiple millions. It isn’t grassroots doing that. It’s a handful of donors with their own agendas.

Just in case you are thinking “well, the counts are low, but every one of those donors is kicking in evenly”, let me add this to the conversation. Here is the top donor for each of the past 10 years to the Empower Texans PAC, with the amount they gave and the percentage of their dollars vs total dollars in.

  • 2009 — Jeff Sandefer: $50,000 (80% of the PAC total)
  • 2010 — Tim Dunn: $50,000 (58% of the PAC total)
  • 2011 — Jean McIver: $300 (33% of the PAC total)
  • 2012 — Tim Dunn: $67,000 (63% of the PAC total)
  • 2013 — Tim Dunn: $1,177,500 (99.9% of the PAC total)
  • 2014 — Tim Dunn: $2,781,000 (99% of the PAC total)
  • 2015 — Farris Wilks: $600,000 (70% of the PAC total)
  • 2016 — Farris Wilks: $222,000 (42% of the PAC total)
  • 2017 — Tim Dunn: $1,065,000 (47% of the PAC total)
  • 2018 — Tim Dunn: $2,155,000 (60% of the PAC total)

The completely false narrative that Empower Texans is somehow a grassroots organization falls apart when you look at who is contributing and how much. Over the past decade, the PAC has been dominated by a small handful of donors (mostly Tim Dunn) who have taken a very very very small number of folks who are actually grassroots along for the ride. They have pitched the idea they are in it for the little guy, but you don’t have to dig to deep to see the money and power these mega donors are attempting to accumulate, all the while attempting to impose their version of religion on everyone else.

Here is my take on the ET World philosophy:

We don’t want any government involvement in our lives*

Restricting any actions we want to take

As those actions make us (the mega donors) money

And increase our (the mega donors) power

*Unless the government is imposing our religious beliefs onto others

The same mega donors to the Empower Texans PAC are on the boards or giving significantly to a series of non-profits, pushing the same things as ET. It’s just harder to get data on the money. Here is some of what I’ve been piecing together. With non-profits, you have to leverage IRS filings, so the data lags, sometimes significantly. What follows is from 2016, the last year I have access to contributions for all of the listed non-profits. But the graphic below has 2017 and 2018 data where available. When people talk about Dark Money being spent in politics, it’s groups like this spending the money.

  • Empower Texans PAC — $534,590
  • Empower Texans (Texans For Fiscal Responsibility) — $1,402,498
  • Empower Texans Foundation — $1,144,302
  • Texas Public Policy Foundation (Tim Dunn and other ET folks on the board) — $18,029,964
  • First Liberty Institute (Tim Dunn and Kyle Stallings on the board) — $8,033,823
  • Convention Of States Foundation aka Citizens For Self-Governance (Tim Dunn on the board) — $4,018,603
  • Lucy Burns Institute aka Ballotpedia (Tim Dunn on the board) — $4,318,964
  • WallBuilder Presentations (co-creators of the Project Blitz playbook, supported financially by Farris Wilks and his Thirteen Foundation) — $3,333,700
  • Prager University (not a real university, just a collection of online videos, supported financially by Farris Wilks and his Thirteen Foundation, as well as Dan Wilks and his Heavenly Fathers Foundation)

ET is bad. But there is a lot more out there that we all have to be aware of. Keep paying attention. Keep pushing. It is making a difference.



Chris Tackett

I chart Texas Politics at and write about things that matter (to me at least) whenever the muse hits.