Bentzin's Tangled Web of Backers

An elite crew of critters helped bankroll Bentzin's unsuccessful, half-million dollar District 48 campaign

Ben Bentzin
Ben Bentzin (Photo By John Anderson)

Republican Ben Bentzin's loss to Democrat Donna Howard last week carried a high price – not only for the GOP leadership that tried to engineer his victory in the House District 48 race, but for the party's elite group of donors who helped bankroll Bentzin's half-million dollar campaign.

As it happens, many of the high rollers and power brokers who played a role in the GOP's legislative sweep of 2002 (along with tort reform, redistricting, and persistent efforts to pass school voucher legislation and expand gaming interests in Texas) had hoped to further their run of good luck with Bentzin, a wealthy former Dell executive. Bentzin outdistanced Howard by a long shot in fundraising, collecting more than $555,000 since last fall to Howard's $240,000. But he couldn't muster the votes to beat Howard in either the Jan. 17 special election or the Feb. 14 run-off.

Howard, who fills the unexpired term of former GOP Rep. Todd Baxter, will represent the district in a special session on school finance this spring. She'll face Bentzin again in the November election to determine the District 48 representative for a two-year term. Until then, expect the Democrats to make plenty of hay out of Bentzin's financial ties to pro-voucher and pro-gaming donors. Bentzin had previously told the Statesman that he wouldn't accept money from gambling advocates, but a fair number of his lobby contributors represent clients with gaming interests. Some of these lobbyists and other influential donors are listed below:

Texans for Lawsuit Reform, $36,000: This tort reform PAC bankrolled many of the same GOP candidates backed by Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority in the 2002 election. Several of TLR's major underwriters also contributed generously to Bentzin.

Bob Perry, $50,000: This Houston homebuilder is the largest single political donor in Texas, with Republican candidates getting the lion's share of contributions. Perry was the top TLR contributor in 2002; his money and influence helped create the anti-consumer Texas Residential Construction Commission.

James Leininger, $20,000: The San Antonio millionaire and voucher proponent is making his biggest pro-voucher mark yet this year in a quest to unseat GOP incumbents who joined Democrats to defeat his voucher bill in 2005.

HillCo PAC, $15,000: Austin's lobby powerhouse founded by Neal "Buddy" Jones and Bill Miller, who was part of House Speaker Tom Craddick's transition team in 2002.

Bill Messer, $500: Lobbyist and Craddick friend; clients include TLR and the Texas Greyhound Association.

Mike Toomey, $1,000: Lobbyist who helped engineer the GOP House sweep in 2002; clients include TLR and slot-machine proponents Big City Capital LLC and Sam Houston Race Park.

Louis Beecherl, $5,000: Dallas oil and gas tycoon and Bush pioneer who gives generously to pro-voucher candidates and was a top TRMPAC donor in 2002; serves on the board of Putting Children First, a pro-voucher PAC.

Harold Simmons, $6,000: Corporate raider, Dallas billionaire, and Republican fundraiser with controlling interests in Contran Corp. and Valhi Inc., holding companies that each contributed $10,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund. Simmons kicked in $10,000 as well. Simmons' Waste Control Specialists owns nuclear waste dumps in West Texas.

Timothy Timmerman, $1,000: Part-owner of Austin Jockey Club, which last year lost an effort to build a race track on Timmerman's property in Pflugerville.

James Mansour, $500: Voucher proponent and chairman of Grande Communications; board member and founding chair of CEO America, a pro-voucher nonprofit group.

William McMinn, $5,000: Founder of the Sterling Group of Houston and a leading contributor to pro-voucher candidates. He is a board member of Putting Children First and serves on the Texas Tax Reform Commission.

Robert Rowling, $10,000: Irving oil and gas billionaire, UT regent, and owner of TRT Holdings Inc., an investment company that controls the Omni hotel chain; serves on the Texas Tax Reform Commission.

Lowry Mays, $1,000: Founder of Clear Channel Communications and a major GOP contributor.

R. Steven Hicks, $2,500: Austin investor who made it rich in the radio broadcasting industry; Bush pioneer.

Sources: Texas Ethics Commission, Texans for Public Justice, Public Citizen

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Ben Bentzin
HD 48: Where's Ben?
HD 48: Where's Ben?
Considered the favorite six months ago to capture the House District 48 seat vacated by Todd Baxter, Republican Ben Bentzin has all but disappeared from the playing field

Amy Smith, July 21, 2006

More District 48
Stick Sunk; Barely Baxter; Rose Reblooms
Stick Sunk; Barely Baxter; Rose Reblooms
A narrow defeat, and an even narrower win, for Travis Co. GOP legislators

Amy Smith, Nov. 5, 2004

More by Amy Smith
The Work Matters
The Work Matters
A look back at some of our most impactful reporting

Sept. 3, 2021

Well-Behaved? Let's Assume Not.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story
Barbara Leaming's new biography makes the case that Jackie O suffered from PTSD

Nov. 28, 2014


District 48, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, TLR, Tom DeLay, James Leininger, Bob Perry, R. Steven Hicks, Lowry Mays, Clear Channel Communications, Ben Bentzin, Donna Howard, Robert Rowling, Texas Commission on Tax Reform, William McMinn, Putting Children First, Sterling Group, James Mansour, Louis Beecherl, Harold Simmons, Timothy Timmerman

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle