BROWNWOOD, Texas — An influential conservative nonprofit group said that any backlash it has received from its involvement in Brownwood’s mayoral race is coming from those who support "growing government."
Empower Texans, a group funded mostly by oil and gas billionaires in Texas, endorsed political newcomer Mike Tittle for Brownwood mayor last week.
Tittle is trying to upend Incumbent Mayor of Brownwood Stephen Haynes in his bid for a third term in office.
Cary Cheshire, Vice President of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, which is the media advocacy arm of Empower Texans, said that it is rare for the nonprofit conservative organization to be involved in a mayoral election outside of Texas' largest metro areas, but he also said that Brownwood has a "strong activist base."
"They're trying to run this cloak-and-dagger campaign, this smoke-and-mirrors campaign, to lie about us and conjure us up as the bogeyman," Cheshire said in a phone interview. "Well, the bogeyman is Mayor Haynes and I think Mike Tittle is the perfect prescription for Brownwood voters."
According to campaign finance data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Empower Texans has given Republicans in Texas nearly $7 million in the last 11 years.
Some of the group’s biggest financial contributions in 2018 were to State Representative Mike Lang and State Senator Bob Hall.
Lang was given $152,800 by Empower Texans in his re-election bid for the Texas House District 60 seat while Hall was awarded $387,552 in his re-election bid for the Texas Senate District 2 seat, according to financial records.
Cheshire said that he had never heard of Mayor of Brownwood Stephen Haynes before the mayoral race, but when he looked at Haynes' record, he felt that Haynes did not allow the "citizens to be in charge."
"Brownwood is conservative, it just hasn't been governed that way," Cheshire said.
When asked about criticism that Empower Texans takes “dark money,” Cheshire pushed back against that assertion.
"The only reason they make that allegation is because they know we take our donors' privacy very, very seriously and we're not going to expose them to be harassed," Cheshire said.
According to Cheshire, Empower Texans' only contribution in Mike Tittle's campaign has been purchasing radio advertisements in Brownwood.