Texas Republicans confab hints at how GOP breakup with corporate America could play out

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and former President Donald J. Trump attend a security briefing with state officials and law enforcement at the Weslaco Department of Public Safety DPS Headquarters before touring the US-Mexico border wall on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 in Weslaco, TX.

Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Abraham George is about to take the helm of the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) at a time with the influential state-level political organization is casting aside its longstanding alliance with corporate America.

In its place, the RPT is embracing an anti-corporate, anti-elite populist agenda that is on the rise among Republicans across the country in the Trump era.

The annual Texas Republican Convention started Thursday in San Antonio, and culminated with George’s election as party chair. The event has long featured lucrative corporate sponsorships by Fortune 500 companies. But this year, the names of its biggest past sponsors were missing from the banners and agendas.

Verizon, Comcast and Union Pacific sponsored the 2020 Texas Republican convention, according to The Texas Tribune. But they are not listed as supporters this year.

Pepsi and Chevron were sponsors of the 2022 Texas Republican convention, but they are not backing this year’s event.

Spokespeople for Verizon, Comcast, Pepsi and Chevron did not reply to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Union Pacific said only that the company’s “political giving is bipartisan and publicly disclosed in accordance with state and federal laws.”

The fight over corporate money also bubbled up in the election that George won on Friday, to lead the state party.

Veteran Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak was among the group of candidates vying to be the next state GOP chair. In a memo declaring his candidacy, Mackowiak lamented that the “party’s corporate fundraising is virtually nonexistent.”

Griffin Perry, a Texas businessman and son of Republican former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said earlier this week that it’s time for the party to shift back to working with corporations.

“The next chair needs work with our corporations,” Perry told CNBC. “There’s no reason the Republican Party of Texas should not have corporate support.”

As for the lack of corporate sponsorship this year, Perry blamed the leadership team that was replaced on Friday. This team “wears that as a badge of honor,” he said, before the new chair of the state party was elected.

The Republican Party of Texas’ 2024 convention sponsors.

Republican Party of Texas

Indeed, James Wesolek, the communications director for the RPT, told CNBC “the Republican Party is the party of hard working Americans, not woke corporations seeking to destroy the America we love.”

Wesolek denied that the disappearance of traditional sponsors impacted this week’s state party convention.

“The party has fully funded our convention with sponsors that don’t require us to compromise our values,” he said.

This year, the sponsor list is almost entirely made up of political action committees and campaigns, and nearly devoid of corporate sponsors.

As of Thursday, the only two publicly traded companies on the sponsorship list were tobacco giant Altria and Houston-based electrical and natural gas utility CenterPoint Energy.

Patriot Mobile, which bills itself as the nation’s only “Christian conservative wireless provider,” was also listed, as was Conn’s HomePlus.

But it’s not just the Texas GOP’s state convention that is losing corporate sponsorships.

Corporate donations to the state party’s general fundraising account have sunk to their lowest levels in at least a decade, according to The Texas Tribune.

It’s been eight years since the tech giant Google contributed money to the Republican Party of Texas, according to campaign finance records.

It’s a similar story with over half a dozen other companies including BNSF Railway, the rail giant headquartered in the Lone Star State. BSNF’s last donation to the Republican Party of Texas was in 2019 for $5,000, according to the records.

Since then, no money has showed up in the state party’s coffers from either BNSF or Google, according to campaign finance reports. A representative for Google declined to comment. BNSF did not return requests for comment.

Verizon and Union Pacific have each given at least $5,000 to the Texas Republican Party this year, however, according to campaign finance records.

As the party continues to move further to the right, some companies who used to be regular supporters of the Texas Republican Party are now holding back their money, according to state campaign finance records.

These one-time corporate sponsors are put off, political operatives and fundraisers in the state tell CNBC, by Texas Republicans’ increasingly anti-corporate rhetoric, their vicious infighting and a number of policy positions that are increasingly conservative.

For example, a law enacted in 2022 bars all abortions in Texas except in rare, extreme cases, and it allows for the prosecution of doctors and medical professionals. In 2023, Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill banning gender-affirming medical care for minors.

Earlier this year, the Texas public school’s investment fund pulled $8.5 billion out from under management by BlackRock, due to what it alleged was the firm’s reluctance to invest in fossil fuels. BlackRock denied the allegation.

“I can understand why corporations don’t want to participate in a convention, because they would appear to be supporting a [Republican] organization that attacks Republican office holders,” said Wayne Hamilton, a longtime Republican operative who once served as an executive director of the RPT.

Hamilton and other political consultants who spoke to CNBC pointed to how the state party took the extraordinary step of formally censuring Texas House Republican Speaker Dade Phelan and U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzalez, R-Texas.

Phelan was censured for his role in the impeachment of Republican state Attorney General Ken Paxton. Gonzales was censured for supporting a bipartisan gun safety law in Congress, and for voting in favor of a bill that codifies the right to same-sex marriage.

Despite having few tangible legal consequences, the censures have had real political consequences for Phelan and Gonzalez: Both men face runoffs May 28 in their Republican primary elections.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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