Elections 2022FederalGOP Congressional Candidates Spar Over PAC, D.C. Influence in Race to Replace Brady

While in agreement on most policy issues, the most heated exchanges surrounded the role of fundraising and the power of out-of-state political groups.
February 3, 2022
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Six of 11 Republican candidates vying to replace retiring Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX-08) sparred in a candidate forum Wednesday evening over fundraising and the influence of powerful political groups in elections.

Texas’ 8th Congressional District includes portions of Harris and Montgomery counties and remains heavily Republican with an R-65% rating according to The Texan Texas Partisan Index. The winner of the Republican primary will likely become the district’s next congressional representative. 

Moderated by Pastor James Buntrock of Houston’s Glorious Way Church, the forum included the following candidates:

  • Christian Collins, founder of Texas Youth Summit and a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  • Jonathan Hullihan, a Naval Reserves Commander in a national security law unit, and former Navy Judge Advocate General
  • Morgan Luttrell, a business owner and adjunct professor and former Navy SEAL and advisor to the Department of Energy under Secretary Rick Perry
  • Dan McKaughan, a construction business owner and former Navy helicopter pilot
  • Jonathan Mitchell, a pipeliner in the oil and gas industry
  • Jessica Wellington, former district director for former Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX-02)

While the six agreed on many issues, one of the points of contention erupted following a series of questions about big out-of-state campaign donors and which members of the House Freedom Caucus the candidates admired.

After Luttrell identified Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH-04) and Brian Babin (R-TX-36), Collins pointed out that Babin had quit the conservative Freedom Caucus and then went on to attack Luttrell’s endorsements.

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“My opponent is endorsed by the Congressional Leadership Fund and one of their biggest donors has actually given $10 million to elect anti-Trump members. So, it’s important to point out that the Congressional Leadership Fund is Kevin McCarthy, it’s the establishment in Washington, and they’re doing a lot of push polling in my race because they’re supporting this candidate,” said Collins, who has the support of the House Freedom Caucus and the House Freedom Action Fund.

Wellington then expressed frustration with the power of such groups saying, “I’m trying to understand why caucuses and [political action committees] are taking the lead. Aren’t the people of the districts the most important part of representing in congress?” 

“The media is focusing on the caucuses; the media is focusing on the PACs and the money. It’s not about any of that. I haven’t done a good job of raising money because I want to earn people’s votes,” added Wellington.

Defending his massive fundraising haul, Luttrell shot back, “So, I got those PAC donations because I’m a better candidate, plain and simple.”

“I’ve gotten over 29,000 donations on average of $40 apiece. I’m supported by all these people across the country, in this state, and those PACs because no one can hold a candle to my resume, my experience, and my fortitude, period.”

McKaughan then noted that another upcoming forum scheduled for next week would only include the three candidates who had raised more than $100,000. 

“Think about that. So, they left off eight candidates because we didn’t raise enough money,” said McKaughan. “You tell me how that isn’t the swamp. If that’s not the swamp, I don’t know what is.”

Hullihan noted that he had raised over $200,000, “the hard way” by calling and asking for donations, and quipped, “and I would assert that I am the most qualified candidate.”

Mitchell has not engaged in massive fundraising, and says he decided to run since President Biden’s decision to halt construction of the Keystone Pipeline and other drilling efforts had cratered employment in his industry.

Collins has been endorsed by Cruz and introduced himself as the “MAGA candidate in the race,” while Luttrell enjoys the support of Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-02). Some of Crenshaw’s recent votes, including one on a national vaccine database, have drawn the ire of some conservatives. 

The candidates agreed on opposition to vaccine mandates, a need to audit and investigate the 2020 elections, limited government interference in business and the economy, and protection for Second Amendment rights. They also agreed that gender is not a choice, that insurance companies should not be forced to cover transgender procedures, and that taxpayers should not provide free public education to those in the country illegally.

The format of the forum did not require each candidate to answer every question, but several weighed in on the issue of social media platforms censoring user content. Both Collins and Hullihan suggested repealing or revising Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that online platforms use to justify censoring certain viewpoints.

While agreeing that social media companies were doing “terrible things,” Luttrell expressed caution about solutions, saying, “It’s a very slippery slope because these are privately owned companies and if we start infringing on privately owned companies…I think it’s going to be a lose-lose situation.”

“If we, the conservatives and the Republicans, and it seems to be the radical socialists that are taking over those platforms away from us, let’s start our own.”

Wellington then added that legislators would not act to resolve the issue since politicians used social media platforms to fundraise. 

All but Mitchell and McKaughan agreed that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. While McKaughan said he personally believed that as a pastor himself, he said that the federal government should have no role in governing marriage. 

Only McKaughan and Wellington opposed term limits, with McKaughan saying arbitrary term limits would not solve the issue, while Wellington opined that constitutional rights and other issues took precedence over spending political capital trying to legislate term limits.

The next candidate forum for the race is scheduled for Monday, February 7. 

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.